Diversify the Tune

Cultivating inclusion of marginalized communities in the arts

Volume 117, No. 3March, 2017

Lynne Bond

The Spanish-born American pragmatist philosopher, George Santayana, wrote in “Reason in Common Sense”: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” As Black History Month transitions into Women’s History Month, remembering the past is in the forefront of people’s minds. So, here’s a little recent Allegro history.

In the late 1980s and into the early 1990s, Allegro had two columns which went hand-in-hand with two rank and file committees: the Ethnic Minorities Committee column written by Gayle Dixon and the Women at Work column (in connection with the Women’s Caucus) written by Claire Bergman. Neither column currently exists. Neither committee currently exists.

The March 2007 and 2010 issues of Allegro printed updated statistics regarding the gender breakdown of musicians working in the various music fields under the banner Battle of the Sexes. On this page is a chart of those results, in which, as was noted in 2010 and is visible in the chart, the percentages stayed basically the same during that four year period. These statistics have not been reported prior to 2007 or since 2010.

In 2014, the cover of the March issue of Allegro was Pete Seeger, who had recently passed away. With the exception of a mention of Women’s History Month in the president’s report, an interview with harpist Susan Jolles, and a piece by then Musicians’ Assistance Program social worker Siena Shundi, this edition could have been representative of any other month. Allegro does make an effort to diversify its content equitably throughout each issue, but the cover stories and overall editorial content of the magazine’s focus during February and March has been inconsistent in focusing on black history and women’s history, let alone other underrepresented communities. Of course, a special monthly recognition is a mere token and ultimately does little to address the deeper problem.

How do the arts – a borderless universe propelling liberal and progressive ideas such as inclusion – address the institutionalized racial and gender inequities within their practices? In the past two years, there has been a surge in artists and members of the arts community raising issues of race and gender disparity in the arts. The most high-profile instances of this have been in the film industry with the Oscars So White movement created in 2015 by April Reign, and the ACLU seeking state and federal investigations into the hiring practices of women directors in Hollywood, which has turned into a formal EEOC investigation over the past two years. In 2015, New York City released its study of diversity in the arts and has been implementing policies with the results of that study in mind. Will this current scrutiny into these issues maintain momentum? Or will they merely become the forgotten past and repeated in 10 years with little to no progress? And who will take it in hand to address these issues in the music industry?

Studies released by the Center for American Progress and U.N. Women, the United Nations entity for gender equality and the empowerment of women, have shown that empowerment, celebration and cultivation of a diverse workplace increase economic and social opportunity for all. Unions must take a leading role in challenging systemic inequality and learned biases, building on our institutional infrastructure by utilizing the power of collective strength and values. The labor movement must find ways to proactively address these challenges, which will only happen if the marginalized voices are engaged in the debate and are part of the decision making process. It is time to revive a Local 802 Women’s Caucus and Diversity Committee.

Local 802 must also cultivate, join and support the efforts of our colleagues and partner organizations in the arts community. In 2014, Local 802 became a member organization of the Women in the Arts and Media Coalition, a coalition of arts organizations and unions devoted to the advancement of women in the arts, with a specific focus on addressing gender parity. This group will build upon its first forum, Percolating Gender Parity in Theatre, by convening at least two forums in 2017. Local 802 and our industry partners should take a leading role in at least one of these, which will be devoted to the music industry. While Local 802 has three voting seats on the member board, currently only one of those seats is filled.

Over the coming months, Allegro will be printing a series of investigative articles looking at gender inequalities spanning various music fields (e.g., theatre, classical, club dates, etc.) within Local 802’s jurisdiction. This includes up-to-date and more detailed analysis of the gender breakdown within the local. This will be followed by a similar investigative series into race and ethnic disparities. The conversation must seriously restart, which means self-reflecting, and debating on our industry’s history and our current hiring and showcasing practices. More importantly, this exchange must foster brainstorming ideas and presenting solutions tackling these issues. This is an obligation we cannot continue to ignore. It is both a part of our mission to fight for economic and social justice for musicians and society as a whole, and a part of the progressive union values many of us prioritize in our daily lives.

Perhaps it’s time to point out the flaw in Santayana’s aphorism: simply remembering the past is not enough to prevent its repetition. So what is? It’s 2017 and it’s time to break the cycle.

Lynne Bond is the assistant to the president and the director of Lincoln Center and theatre activities.