A Letter from Catherine Dehoney, President and CEO; and Brian Newhouse, Board Chair
Dear colleagues and friends,
We are writing today with an update on Chorus America’s work in the areas of access, diversity, equity, and inclusion (ADEI). This update summarizes our key ADEI work in recent years and lays out our upcoming priorities for the near future.
When Chorus America was founded over 40 years ago, its mission was to serve professional choruses and uphold a “standard of excellence" that centered on Western European musical traditions. Our organization still reflects this history. We have work to do to ensure that Chorus America represents and serves the vibrant diversity of the choral field and lives up to our current mission to empower singing ensembles to create vibrant communities and effect meaningful change.
We believe that real organizational change is built on clear policies and actionable plans, and we acknowledge that our efforts are a work in progress. Going forward, we will be sharing more frequent updates to support our team and members on this journey and to hold our organization accountable.
We undertake this work in partnership with Chorus America’s membership and the broader choral community. As we continue to learn and grow together, your input is not only welcome – it is essential.
Board and Staff
Chorus America’s current strategic plan, adopted in 2017, heightened our organization’s focus on ADEI by incorporating a specific goal to promote and demonstrate progress in addressing issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and access. We also established a standing Access, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion board committee to oversee this work. At our October 2020 board meeting, the board affirmed that Chorus America should focus its ADEI efforts in the near term on addressing racial justice in the choral field.
Our board is currently made up of 37 members, of whom 30% identify as Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC). We are intentionally building relationships with diverse choral leaders and identifying potential board members for future open positions. We have changed our employee search practices to actively engage associations for BIPOC professionals in and outside of the arts. Currently, 22% of our nine person staff identify as BIPOC.
Since adopting our new strategic plan, Chorus America’s board and staff have participated in annual facilitated discussions with consultant Dr. Kumea Shorter-Gooden examining our commitment to ADEI and how to further that commitment through our programs and services.
Chorus America has modified current programming and continues to plan new programs to address racial equity in various aspects of our field, including artistic leadership and chorus management. As our flagship program, Chorus America’s Conference is the primary way that we deliver training and resources on access, diversity, equity, and inclusion to our membership and the field. At our 2020 Virtual Conference, nearly half of sessions (16 out of 34) directly related to issues of ADEI. We prioritize working with presenters that represent diverse and BIPOC perspectives and have updated our featured performing ensemble selection process to better engage with choruses representing diverse cultural traditions and repertoire.
In the fall of 2018, we launched our Voices of Change program, a year-long program that fosters connections and collaborations between diverse choral leaders in specific communities. This fall, we added a framework of Access, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to the curriculum of our Online Chorus Management Institute.
We have learned through these initial programs that our BIPOC choral colleagues need different kinds of support in the field and around ADEI work than our white colleagues do. Because of this, we are now exploring new ADEI programs that focus more specifically on cultural affinity groups. For the spring, we are planning an online ADEI program primarily for white colleagues seeking foundational knowledge in addressing structural racism including issues of equity, inclusion, and allyship.
As we work toward ensuring that our programs are engaging a diverse audience, we have begun tracking voluntary demographic information on program participants. We have also stepped up inclusive recruiting efforts and increased scholarship offerings.
Communications and Content
Chorus America’s print and online publications regularly cover ADEI topics and have focused on a broad range of Chorus America partners. We have worked to prioritize interviewing and featuring people with diverse perspectives in articles on all topics.
This year, our communications team is focused on shifting our processes so that editorial decisions are shaped by more diverse perspectives. This fall, we launched Rising Voices, a new video interview series that explores how we can all make tangible progress to address access, diversity, equity, and inclusion, co-hosted by Chorus America’s associate director of communications Mike Rowan and L.A.-based conductor, composer, singer, and Tonality founder/artistic director Alexander Lloyd Blake. In the spring of 2021, we will work with an editorial advisory board for the first time as we publish a special issue of the Voice magazine focused on racial justice in the choral field.
Projects like the 2016 Choral Ecosystem convening and relationship-building with culturally-specific organizations like the National Association of Negro Musicians and the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses have helped Chorus America learn about the diversity of the choral field and the role that our organization and membership plays within that context. As we think about what our organization will look like in the future, we will be actively seeking input from a broad sector of stakeholders. Our plans include collaborations with BIPOC chorus leaders to develop strategies for connecting with choruses, choirs, and singing ensembles that have not been part of our membership historically. We will also research the work other arts organizations are doing in this area to learn more about strategies that we could incorporate into our own efforts.
We commit to doing this work together—as an organization and as a field—and we can’t do that without you. Our contact information is below. If you have questions, feedback, or just thoughts to share, please don’t hesitate to be in touch.
President and CEO