A plan had been adopted to make Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra a model for diversity and inclusion. Photo provided by University of Cincinnati
By Julia Kirchhausen
The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO) unveiled a 10-point Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) Action Plan, developed to immediately prioritize the organization’s deepening commitment to better representing and serving the entirety of its community.
The DE&I Action Plan complements the CSO’s broader 10-year strategic plan, developed and adopted in 2019. As the Action Plan is refined, it will include metrics to measure progress and ensure organization-wide accountability.
At the core of the plan is the creation of a new senior management position for the orchestra: chief diversity and inclusion officer (CDIO), whose primary responsibility will be to guide the organization’s DE&I work across every department. The CDIO will report directly to the president and lead a department focusing on community engagement and diversity.
The 10-point plan also calls for the creation of a standing CSO community advisory council to strengthen the orchestra’s ties to the community, identifying initiatives from the perspective of the assets and needs of the community. Additionally, the CSO is implementing implicit bias training for orchestra, board and staff; the continued amplification of the work of BIPOC artists in CSO, Pops and educational programming; a review of hiring and compensation policies and practices within the CSO to ensure fairness and equity; increased mentorship opportunities to develop future arts leaders of color; and other initiatives.
“In May 2020, the realities of systemic inequity, injustice and racism in America were once again laid bare by the murder of George Floyd,” said CSO President Jonathan Martin. “In this landscape, the CSO must prioritize and accelerate its DE&I work. In alignment with the events of the past three months, this action plan primarily addresses advancing the CSO’s work in the Black community, while acknowledging that we must simultaneously apply our learning to initiatives serving all underrepresented groups.”
CSO Board Chair Rob McDonald said, “We knew then that we needed to do better, and it became abundantly clear this summer that we needed to rethink our approach and to dedicate more energy and resources. The strategic plan’s overarching DE&I goal is ‘to reflect our community and the world at every level – on stage, behind the scenes, and in neighborhoods throughout the region.’ Today we reaffirm our commitment to justice, equity and a Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra that embraces the totality of our community.”
Said CSO Board Member Charla Weiss, Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Children’s Hospital Medical Center. “I want the families that live blocks away from Music Hall to know that they have a direct pathway to history and culture that has always lived there.’’
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion 10-Point Action Plan Summary of Action Steps
1. Convene a standing Community Advisory Council to help CSO amplify and support important community initiatives. This will also be an avenue to help connect with young professionals of color, with the goal of developing future leadership and accelerating the growing diversity of the CSO board.
2. Build a CSO staff structure that better supports and amplifies its DE&I goals.
3. Implement cultural competency/implicit bias training for CSO staff, board and musicians.
4. Review all application, interviewing, hiring/contracting and compensation policies and practices within the CSO to ensure fairness and equity.
5. Evolve the CSO’s existing administrative internship program and create an ongoing mentorship program to develop future arts leaders of color.
6. Develop and deepen its relationships with underrepresented Cincinnati cultural institutions.
7. Continue to amplify the work of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) artists in all forward CSO, Pops and educational programming.
8. Form long-term partnerships with Black-led arts organizations to co-create new programs.
9. Reposition and reinvest in CSO’s Multicultural Awareness Council (MAC) programming.
10. Evaluate all existing CSO marketing, communications, philanthropic and digital/social media collateral through a DE&I lens.
In a statement, CSO officials said, “At this crossroads, the question has become ‘How can we best serve?’ In the past we have responded to tragedy with the inspirational, healing power of music, and we will continue to use that power. As racism and inequity continue to plague our nation; however, it is clear that music isn’t enough. Words are not enough.
“We see you. We hear you. We realize we must do better, and today we reaffirm our commitment to push for justice and equality, elevate and broaden our role as a voice of positive change, and amplify the voices of those who can help us realize that change.”
To be the most relevant orchestra in America, officials present their 2019 CSO Strategic Plan: DE&I Goal & Objectives
1. Double underrepresented audiences to 8% by 2025.
2. Achieve 14% BIPOC representation at CSO auditions by 2025.
3. To ensure that the representation of women/non-binary and composers, conductors and other guest artists on CSO programs will meet or exceed that of the 2019/20 season when measured in five-year increments.
4. Increase board diversity to 20% Black/Latinx by 2025.
5. Diversify staff to better reflect the community.
6. Diversify volunteer base to better reflect the community.
7. Incubate in Cincinnati and launch a national consortium of orchestras, conservatories
and schools to develop increased talent pool of underrepresented musicians.
8. Explore the creation of an El Sistema program in at least one underrepresented Cincinnati neighborhood.
9. Launch funded summer parks concerts with a focus on underrepresented neighborhoods.
10. CSO/CCM Diversity Fellowship: a dual-track performance fellowship/graduate-level degree program for exceptional string players from backgrounds that are underrepresented in classical music. Fellows receive full tuition, cost-of-living stipend and professional performance opportunities with the CSO.
11.With the CSO as host and incubator, the National Instrumentalist Mentoring and Advancement Network (NIMAN) is a national association of organizations committed to furthering equity and opportunities for aspiring classical musicians from underrepresented ethnicities with the goal of creating a level playing field for all musicians.
12. Nurture existing programs such as:
– Nouveau Program: supports increased participation in classical music by Black and Latinx student musicians by providing equitable opportunities for intensive music study and performance.
– Classical Roots: a celebration of the rich legacy of African American music
The initiative calls for:
• Establishment of a MAC Award: an annual award, recognizing community arts leaders who have demonstrated a commitment to inclusion.
• MAC Music Innovator: a residency program highlighting African American classical musicians who embody artistry, innovation and a commitment to education and community engagement.
• Inclusive Content Team: a cross-departmental digital content team created to assist in
the review of DE&I content and help brainstorm and implement inclusive content ideas.
• Neighborhood Connection: strategic partnerships developed to help strengthen the CSO’s relationship with our neighbors in the West End and other underrepresented neighborhoods throughout Cincinnati.
• CSOne: an employee resource group with a focus on DE&I, created to foster greater employee retention and professional development opportunities. • Sound Discoveries: a school residency program in partnership with CPS that provides music integration learning at schools with desired increases in music enrichment.