When It Comes To Engaging A Diverse Audience, Orchestras Have Nowhere To Go But Up

With the increasing diversity of the overall population, failing to get ahead of the curve for non-white patron engagement is a sure-fire strategy for retrenchment. For more than a decade, the field has rung its hands over the graying of its audience (spoiler: it’s not that bad) when that time would have been better spent becoming more inclusive.

Adaptistration People 173Fortunately, the entire performing arts sector is doing a better job at taking diversity seriously.

Having said that, we’re still a long way from where we need to be.

Recently, Colleen Dilenschneider highlighted some data on this issue from the 2016 US Census Bureau (h/t Ceci Dadisman) in a 2/21/2018 blog post from her arts and culture data blog, Know Your Own Bone.

This chart pretty sums up just how far our field needs to go.

If it were a race, most of the other arts and culture sectors would have lapped us by this point.

We shouldn’t kid ourselves. This is the internal bleeding of long term stability wounds that is getting overlooked during triage. Sure, it may not be as obvious as the compound fracture that is the need to recapitalize but we need to get past the talking phase.

If we don’t, we’re going to being seeing institutions wither away not from a lack of artistic accomplishment, administrative inefficiency, or governance deficiencies but from good old fashioned self-inflicted irrelevance.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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