In Toronto, There’s No More Snooze Bar On The Diversity Alarm

There’s a wonderful article in the 5/25/2018 edition of that serves as a sort of cautionary tale about the disconnect between what an organization says is important and its quantifiable actions on the matter.

The article, by Michael Vincent, reports the Canadian Opera Company (COC) and Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) will see $100,000 CAD and $50,000 CAD respectfully cut from their Toronto city government funding.

The decision to reduce their funding was due, in part, to a lack of diversity (emphasis added).

According to Mike Williams, General Manager of Economic Development and Culture, the funding adjustment was made on the recommendations of a four-member committee who had serious concerns surrounding the COC’s and TSO’s diversity, as well as issues surrounding board stability, and a declining in the perceived impact they had on Toronto’s cultural life.

Granted, none of the additional reasons are any more or less comforting, but just in case you thought the city might be using nebulous benchmarks for defining compliance, guess again.

Diversity requirements have become an increasingly important feature for granting programs that look for assurances that applicants audiences, staff, board membership all reflect the demographics of the city.

“We’re looking for evidence that they’re trying to reflect the city’s demographics,” Williams said in a statement to Signal Toronto. Otherwise, they are in danger of not accurately representing the cultural fabric of the city, which now sits at the top of global urban diversity rankings.

When it comes to diversity compliance, we examined that issue here in a post from 4/17/2018 that presented a path orchestras can use to begin building a stakeholder base that reflects community demographics.

Is There Anything More Inspiring Than Compliance Deadlines?

Simply put, if an orchestra wants to become more relevant to a broader cross-section of its community, it needs to reflect that diversity on stage in a quantifiable sense. The only way that’s going to happen sooner than later is to begin embracing inclusion requirements for musician and guest artist hires.

A key element in that plan focuses on musician stakeholders and includes a process that relied on attrition and existing audition standards.

While this would undoubtedly take a number of years to unfold, embracing that commitment via incontrovertible actions could go a very long way toward avoiding the sort of revenue pain and negative PR the COC and TSO will shoulder.

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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