(4 minute read)
This isn’t the post I was planning to publish today, but silence about what is happening in the world right now is not an option.
If you’re an IBPOC artist, know that you are seen, you are heard, you are supported.
If you’re an ally, thank you for your solidarity, and for taking concrete actions to stand with marginalized voices.
Over the past week many in the arts community have made statements of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Some have gone further to detail their commitment to learning about racial inequity and the need for systemic change.
At time of writing (Morning, Tuesday June 02) the number of opera companies in North America that have made no statement at all is appalling, and heart-breakingly unsurprising.
Are you telling us that you fired your artists and temporary staff during a pandemic, yet kept your communications team onboard so you can remain silent at a time when the world needs organizations to take a stand?
If your reason is that you don’t want to seem political as an arts organization, guess what? Every time you hire an artist of colour to work for you, you’re making a political statement. Government granting organizations have made it a priority to hire diverse casts. So every time you happily tick that diversity quota box you’re making a political statement.
In addition to that, art is political.
I’ll gladly get into the weeds with you on this at another time. For now consider: all the shows you present, inadvertently or overtly make a social statement about the world those stories inhabit. Social systems are informed by, and cannot be detached from, political systems. Characters and plots are affected by the politics of the world they inhabit. Whether or not those politics are the emphasis of the work is a different matter altogether. You cannot, however, say that art and politics have nothing to do with each other.
Your lack of solidarity at this time, in a society that is growing more diverse by the day, is further proof that the opera industry is out of touch with contemporary discourse. All your talk of wanting to be relevant and diverse is worthless lip service when you delay taking meaningful action at a time like this.
Instead of investing in keeping the art form relevant and adaptable, we’ve all been complicit in its use as a museum that reflects the socio-political views of bygone white-European dominance.
We can argue about how we change this. What I will not argue about is the fact that the systems we continue to work in are based on colonial structures. Colonialism is built on discrimination. If that connection isn’t clear to you in 2020, do some research and then talk to any person of colour who has had to work in this industry.
This sort of systemic apathy doesn’t survive on its own. There is so much work to do and so many stakeholders to hold accountable.
I hold granting organizations responsible for not demanding meaningful structural change from opera companies in exchange for funding.
I hold Canadian Actors Equity Association and other unions accountable for enabling tokenism by not enforcing meaningful representation. For implicitly saying that putting a person of colour on stage is enough.
To my colleagues and friends in the IBPOC diaspora:
When this is all over and organizations are forced to hire local artists due to smaller budgets and travel restrictions, stand your ground.
Ask them what they will do in return for the privilege of showcasing your otherness on their stage.
Ask them what actionable, concrete, systemic change they are willing to undertake in exchange for your diversity.
If you’re an opera company here’s what you can do;
Hold space for IBPOC artists and administrators.
Hold space for them in your rehearsal rooms, in your administrative offices, in your boardrooms.
Wait till they feel they can speak openly.
Then ask them “What can we do?”
When they speak — Listen. Take notes. Change.
IBPOC artists have a lifetime’s worth of things that need to be said — things that will be difficult to hear. In the midst of all the frustration, you will find knowledge and insight as to why your way of functioning doesn’t work and why this industry is declining rapidly. Why so many feel constricted in an ultimately limitless art form.
Before you do any of that though, consider taking a stand on what’s happening around you today, and make public what actionable steps you’re willing to take to enact meaningful change.
THE LEAST YOU CAN DO IS NOT BE COMPLICIT.