The Richmond Symphony has always believed in the power of music to uplift, unite, and celebrate people and our community – but there are times when even music isn’t adequate to ease the pain.
We believe it is necessary to respond to systemic racism against Black and Brown people with both our words and our actions and pledge to support these communities and #blacklivesmatter as we continue to call for an end to racial injustice and systemic racism in America. We reaffirm our commitment to include and create opportunities for Black and Brown voices to be heard as we carry out our mission to perform, teach, and champion music to inspire and unite our communities.
We fully recognize that the inherent legacy of white privilege in the orchestral music industry has resulted in the underrepresentation of musicians of color and that those biases have not yet been rooted out.
The Symphony has been working towards achieving its strategic goal to “look, feel, and be distinctly different from today, to better reflect the communities we seek to serve” and we know we have much more work to do.
We are writing to say that we will be publicly transparent about our path forward. We will be supplementing the strategic plan to provide regular updates on our commitment to this work, and we will make public our actions and results, along with our partnerships and collaborations.
A comprehensive outline of our DEI implementations is listed below.
In Love and Justice,
The musicians, staff, and Board of the Richmond Symphony
There are three aspects to our DEI work:
What we do internally as an organization
What we do to be inclusive for audiences
What we do on stage
What we do internally as an organization:
We have a full organizational strategic plan which is reviewed every four years. One of our current key aims from this plan is: “By 2022 the Symphony will look, feel and be distinctly different from today, to better reflect the communities we seek to serve.”
To achieve this, we’ve set up a dedicated Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee of experienced Board members, staff, and musicians. The committee makes an annual work plan at the beginning of each fiscal year with monthly goals and targets to bring us closer to our 2022 goal. The committee meets every 4-8 weeks to ensure this plan is delivered and we are currently in the process of setting up the committee and annual work plan for 2020-2021 as our fiscal year ends in June.
Additionally, we’ve recently hired a DEI consultant to review our organization and we are following recommendations for a full company audit with unconscious bias and anti-racism training in the fall of 2020. We have received a Catalyst grant from the League of American Orchestras to help cover some of the training costs. We are appointing a consultancy to deliver the training, audit, and strategy for the next steps.
The training will include:
Working with RSO constituencies including Board, staff, musicians, and some patrons to develop an overarching plan for DEI, consisting of a set of coordinated strategies with specific supporting actions that will affect diversity in terms of RSO personnel (administrative and artistic), patrons, and partners. Board, staff, and musicians will move through and complete guided cultural competency training and participate in professional development opportunities.
All Board, staff, and musicians will be required to participate in intensive DEI focused training to deepen understanding of the importance of this work and provide tools to begin to dismantle and revise internal policies and procedures that maintain privilege. All constituents of the organization must participate in this training. More information about the Catalyst grant can be found here.
What we do to be inclusive and accessible for audiences:
We aim to provide a range of concerts in different places and settings with free or affordable tickets.
Events and series include:
• Outdoor Big Tent Festivals: Four or five free concerts per season, staged in neighborhoods around the region, presented as part of large-scale community festivals. We use these concerts to fundraise for musical instruments for Richmond Public Schools. To date, we have raised $400,000 for instruments since 2015.
• Symphony Pops / Currents: Four or five programs per season with mixed music genres from Jazz to Motown.
• Union Bank & Trust LolliPops: Four one-hour programs per season, ideal for those with children aged five and up, on Saturday mornings. LolliPops offers free tickets to Big Brothers and Big Sisters.
• Rush Hour at Hardywood: Four one-hour programs per season, informally presented at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, with beer and food trucks.
• Metro Collection: Four programs per season, often featuring Symphony members as soloists, on Sunday afternoons at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland.
We offer accessible seating at all price levels and in our home venue, the Dominion Energy Center.
For our main Altria Masterworks programs, we offer tickets at $10+ ticket fee and all young people age 18 and under can attend for free. We offer free tickets to active members of the military – kindly sponsored by Dominion Energy.
For our Symphony Pops programs, we offer tickets at $10+ticket fee and all young people age 18 and under receive discounted tickets.
In order to provide for young adults, we run a 20/30 club (for those aged 20 to 39), for a monthly fee of $10 you received two free tickets a month to any concert – essentially making the tickets $5 each.
The Symphony’s many educational and community engagement programs also attract national attention and seek to foster and develop diverse, informed audiences who value live symphonic performances; to help nurture and develop young musicians; and to advocate for music education and orchestral music.
One such program is the Community Council. Members are individually invited to join through a referral program from our events and education partnerships. The Council is designed to reflect our community at large and advocate locally on our behalf, which includes bringing groups and constituencies to our concerts. The Council is invited to give feedback throughout the year to the Symphony Board and staff in order to continually improve accessibility and inclusion.
Annually we hold an open ‘Come and Play’ concert where around 650 students and amateur musicians take part. Anyone can join and play in Richmond’s largest musical get-together. It is free and you don’t need to audition.
More than 45,000 school-aged children are served each year through in-school performances and masterclasses, academically-themed Discovery concerts, and the Symphony’s four Youth Orchestra ensembles. These programs are now being taken online to continue during COVID-19.
What we do on stage:
The music we perform: We commit to increasing the number of works we perform on stage by BIPOC at the Dominion Energy Center and at every venue we perform in throughout the state.
We have also committed to an exciting partnership with New Music USA and their Amplifying Voices program over the next two seasons.
The 2019-20 season saw the most diverse guest conductor and guest artist season we have had in our 63 years. We will continue to highlight black and brown performers who have long contributed to the classical music genre but who have not always been showcased.
The first step in our process to diversify our orchestras has been to participate in the Sphinx Orchestral Partners Auditions (SOPA). This program has allowed us to add 32 BIPOC musicians to our substitute and extra lists. In addition to offering available performance opportunities to those musicians, it has allowed us to expand our network of musicians with the hopes that they will come back and audition for a permanent position in the Richmond Symphony as they become available.
The Richmond Symphony Audition process allows for blind, screened auditions for all rounds of the audition process which we know has led to an increased number of black and brown musicians in orchestras throughout the country. For this reason, we need to increase our network around the country so that BIPOC musicians know that they will receive an equal opportunity in winning a permanent position with the RSO.
We stay abreast of industry practice and change and ensure we are part of national and international conversations through our relationships with orchestras all over the world and our membership to the League of American Orchestras. The League’s most recent statement regarding racial injustice resonates with the Richmond Symphony and we feel compelled to share it here.