The North American opera field is far from reflective of our nation's racial and ethnic diversity. The murder of George Floyd and others in spring 2020 accelerated opera's long overdue racial reckoning, and opera companies are committing themselves to change.
But how do we begin to measure that change? In spring 2021, OPERA America administered its first-ever field-wide demographic survey of Professional Company Members to establish initial benchmarks. The survey was conducted anonymously among administrative staff and board members with first-person reporting about race/ethnicity, gender, and age. Responses were compiled by OPERA America and analyzed from various perspectives. Salient analyses are shared in this report, with comparisons to U.S. Census data.
The data represent 2,700 individuals — 1,200 administrative staff and 1,500 trustees — from 97 U.S. and Canadian opera companies, slightly more than half of the 184 companies invited to participate. These companies were distributed across all five of OPERA America’s membership budget groups in numbers consistent with the composition of the field. The sample size has been deemed suitable for reporting trends on the entire field.
What did we find in this initial study?
Women hold a majority of administrative positions throughout the industry, although the margin decreases in leadership positions (defined as senior staff).
One-fifth of opera administrators identify as BIPOC, as compared to two-fifths of the U.S. population.
Nearly three-fifths of administrative staff are under the age of 45, although the percentage decreases to just two-fifths when looking at company leadership.
Opera company boards are relatively even in gender but skew older and are less diverse than company administrators, with just 15% of trustees identifying as BIPOC
This research is just the beginning. It provides benchmarks for understanding if and how the efforts taken across the industry are working to achieve diversity that is reflective of the communities served by opera companies and of the nation. Participating companies received a customized company “snapshot report” to compare their company demographics to those of their local communities and to establish internal goals for accountability.
OPERA America plans to conduct national demographic surveys and issue reports on an annual basis. Future surveys will build on this one to investigate additional defining characteristics of the opera field that can be useful in setting goals for and measuring progress. Notably, these surveys will expand in reach to include artists as a third essential group alongside administrators and trustees.
Overall, there is hope: The data in this report show that the younger generations of administrators and trustees are more diverse than their older colleagues. With the commitment to becoming a more inclusive and welcoming industry, there is an opportunity for opera to be an art form and industry of, by, and for all people.
Download the Entire Report
The 2021 "Field-Wide Opera Demographic Report" is available as a downloadable PDF.