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Article Published: 15 Oct 2021

A Step Toward Representation

The ranks of American opera leaders suffer from a severe underrepresentation of the BIPOC population. Even though the 2020 U.S. census revealed that 42 percent of all individuals identify as BIPOC — the largest percentage in the country’s modern history — the administrative staffs of American opera companies do not yet reflect this demographic reality: Preliminary research by OPERA America suggests that only about 21% of opera administrators are people of color.

OA’s new Mentorship Program for Opera Leaders of Color seeks to address this imbalance and advance racial equity in the field. Designed by the steering committee of OA’s Racial Justice Opera Network, the program pairs BIPOC professionals with executive-level leaders who can support them in achieving their career goals. The program’s inaugural cohort consists of three mentee/mentor teams. The pairs will come together for remote and in-person mentoring sessions over the next 12 months, including this May in Minneapolis at Opera Conference 2022.

“With this new program, OPERA America reaffirms its pledge to be an agent for change in the determined and sustained effort to achieve racial justice throughout the field,” says Marc A. Scorca, president and CEO of OPERA America. The Mentorship Program for Opera Leaders of Color is the latest addition to a series of OPERA America programs for increasing racial equity in American opera.

Takesha Meshé Kizart-Thomas (mentee)
Dramatic Soprano, Creative Performing Artist, Producer

Takesha Meshé Kizart-Thomas has sung leading roles with opera houses around the world. She is a songwriter and arranger, and is currently writing the opera Shondj with composer Djoré Nance.

Khori Dastoor (mentor)
General Director, Opera San José; Incoming General Director, Houston Grand Opera

Khori Dastoor was recently appointed general director of Houston Grand Opera and will assume the new role in January 2022. Dastoor has served as general director of Opera San José since 2019.

Carlos García León (mentee)
Individual Giving Manager, Cincinnati Opera

In his work at Cincinnati Opera, García León hopes to bring about a community-centric approach to the fundraising field and and works toward change in the arts through philanthropy.

Ishan Johnson (mentor)
Associate Director, Philanthropy, Art Institute of Chicago

A former development director with Chicago Opera Theater, Johnson now oversees relationships with museum donors.

Jaime Sharp (mentee)
President and CEO, Opera NexGen

Aside from heading the virtual opera company NexGen, Sharp works with the Black Opera Alliance and the choral ensemble Hear Us, Hear Them.

Priti Gandhi (mentor)
Artistic Director, Portland Opera

Gandhi has come to Portland Opera from Minnesota Opera, where she served as chief artistic officer.