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Article Published: 01 Jan 2018

Where Ideas Percolate

When the Singer Training Forum — a group of voice teachers, artist managers and administrators of young artist programs — met in September at the National Opera Center, they came to a striking decision: They wouldn’t convene again until the forum participants themselves reflected the diversity they hope to see onstage and in training programs. Developing a diverse talent pipeline has long been a goal of the group, but the forum meetings themselves have, for the most part, been the proverbial “rooms full of (mostly) white people.” Members of the forum have already extended invitations to colleagues of color to join future meetings and lend perspectives that haven’t been represented before.

The Singer-Training Forum is just one of nine forums that OA convenes throughout the year. These meetings provide touchpoints for those working in the various specialties of opera — marketing, development, education, finance and administration, new works, production, board leadership — to talk about challenges they face, compare notes on successful tactics and develop game plans to collectively address issues facing the field. An example of such a collective effort, which also came out of the Singer Training Forum, is a new guide the group has been developing, “Standards for Opera Singers,” which outlines the field’s expectations for the training of singers entering the workforce. The guide is intended for future distribution to conservatories and singer-training programs.

This fall, aside from the Singer Training Forum, four other forums met at the National Opera Center. Below are few of the key ideas the participants gleaned from those meetings.

  • “The box office needs to act more like a white-glove concierge service.”
  • “A great performance does not automatically equal happy customers. It’s all about the experience.”
  • “So much of our work is fueled by human energy. We are always attending, listening, discovering, growing and experimenting in the classroom and the community.”
  • “Identify the arts education policymakers and advocates in your district and join forces with them. Go to policy planning meetings, join committees, form task forces.”
  • “When one of us succeeds, the field succeeds.”
  • “To break down stereotypes of exclusivity, we need to focus less on providing donors with VIP perks and special access, and more on creating an overall joyful experience at the opera.”
  • “Equity, diversity and inclusion are just as important on the production side as they are in areas like casting and education. What barriers have we erected that prevent us from having a more diverse tech/prod staff?”
  • “We’re advertising for production manager and director positions in the wrong way — emphasizing hard skills and ignoring interpersonal skills.”

This article was published in the Winter 2018 issue of Opera America Magazine.