Category Archives: D.A.C.

Disruption. Action. Change is a three-part online series where five performing arts change-makers will discuss the role of disruption as an essential force in pursuit of a more just and equitable arts ecosystem. The series, aimed at the next generation of arts leaders (students and young professionals), centers the notion that upending existing organizational policy, bias, and protocols are vital to the future of the performing arts as we know it.

Session 3: Disrupting Performance Practice Traditions

This month the EXCEL Lab is THRILLED to be partnering with the Eastman School of Music’s Paul R. Judy Center for Innovation and Research on a three-part online symposium entitled Disruption Action Change! This week our featured guest, Dr. Antonio Cuyler (Florida State University/ University of Michigan), discusses the role of disruption as an essential force in pursuit of a more just and equitable arts ecosystem! Register below to see their live Q&A this Thursday, March 25th at 4:30pm EDT!

Register Here

Meet Dr. Cuyler

Dr. Antonio C. Cuyler is the author of Access, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Insights from the Careers of Executive Opera Managers of Color in the U. S. He serves as Director of the MA Program & Associate Professor of Arts Administration at Florida State University (FSU) where he teaches doctoral and master’s students. He also serves as Visiting Associate Professor in the Theatre & Drama Department in the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance at the University of Michigan.

From Dr. Cuyler- Stereotypes: Disruption and Reflection

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defined stereotype as something conforming to a fixed or general pattern especially a standardized mental picture that members of a group hold in common and that represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment. Most historically discriminated against, marginalized, oppressed, and subjugated peoples know personally of the harms stereotypes can cause. In the U. S. cultural sector, one finds examples and discussions of the harms stereotypes have caused in dance (Black Ballerina), film & tv (Disclosure and They’ve Gotta Have Us), visual art (How to U. S. Museums Excluded Black Artists), and music, specifically opera (Discrimination in Casting Black Singers at the Metropolitan Opera, Operas by Black Composers Have Long Been Ignored. Explore 8, and Russell Thomas is much more than a Black tenor). 

The operatic art form, too, faces enduring stereotypes that have undermined its ability to develop new audiences (Opera Is for the 99%). Yet, opera remains incapable of and/or resistant to letting go of enduring negative stereotypes. As Katherine Hu pointed out in 2019 in the NY Times, classical opera has a racism problem. I strongly agree with Hu. Opera must retire blackface, brownface, and yellowface now! In addition, I envision an antiracist and decolonized version of the art form in which managers and companies use opera as an intervention and educational tool to facilitate meaningful community-wide conversations about the role of stereotypical images in perpetuating and reinforcing oppression. A truly disruptive practice that the industry could institutionalize to ensure its sustainability. But how does one incentivize such a change? Opera and the cultural sector at large must grapple with the question of who benefits most from and who do negative stereotypes harm the most? One thing remains clear to me, however. In a society that lost $16 trillion over the last 20 years due to discrimination against Black people, opera, an industry consistently challenged to earn revenue, can no longer afford to peddle racist ideas. It is simply untenable in a society that prides itself for ruthless and unregulated capitalism.

Want to hear more?

Join us this Thursday, March 25th from 4:30-6:00pm EDT via Zoom for a Q&A with Dr. Cuyler. He will delve into his post in greater depth and explore questions like, “What is creative justice, and what might it look like on the stage?” We hope to see you there as we expand this conversation around the challenges facing opera companies–including development, recruitment, and community engagement– in the age of Black Lives Matter. Participation is free, but registration is required via the link below.

Session 2: Spreading Art That Advocates for Change

This month the EXCEL Lab is THRILLED to be partnering with the Eastman School of Music’s Paul R. Judy Center for Innovation and Research on a three-part online symposium entitled Disruption Action Change! This week our featured guests, Joel Thompson (Composer) and Garrett McQueen (Trilloquy), discuss their experiences disrupting traditional organizational practice! Register below to see their live Q&A this Thursday, March 18th at 4:30pm EDT!

Register Here

Meet Garrett McQueen

Garrett spent the first decade of his career as a professional bassoonist. Determined to impact a bigger change in the arts, Garrett later transitioned into the field of broadcast media, and since 2016, he’s been the host and producer behind nationally syndicated public media content at the intersection of race, contemporary culture, and “classical” music. Garrett also works as Executive Producer of the TRILLOQUY podcast, and as a member of the leadership teams of the American Composers Forum, the International Society for Black Musicians, and the Black Opera Alliance. 

From Garrett

What if one day, someone told you that everything you knew to be true was a lie? How would you react to understanding that the things you believe in most, the things that you’d do anything to uphold, were false, incomplete, or even oppressive? I didn’t always want to believe that there was something “wrong” with the art form that I’d fallen in love with at such an early age, but after years of experience on and off the “classical” stage, I’ve dedicated my career to helping people understand the conditioning that is a music education in America, the ways in which people can overcome that conditioning, and the responsibility all artists (and all people) have in creating an anti-racist society. 

Some musicians have the benefit of learning to sing or play according to their culture, but this is extremely rare among “classical” musicians. I can’t quite remember the very first tune I learned to play on the bassoon, but I’m sure it wasn’t something that spoke to being a Black kid in Memphis, TN. Works like “Hot Cross Buns” and “Mary Had a Little Lamb” aren’t intrinsically violent, but the propagation of Eurocentric culture as the primary entry point toward becoming an instrumentalist must be called what it is: white supremacy. I didn’t always understand that conditioning or music “training” started from those very early stages, but it’s clear when you look at what schools continue to teach. From Orff Schulwerk, all the way to the musical “canon” that serves as the foundation of most American conservatories, the Eurocentricity that has built the status quo surrounding “classical” music must be fully understood and completely disrupted for a more equitable arts ecosystem to be built. 

It’s not easy coming to terms with one’s own conditioning, but it’s completely possible! After leaving my hometown to pursue a bassoon career, I made a point to be as Black as I could in all spaces. I refused to codeswitch, and even foregrounded music by Black composers when I had the opportunity to impact my or anyone else’s programming for the stage. My love for music by Black and living composers eventually earned me a spot on the radio airwaves, where I continued to take action in exposing listeners to the overlooked genius of composers other than Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. From there, I developed a love for being behind the microphone, and expanded my work into a weekly podcast called TRILLOQUY. Since its inception, I have worked to center conversations that not only shed light on some of “classical” music’s overlooked stories, but ones that also can inspire everyone to take action in their communities and institutions.

For generations, words like “racism” and “prejudice” have been pushed into a category that most people don’t think involves them. In reality, every person has a responsibility to take a look at themselves and to determine what they can do to inspire change. Through my work as a content creator, I’ve had the privilege of meeting so many people with such a wide array of experiences, identities, and stories. Being exposed to so much helped me understand my own prejudices, and the things I needed to do to change. When everyone takes the time to learn from and listen to people with whom they may not normally, a new arts ecosystem will be born. I am proud to help facilitate that in my work. 

Meet Joel Thompson

Joel is an Atlanta-based composer, conductor, and educator, best known for the choral work, Seven Last Words of the Unarmed, which won the 2018 American Prize for Choral Composition. Currently a doctoral student at the Yale School of Music, Thompson was also a 2017 post-graduate fellow in Arizona State University’s Projecting All Voices Initiative and a composition fellow at the 2017 Aspen Music Festival and School, where he studied with composers Stephen Hartke and Christopher Theofanidis and won the 2017 Hermitage Prize. His opera, The Snowy Day, based on the book by Ezra Jack Keats, will premiere December 2021 at the Houston Grand Opera. 

From Joel

The exterior of the building looked unassuming – brick, one-story, yet still huge, like everything in Texas – but the inside was a resplendent treasure trove…like a secret dragon-guarded cave in a Tolkien novel. My old library in the Bahamas kept all the children’s books at the top of a mostly windowless non-airconditioned tower, which was coated in a benevolent Pepto-Bismol pink to hide the fact that it used to be a jail in colonial times. Still, it served as my time machine to centuries past and my Scotty-less transporter to foreign lands and magical wonders…like the Hennington-Alief Library, in which I now stood.

She must have seen the awe on my face in response to the expansive YA section. Or maybe she saw the undisguisable glee inspired by the new knowledge that I could check out more than two books at a time. In fact, they had those little baskets that you saw at the grocery store! I had already purposed to fill mine to the brim when she approached with that endearing Texas lilt. “Hey there! What’s your name, darlin’?” Bashfully, I said my name as I’ve always said it and as my parents said it. “Oh, you mean, Johl.” She smiled. “Can I help you with anything, Johl?”

When I came to the U.S., I possessed a distinct amalgam of the Bahamian and Jamaican accents. My name-changing encounter with Smaug the librarian was one of many steps in the attempted erasure of the natural rhythms and inflections of my speech. Also, sixth-grade Joel didn’t want to stand out as a target for ridicule, so the voice with which I currently speak was born. In the 20-plus years since then, I’ve been told that my accent is not “American,” but not able to be placed anywhere else really. Many times, I’ve also registered surprise on the faces of people who assumed I wasn’t Black after only interacting on the phone. I’d like to think the Texan librarian didn’t intend to do any damage. I guess she simply said my name the way she thought it was supposed to be said, but her choice has continually reminded me how fervently I must protect my voice. The ease and audacity with which she attempted to change my name, the avatar of my identity, to fit within a box for her comfort has always baffled me. I’d like to think that if she and her hypothetical son, Joel, went to Jamaica or even to the pink library tower in the Bahamas, that no one would tell her son his name was actually JO-ell when he introduced himself as “Johl.” However, when I take a step back, I realize that this country was founded with that same audacity – to steal the land, massacre its indigenous inhabitants, and name it the United States of America.

Today, as a composer in dialogue with the legacy of Western European art music, I have found that holding true to my name, to my voice, to my identity is a most disruptive act. Striving towards honesty in my music, centering Blackness, and holding the door open for Black and other marginalized voices in this space are disruptive acts. These acts of disruption are rooted in an unquenchable love for this music and the joy of making it. However, I continue to ask, “Why is this disruptive?” and “What am I disrupting?” The potential answers, as they relate to the genre of classical music, are downright depressing. They show me that disruption is not enough – disruption must be the catalyst for transformation. 

I look forward to conversing with the amazing Garrett McQueen during the Disruption Action Change Symposium, and I hope to learn more about how we can continue to invest in the transformation of this artistic field and how we can continue to our artistic practices with the hope that we can be models for fundamental social change in the real world – a world in which my future children and grandchildren will be able to borrow books without casual threats to their identity, a world in which they’ll be able to create in any field without fear of being pigeonholed or dismissed, a world where they don’t have to change or hide their voices to remain safe, a world where they don’t have to worry about being killed extrajudicially because of their exterior, ignoring the treasure trove contained within. Until then…

Want to hear more?

Join us this Thursday, March 18th from 4:30-6:00pm EDT via Zoom for a Q&A with Joel and Garrett. They will delve into their posts in greater depth and explore questions like, “How must the definition of classical music change to become more inclusive, and what might that mean for the industry?” We hope to see you there as we expand this conversation around experiences making and spreading art that advocates for change. Participation is free, but registration is required via the link below.

Session 1: Disrupting Traditional Organizational Practice

This month the EXCEL Lab is THRILLED to be partnering with the Eastman School of Music’s Paul R. Judy Center for Innovation and Research on a three-part online symposium entitled Disruption Action Change! This week our featured guests, Ashleigh Gordon (Castle of Our Skins) and Margaret Lioi (Chamber Music America), discuss their experiences disrupting traditional organizational practice! Register below to see their live Q&A this Thursday, March 11th at 4:30pm EDT.

Register Here

Meet Ashleigh Gordon

​Ashleigh is co-founder, Artistic/Executive Director and violist of Castle of our Skins, a Boston-based concert and educational series devoted to celebrating Black Artistry through music. In recognition of her work, she has presented at IDEAS UMass Boston Conference and 180 Degrees Festival in Bulgaria; has been featured in the International Musician and Improper Bostonian magazines as well as the Boston Globe; and was awarded the 2016 Charles Walton Diversity Advocate Award from the American Federation of Musicians. Described as a “charismatic and captivating performer,” Ashleigh Gordon has recorded with Switzerland’s Ensemble Proton and Germany’s Ensemble Modern; performed with Grammy-award winning BMOP and Grammy-nominated A Far Cry string ensemble; and appeared at the prestigious BBC Proms Festival with the Chineke! Orchestra. 

From Ashleigh

As a classically-trained musician, I fought for years against the external pressure to pursue an orchestral career when I knew the intimacy of chamber music spoke deeper to my heart. As an educator, I wrestled with how I could effectively reach a child in a classroom setting when I found one-on-one, mentor-mentee relationships more natural and impactful. I knew I was creative and found excitement bringing a daydream into a tangible reality. I enjoyed research, history, storytelling, having autonomy in my work, and connecting with my cultural roots. I grew to love my identity as a Black woman violist.

I share these as realizations about myself that took years to fully own and whole-heartedly embrace. These understandings – which now serve as the bedrock for how I authentically engage with the world – shape my work as Artistic and Executive Director of Castle of our Skins, a Boston-based concert and educational series dedicated to celebrating Black artistry through music. 

For the past eight years (and counting), I have presented the works of African diasporic composers alongside spoken word, dance, visual arts and other mediums, flooding classrooms and concert stages with centuries worth of artistic excellence. Through performances, residencies, commissions, workshops, and more, I have made it a common mission for both myself and the organization to showcase a wide breadth of Black artistry that spans genres, generations, genders, and geographies. I have done – and continue to do – this from a place of authenticity, genuine passion, and deep-seeded purpose. Representation continues to be foundational in my work. Black voices continue to be centered on stage and off. Cultural exploration remains a constant reason to both celebrate and normalize diversity and is not conditional to an anniversary, date on a calendar, response to yet another example of injustice, or matter of convenience.

To encourage artists/arts organizations to join in this continual and intentional centering of the underrepresented, I would like to offer three simple thoughts:

  1. Know your motivations; name your intentions: As this is not the work of a 100-meter dash but a marathon spanning generations, it is crucial to know what is driving your work and why. Keep those answers top of mind all the time as honesty and authenticity are the fuel that will drive your well-meaning efforts beyond the limits of pure passion and a reaction to the times. 
  2. Strength is in community: Collaboration not competition will make for more sustainable efforts as strength lies in numbers. Collectively, we have the ability to challenge, push, support, and inspire a movement that lasts beyond a headline or topical trend.
  3. Share resources: Knowledge is power as we know and have heard countless times. Sharing what you know, have learned, have tried and failed, and tried and succeeded is essential to our collective understanding in how we can build a healthy arts ecosystem devoid of the inequities that continue to plague it (and us).

As said by writer, choreographer, activist and author Andrew Simonet in his Making Your Life as an Artist: “Culture needs you to do it (your art) and do it well.” We each, as cultural influencers, have an awesome and unique responsibility to fulfill. At the same time, it is imperative that we each remain steadfast and truly elevate the marginalized in all of our work if we are to disrupt a centuries old system of inequity. Our collective and creative future quite literally depends on it.

Meet Margaret Lioi

Margaret M. Lioi has been Chamber Music America’s Chief Executive Officer since 2000, serving as the longest-tenured executive in CMA’s 43-year history. During this time, CMA incorporated jazz into its small ensemble portfolio, increased its grant-making to more than $1.3 million annually, established May as National Chamber Music Month, and ratified the organization’s Commitment to Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity, solidifying its dedication to equitable practices in every area of its operations.

She holds a Masters in Piano Performance from New England Conservatory and an MBA in Arts Management from Binghamton University/SUNY. Prior to CMA, Lioi was the Director of Development at Spoleto U.S.A., Executive Director of The Eleanor Naylor Dana Charitable Trust, and Senior Director of External Affairs at The Public Theater/New York Shakespeare Festival. She serves on the Advisory Board of The Sphinx Organization, is a member of the Board of The Performing Arts Alliance, and is an adjunct faculty member in the MA in Arts Management Entrepreneurship program at The New School.

From Margaret: A Reflection on Disruption

I do not think of myself as a disrupter. For women of my background and generation, disrupting anything does not carry with it a positive connotation. Women are selfless peacemakers who bring people together, not break things apart—or so say the influential voices of my past. 

When I arrived at Chamber Music America in 2000, CMA had accepted an initial grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation to fund new works for composer-led jazz ensembles. This made complete sense to me; it fit perfectly into CMA’s definition of chamber music: music for small ensembles between two and ten musicians, one musician per part, generally without a conductor. But I wasn’t prepared for the pushback, negative emails, and overall controversy the program created.

To an already marginalized field that was perennially under-resourced, it was a signal that funding would be siphoned from our classical grant programs and redirected to what was perceived as an interloping discipline. It didn’t matter that Doris Duke’s Will mandated that the Foundation’s funding in music be dedicated to jazz. None of CMA’s funding for its classical programs was in jeopardy because of the jazz grants, and further, the Duke Foundation would not fund classical music as it was not one of Doris Duke’s interests.

Unbelievably, this debate continued for nearly a decade. I often reflect on these early years in my tenure and wonder what I could have/should have done to make the inclusion of jazz into CMA’s portfolio easier for everyone to accept. Some CMA members were so outraged at the idea that jazz was becoming a permanent part of CMA that they signed a petition against its inclusion. I remember that it arrived in my In Box the evening before our national conference and took center stage as we attempted to finalize our strategic plan in 2007. 

The organization, the Board, and I came under fire for “abandoning CMA’s core constituency,” “forcing jazz down presenters’ throats,” and “disregarding CMA’s founding mission”—all untrue. Despite the negative reactions, we persevered. Our jazz funding and number of programs continued to grow. Jazz artists began to see Chamber Music America as a home, and most rewarding of all, jazz and classical musicians began to learn from each other and collaborate on artistic projects. Was this disruption or bringing people together? One of my colleagues often reminds me that more than one thing can be true at the same time. 

In my first ten years at CMA I learned to listen. The jazz musicians were happy to have a new funding source but wanted to make sure that CMA was not inviting them into the classical construct and expecting them to conform. And it was equally important to recognize and understand the anxieties and misgivings of our classical constituents, who felt that resources were being taken away from them.

This journey, arduous and exhausting, will never come to a complete conclusion, but the resulting jazz programs and participation continue to contribute to CMA’s success as a vibrant and relevant 21st-Century organization.

It was with the successes and missteps of this experience that we approached our racial equity work. We continue to disrupt and bring people together.

Want to hear more?

Join us this Thursday, March 11th from 4:30-6:00pm EDT via Zoom for a Q&A with Ashleigh and Margaret. They will delve into their posts in greater depth and explore questions like, “How do we design and support organizations that connect genuinely with their communities, enabling audiences to be ‘co-creators’?” We hope to see you there as we expand this conversation around disrupting traditional organizational practice and taking risks to advance ADEI/anti-racism policies in the arts. Participation is free, but registration is required via the link below.