Arkansas Symphony Orchestra receives grant to advance equity, diversity, and inclusion

Local News

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (News release) – The League of American Orchestras has awarded an $18,760 grant to Arkansas Symphony Orchestra to strengthen its understanding of equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) and to help transform organizational culture. Given to just twenty-eight orchestras nationwide, the one-year grants comprise the second round of The Catalyst Fund, the League’s three-year, $2.1 million grant-making program, made possible by a generous grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation with additional support from the Paul M. Angell Family Foundation.

Arkansas Symphony Orchestra CEO Christina Littlejohn said, “We are so excited and thankful for this grant. ASO is ready to move forward and make real progress toward equity, diversity, and inclusion by working with experienced consultants.”

“Recent events have underscored the deep racial disparities existing in our country, already amplified by the pandemic’s unequal impact on communities of color,” said Jesse Rosen, President and CEO of the League of American Orchestras. “The work orchestras are undertaking with support from the League’s Catalyst Fund highlights the urgency of addressing EDI as orchestras attempt to confront decades of inequity within our field. We must understand and address our personal and organizational roles in systems of inequity.”

“Arkansas Symphony Orchestra wants systemic, sustainable change that leads us to fulfill our mission to truly serve all Arkansans through music,” said Littlejohn.

Through the Catalyst Fund grant project, Arkansas Symphony Orchestra will create growth by moving the entire board, staff, and musicians toward better alignment in understanding the importance of EDI in ASO’s short- and long-term planning, programming, staffing, and goals. ASO is ready and committed to pursuing better understanding of EDI for the orchestra as a whole, which will effect positive change in the orchestra’s service to the community.

Catalyst Fund grants support orchestras’ use of EDI consultants who help implement a range of organizational development activities involving musicians, staff, board, and, in some cases, volunteers and community leaders. These include anti-bias trainings, institutional audits, the creation of formal EDI plans, and work to build consensus and integrate EDI into mission statements and culture. Community building is a key component of the program; The Catalyst Fund Learning Cohort, made possible by the generous support of the Paul M. Angell Family Foundation, enables past and present grantees to interact with colleagues through remote and (post-pandemic) in-person convenings as well a dedicated online forum.

Preliminary analysis of the inaugural 2019 Catalyst Fund cohort demonstrates support and progress among orchestras, including an increased commitment and dedication to individual orchestras’ EDI work and an increased awareness that systemic change requires a sustained effort over time.

The Catalyst Fund is informed by earlier dialogue and research. A major national convening co-hosted by the League and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in December 2015 was catalytic in launching national task forces and annual convenings to engage orchestras in EDI efforts. Two important League studies, Racial/Ethnic and Gender Diversity in the Orchestra Field, and Forty Years of Fellowships: A Study of Orchestras’ Efforts to Include African American and Latino Musicians, further served to inform and stimulate action. In April 2018 the League launched, in partnership with The Sphinx Organization and the New World Symphony, the National Alliance for Audition Support, a national initiative that offers Black and Latinx musicians a customized combination of mentoring, audition preparation, and audition travel stipends. Additional information on these programs and other EDI activity, including information about the League’s EDI Strategic Framework, is available from the League’s online EDI Resource Center.

League member orchestras were eligible to apply for Catalyst Fund grants; applications were reviewed by an independent panel of experts.

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