Diversity is Critical to the Success of the Arts—and Arts Education is the Key

Diversity-millennials

Calls for increased diversity are no longer episodic or quixotic; they are regularly heard across our business and cultural landscapes. And, if trends we see currently with Millennials continue, the need to cultivate diverse arts audiences will increase.Advertising Week this year identified the need to focus on diversity as a main theme, pointing out that while Millennials represent our “largest (and most diverse) generation, most marketing decisions and campaigns are run by alarmingly non-diverse groups.”Science News reported, too, that Americans are growing more genetically diverse, “choosing mates with ethnic backgrounds different from their own.”

In the arts, the desire for change bumps up against a number of challenging realities. One is that there are fewer non-white artists and organizations in traditional areas of the arts, such as classical music, and it takes time and a commitment to arts education to effect a change. Afa Sadykhly Dworkin, president and artistic director of the nonprofit Sphinx, and her husband, Aaron Dworkin, who is a MacArthur fellow who served in the Obama administration, have been working to change that for quite some time. Sphinx, headed by Ms. Dworkin as president, operates programs that reach “over 100,000 students, as well as live and broadcast audiences of over two million annually.” Last week, for example, Syracuse, which has “the highest rate of concentrated poverty among black and Hispanic communities” in the U.S., benefited by having the Sphinx Virtuosi ensemble perform at schools throughout the city and at the Red House Arts Center at Syracuse University.

Dworkin, whose organization is based in another struggling city, Detroit, and who runs yearlong programs there, has seen the impact arts education can make, providing “a place of refuge and a place where [children] can feel confident, where they can have fun and have a break from their everyday challenges.”

As in other traditional areas of art, “classical orchestras tend to be overwhelmingly white. According to a 2012 report by the League of American Orchestras, only 4.5 percent of orchestra musicians are black or Latino—hardly representative of the general population, which, according to the 2010 census, was 13.6 percent black and 16.3 percent Hispanic or Latino.” Sphinx has been responding to that in a variety of ways, including providing free violins and lessons to elementary students in underserved communities, hosting a summer camp to work with aspiring young musicians who “demonstrate aptitude toward classical music but lack resources and access,” and by sponsoring an annual national string competition for Black and Latino youth. Red House Arts Centerhas worked similarly on the local level in Syracuse, to help underserved populations by “creating opportunities…and bringing the arts to students in struggling Syracuse elementary schools reaching 2,200 kids each day.”

“In the Syracuse City School District, about 10 percent of students in kindergarten through eighth grade play instruments, and about 65 percent participate in choral ensembles. In high school, students generally choose one or the other, or participate in art classes,” according to the Syracuse New Times. Sarah Gentile, supervisor of fine arts there, has been working had to improve that, but that type of change requires funding, parental and community support.

A big part of the equation is the value placed on arts education and the arts by the society overall. According to Americans for the Arts, “In America, the arts are often seen as a luxury. They are the first thing to go when school boards cut budgets, and successful arts policy is seen as the exception, not the rule.” As Creatiquity, a research-backed news site that explores issues in the arts, said in an article entitled “Why Don’t They Come,”

People with lower incomes and less education participate at lower rates in a huge range of activities, including not just classical music concerts and plays, but also less ‘elitist’ forms of engagement like going to the movies, dancing socially, and even attending sporting events.

Jennifer Swan reported on this for the NPQ Newswire at the beginning of this year,outlining findings from three National Endowments for the Arts (NEA) studies. The article concluded with a quote from NEA Chairman Jane Chu:

“The implications from this research are significant. The findings show that there is great diversity in how people engage in the arts, and this gives us a framework to use our creativity to innovate new ways to reach these audiences.”

At a time when funding and support for arts and cultural nonprofits is on a decline, it is more important than ever to prove their importance to our representatives, communities, and leaders. With reports like these, and other arts advocacy groups like Americans for the Arts, we are evolving from a perspective of “art for art’s sake” into one of “art for business’s sake.” No longer are arts and culture something “extra”—they are an economic driver with an impact on our neighborhoods, our jobs, our employment, and, as always, our creativity.

[This article first appeared in Non-Profit Quarterly]

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Orchestrating Jazz, Classical and Career Success: Josh Rzepka

Josh Rzepka, Jazz and Classical Trumpeter

Recording:  “Liam’s Leaving” Into the Night

Josh Rzepka, is a twenty-eight year old trumpeter and composer who’s exemplary of what it takes to be a working performer these days and, not only is he managing his own career, but he’s recently begun consulting with other musicians on how to make their arts business work.

“I have a lot of things going on right now,” Rzepka explains. “I book jazz and classical gigs, do my own composing and producing of my music, play in musicals, shows, and big bands. I also teach 30-35 students three days a week.

“I began to realize how much of a need there was to help other musicians with their careers, so last year I started a consulting business for jazz and classical musicians to help with everything extramusical. I have people who I work with for specialized services like graphic design and photography, and I also do consulting. I recently even helped one client get a Kickstarter campaign off the ground.”

Rzepka’s idea for doing the marketing came from seeing a lot of great musicians who he believed could be doing more with their careers, but then got discouraged because of all that’s expected of them in running their own businesses.

“These days it’s more and more common for musicians to go solo because there are fewer labels out there, and those that are there expect you to absorb the bulk of the cost. So a lot of musicians are working on their own which, because of the web is more viable, but it also requires a lot of extra work.

“As a musician, you need to get bookings, work with venues, and do outreach to the press on a regular basis. You need to be at the top of your game in all these areas because, for example with the guys in the press, they get 1000 releases a day. They’re all being inundated by inquiries from musicians, so you need to stand out and you need to know how to provide them with turn-key material – great copy, appealing photos, images and blurbs, and you need to know what their interests are, so they’ll pay attention to you.

“I’m definitely a great believer in people hiring professionals when they can to help promote and support their work, so that the experts can do what they do best, and you can focus on doing your music. For example, I hired a radio marketing group to help me with contacts and prepitching my recent releases – and it was very helpful. But it’s also true that you need to know what to do yourself for the times when you don’t have help and do have to be your own promoter.”

Josh Rzepka, whose most recent jazz CD, Into the Night, made it to the Top 10 on the Jazz chart, has been described as “a musician who doesn’t believe in limits” by the Tribune Chronicle, and as being “gifted” by the Cleveland Plain Dealer.  He has been heralded not only for his jazz playing and composing, but also for his classical trumpet playing.

With his second jazz album Into the Night, he follows up his debut classical CD, Josh Rzepka: Baroque Music for Trumpet (2010) and his critically acclaimed debut jazz CD Midwest Coast (2009).

Quickly establishing himself as one of the most versatile upcoming performers in classical and jazz music, Josh has performed across the country at famed venues including Severance Hall, Boston’s Symphony Hall, Cleveland’s NightTown, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,  and the Knitting Factory in NYC.  As a soloist Josh has presented recitals and concerts ranging from the baroque, to modern, to original jazz. In 2011 Josh was recognized by the Akron Area Arts Alliance with their 2011 Arts Alive! Rising Young Star award.

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