Access, Inclusion, & Equity
Our commitment to choral music is a commitment to unison and harmony that extends beyond the concert hall. Choral Arts Initiative is deeply committed to listening, learning, and growing.
This page documents our ongoing story–capturing the work we have done, and the work we need to do. This page is viewable to the public so that we are held accountable to the highest standards of access, inclusion, and equity. This work takes all of us. If you have thoughts that you would like to share with us as we continue this necessary work, please let us know. You may reach our Executive & Artistic Director, Brandon Elliott, directly at email@example.com.
TAKEAWAYS FROM OUR TIMELINE
We have done a great job of ensuring female composer representation is present in our programming. However, inclusion goes beyond that, and we need to do a better job of amplifying marginalized voices, particularly BIPOC composers.
We have performed music by BIPOC composers, but we did not do enough to amplify and celebrate their voices.
We have primarily emphasized English-language programs in an effort to be inclusive and accessible to audience members who may be new to choral performances. However, we can and should explore music in other languages such as Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), and other common languages in our local community.
ACTIVITIES AND INITIATIVES
We are committing to hiring ASL-interpreters who specialize in music signing when we have audience members in need of this accommodation.
We are exploring ways to make our printed concert programs more accessible. This may include the transition to electronic-only programs to offer programs in different languages, large print, etc.
We will ensure all future video releases have captioning.
We will make our website more accessible by enabling user-triggered enhancements such as contrast, text size, dyslexia font, and animation adjustments, among many other accessibility-minded features.
We will implement climate surveys with our Choral Artists to ensure everyone in our Choral Arts Initiative family feels included and valued.
We will no longer require background checks for staff positions unless it is required by law.
We will ensure artistic programming continues to celebrate and amplify BIPOC composers.
We will expand scholarship opportunities in tandem with thoughtful recruitment efforts for our PREMIERE|Project Festival. We want to ensure anyone who wants to participate has access to do so.
We will ensure our PREMIERE|Project Festival faculty panels continue to reflect the diverse spectrum of thought, experience, and background.
We will provide an application FAQ session explicitly focused on informing prospective PREMIERE|Project Festival applicants of our funding opportunities and provide assistance throughout the application process.
We are restructuring how we handle sick leave for our Choral Artists to ensure a fair treatment that accounts for many personal circumstances that may lead to a singer needing to miss a rehearsal or performance due to illness.
WHY ACCESS, INCLUSION & EQUITY? WHAT ABOUT DIVERSITY?
We believe that diversity is essential for our organization, and it is central to our values and how we operate. We also believe that diversity is deeply embedded in our current priorities of Access, Inclusion, and Equity. However, we recognize that diversity is about numbers and percentages, and we believe we are called to inspire more impact beyond reporting a percentage. Based on where we are as an organization, we believe our efforts and time must focus specifically on the areas of Access, Inclusion, and Equity. In other words: diversity is about numbers; access and inclusion is about impact. We want to focus more on impact.
Taking most recent lessons from our PREMIERE|Project Festival, we realized that while we had a diverse representation of participants, our lingering question was, "Who is not here because they didn't have access to be here?" This has both access and equity implications. While we celebrate diversity, we believe our attention needs to be drawn to ensuring composers from adverse backgrounds or those who do not benefit from unearned advantages have the same access to our world-class programs.
If diversity is about bringing different people to the table, inclusion is about ensuring every voice at that table has a voice that is valued and heard. It is for these reasons that we believe inclusion is where the work truly begins for our organization. We believe that ensuring everyone feels as though they belong is essential for our organization and the well-being of every member of the Choral Arts Initiative family.
Finally, we resist the temptation to include measurable benchmarks. We believe that the areas of Access, Inclusion, and Equity are not destinations or checkboxes that are met after specific percentages are attained. Instead, we commit now, and for our organization's future, that these priorities require never-ending work, improvement, and change.
OUR ACCESS, INCLUSION, & EQUITY TIMELINE
A detailed review of our programming from founding to date shows that 62% of all composers featured in our programming identify as female, BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, or disabled.
Our new Climate Survey rolled out to all Choral Arts Initiative internal stakeholders. 96% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the organization prioritizes the values of Access, Inclusion, and Equity. 100% of respondents responded that they strongly agree that they feel as though they belong and are valued within the organization. 63% of respondents identify as non-heterosexual. 78% of respondents identify with an ethnicity or race other than white.
Accepted our most diverse cohort of participants for the 2022 PREMIERE|Project Festival, where over half of the participants received full or partial Access, Inclusion, and Equity scholarships. Participation fees for all participants was cut in half compared to our 2019 festival to further increase access (the last festival offering due to the COVID-19 pandemic).
Transition to all-digital concert programs. In addition to saving nearly 12-14 pine trees per season, this digital transformation also significantly improves accessibility for guests with various vision impairments. For those without devices to access the program, we have a limited number of printed programs and also offer loaner devices.
Launched an entirely new website design that is more accessible for everyone. Also incorporated a state-of-the-art accessibility widget that features over 13 additional interactive responses for all visitors (from dyslexia-friendly text to contrast adjustments). Added an accessibility statement to our website.
We have revised our internal policies to only partner with venues that offer gender neutral or unisex restrooms. All facilities booked as of June 2021 and onward have aligned with this policy.
Artistic Director Brandon Elliott held a Town Hall with Choral Artists to discuss Spring 2021 plans, including the shared desire to further amplify our work in access, inclusion, and equity. While COVID-19 caused great uncertainty both financially and artistically, a variety of plans for Spring 2021 and Summer 2021 were developed.
Due to operational changes in light of COVID-19, Choral Arts Initiative redirected funds that would have been spent on live productions towards the Center for Racial Injustice in Education.
Choral Arts Initiatives engaged the help of two DEI experts to review our organization and identify areas for improvement.
Due to COVID-19, all in-person activities were placed on an indefinite hold. A series of Town Hall meetings over Zoom occur throughout Spring 2020 through Winter 2021. Brandon Elliott presented a variety of access, inclusion, and equity initiatives within the organization.
Artistic Director Brandon Elliott released a statement on behalf of the organization: "Black Lives Matter. We stand in harmony with those who have been the victims of violence, racism, and oppression for far too long. As a choral organization, our calling is to not only raise our voices in song, but to amplify the voices of those who have been silenced. As we continue to listen, learn, and grow as an organization, our commitment to our mission to work in partnership with the community carries renewed purpose."
Choral Arts Initiative launched the application process for the second PREMIERE|Project Festival incorporating all of the efforts to increase access and inclusion for participants. We received numerous applications representing seven countries. We provided two scholarships to participants with access or inclusion needs. The overall representation of the festival participant cohort was far more diverse than the inaugural festival.
Artistic Director Brandon Elliott requested a 6-month sabbatical to occur January 2020--June 2020 to further expand his knowledge of living composers of color as well as to plan artistic concepts for Season 10. The Board of Directors unanimously approved and promoted Daniel Gee from Assistant Conductor to Associate Conductor.
The Artistic Director curated a program called "Invitation." This program was thoughtfully crafted to invite the audience to explore white privilege, to look within, and to imagine a world not defined by privilege and hierarchy, but equality, empathy, and love. There was admittedly concern that the organization would receive criticism from some members of our family of supporters for presenting a program which may be received as "political." However, it was one of our most well-received programs and even received critical acclaim.
Choral Arts Initiative concluded its new iteration of the PREMIERE|Project Festival featuring seven Composition Fellows and ten Composition Scholars. The Board of Directors, Staff, and Artistic Director immediately debrief after collecting participant surveys to glean lessons learned for future improvement. We realized we needed to create better access opportunities for those who perhaps could not afford formal composition training through private instruction or college. Working with community partners and donors, we created two full-ride scholarships, removed the requirement for asking about college/degree/training, and asked for applicants to submit any compositional work--not just choral compositions. All of these changes were implemented for the next application cycle.
After a conversation with a composer, Artistic Director Brandon Elliott learned that the main barrier for composers of color is opportunity and getting that first choir to "take a chance" on their music. This prompted Brandon to reimagine and relaunch a second iteration of PREMIERE|Project festival. Rather than composers submitting scores only for feedback, composers applied for a week-long experience which featured workshops, a commission and premiere performance, and a distribution deal in partnership with MusicSpoke. We received applications from composers throughout the United States, China, Canada, Brazil, and the United Kingdom.
Featured numerous West Coast premieres by BIPOC and female composers such as: "Let Nothing Trouble You" by Roderick Williams, "O Vos Omnes" by Linda Kachelmeier, and "Paradise" by Hilary Tann.
Premiered five commissions, including Saunder Choi's "I Follow the Sparrow"- a piece using the sparrow as a metaphor for exploring migration and what it means to move.
Commissioned a diverse selection of living composers for the culminating Season 5 performance in July 2017.
Brandon Elliott and the Board of Directors held a strategic planning meeting where diversity, equity, and inclusion were discussed extensively with an emphasis on diversified artistic programming.
Offered two performances of programs solely featuring Dale Trumbore's choral music. Included the commission and world premiere of "How To Go On" featuring the words of three female poets.
Expanded performances beyond our home venue in Newport Beach by offering an additional performance in Anaheim. Half of the program selections featured female composers as well as a selection from the first iteration of the PREMIERE|Project Festival.
Expanded Creativity Seminar programs in partnership with Fullerton Joint Union High School District and Whittier Union High School District. By October 2015, Choral Arts Initiative's programs had served over 1,000 at-promise K-12 students.
Choral Arts Initiative launched its first iteration of the PREMIERE|Project festival. Composers from around the world could submit a completed choral composition. Composers could opt for consideration for performance, ask for feedback from the Artistic Director and a composition expert panel, or both. Choral Arts Initiative received over 1,500 score submissions from 37 countries. Brandon Elliott and the initial composition expert panel–Jake Runestad, Dominick DiOrio, Dale Trumbore, and Craig Carnahan–provided feedback to nearly 400 composers. All of this was free of charge. Brandon Elliott remarked that it provided him with exposure to an incredibly rich pool of composers he had never heard of.
Commissioned Dale Trumbore for a major work secular requiem after an impromptu planning call.
Performed a variety of West Coast and world premieres. The program predominantly featured white male composers. Artistic Director Brandon Elliott later reflected to the Board of Directors that he could have done better by curating a more diverse program reflective of our very diverse choral landscape. He committed to launching a program to provide him with greater exposure to living composers.
Performed the West Coast premiere of "A Lover's Journey" by composer Libby Larsen.
Launched a free program for K-12 students in partnership with Santa Ana Unified School District and Anaheim Union High School District. Both hispanic-serving institutions, our program offered Creativity Seminars to help students discover or reconnect with their creative abilities using music as a catalyst.
Commissioned and premiered "I am Music" by female composer Dale Trumbore.
Inaugural performance featured the Choral Arts Initiative's commission of "Afternoon on a Hill" by Chinese-American composer Jiaying Gan. Also featured Melissa Dunphy's "Together."