Black Lives Matter

Gateways Music Festival Releases Statement in Support of Black Lives Matter

Board and Musicians Issue Urgent Call for Increased Financial Support of Black Classical Music Organizations Across the Nation

Rochester, New York (September 17, 2020) ‒ The board of directors and the musicians of Gateways Music Festival have issued a public statement supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.

Commenting on the statement, Gateways Board Chair James H. Norman said, “It is always the right time to speak out against anti-Black racism.” “For 27 years, Gateways and our founder, Armenta Hummings Dumisani, have worked tirelessly to reframe the narratives surrounding Black people and classical music.”

The statement, which appears in its entirety below, cites the classical music industry’s lack of progress toward diversity over the past few decades and strongly encourages individual and institutional donors to redirect a larger portion of their spending toward organizations whose primary purpose is to support Black classical musicians and who are led by people of African descent.

Gateways’ President & Artistic Director Lee Koonce said, “The impetus for this statement came directly from the Gateways musicians.  For many of our musicians, Gateways is their artistic and spiritual home, and they rightfully believe that the Festival’s unique and powerful message, values and mission need to be heard.”

Statement in Support of Black Lives Matter

The mission of the Gateways Music Festival is to connect and support professional classical musicians of African descent and enlighten and inspire communities through the power of performance.

Gateways Music Festival mourns the lives of the unarmed men, women and young people of African descent who have lost their lives at the hands of police.  Similarly, we mourn the generations of our ancestors who have experienced similar tragic fates over the last 400+ years while living in a state of government-sanctioned terror.

As an organization dedicated to supporting the artistry of professional classical musicians of African descent for nearly 30 years, Gateways fully supports the Black Lives Matter movement and stands with all people who reject anti-Black racism in all its ugly and insidious forms.

We Are Gateways

Gateways musicians are multi-cultural, multi-lingual and multi-national people of the African diaspora who are challenging the status quo and preconceptions about classical music.  Besides our love for classical music, we share in common the dismissal of narrow definitions of our identities and preconceived notions of our abilities.  We celebrate the heritage of a people distinguished for their creativity, perseverance and unwavering desire for self-determination.  We honor the contributions of those who have preceded and paved the way for us.

We support many of the classical music field’s efforts toward diversity, equity and inclusion, especially the efforts to increase the participation of Black classical musicians and Black audiences.  However, Gateways’ purpose is to provide an affirming and artistically invigorating space for Black classical musicians, and we fully support our colleagues whose primary missions are focused on diversity, equity and inclusion in our field.

Walking the Talk

The articulation of Black Lives Matter statements by many of our colleagues in the field signals an openness to a future that looks very different than the past.  However, the gulf between good will and significant progress can only be bridged by effective practices that lead to measurable change and, in that regard, we have a long way to go.

For example, despite a range of diversity initiatives launched by orchestras over the years, the face of the concert stage has remained virtually unchanged, with the percentage of Black players steadily remaining at 1.8%, according to the League of American Orchestras.  After decades and decades of talk, the absence of musicians, composers and guest artists of African descent on the stages of American concert halls is inexplicable.  Likewise, leadership programs designed to diversify the offices and board rooms of those orchestras have proven, more often than not, to have had similar disappointing results.

In echoing the public response to statements of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter platform, we challenge individual philanthropists, foundations and governmental agencies who financially support musical organizations to “walk the talk.”

Toward Accountability

It is estimated that ten percent of all arts and culture organization (representing the largest institutions in the country which cater to primarily White audiences and artists) receive almost 80% of all charitable dollars targeted for the arts, leaving smaller organizations whose mission it is to directly and exclusively support Black artists grossly underfunded.  And organizations supporting Black communities and led by Black executives experience an even greater disparity.  Despite the disappointing return on investment, foundations and other funders continue to give significant financial support to programs and initiatives that have failed to attract Black audiences and musicians in significant numbers.

We estimate that over the last 40 years, American orchestral fellowship programs alone have received upwards of $50 million dollars of support from philanthropic organizations.  While we acknowledge the influence these programs have had on individual musicians, an inescapable truth is that they have failed in their objective to change the orchestras that host them or the field at large.

Where they have succeeded, however, is as a diversity marketing tool for orchestras and for promoting the narrative that there is a “pipeline problem” that prevents American orchestras from hiring Black musicians.  As we know at Gateways, Black orchestral talent exists with variety and depth.  There is not a pipeline problem.

Black “classical” talent doesn’t need to be created – it already exists.  If you want to support it, support Gateways and other organizations who support Black classical musicians.

Moving beyond rhetoric and failed initiatives, individual philanthropists, foundations and governmental agencies can begin to demonstrate their commitment to Black Lives Matter, and our collective progress in the field, by increasing support to non-profit organizations across the country whose missions specifically support Black classical musicians and whose artistic leadership is also Black. This would include shifting a significantly greater portion of donations and grants to organizations who are doing the real work of supporting Black classical musicians in the United States including, but not limited to*:

Gateways Music Festival
African American Art Song Alliance
Black Classical Music Educators
Black Violin Foundation, Inc.
Black Opera
Castle of Our Skins
Coalition for African American in the Performing Arts
Colour of Music Festival
Marian Anderson Historical Society
Marian Anderson String Quartet
National Association of Negro Musicians
Opera Ebony
Ritz Chamber Players
South Shore Opera Company
The William Warfield Scholarship Fund

Affirmation & Hope

In a society still clinging to ideas and practices that disadvantage the many and privilege the few, where images of Black people have been distorted and debased — while our culture has been both appropriated and dismissed — Gateways Music Festival is proud to provide audiences with a more complete and accurate picture of classical music in and beyond the United States.  In this way, we are able to change the perceptions of audience members, especially those who believe that a lack of racial diversity is evidence of an absence of talent, interest or inclination, and those who, for the first time, can imagine themselves occupying a music-making space once thought to be restricted, exclusive or out of reach.

We, the undersigned, stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and all organizations and individuals dedicated to Black art and the continued journey toward Black empowerment.

Musicians of the Gateways Music Festival
Board of Directors of the Gateways Music Festival
September 14, 2020

* Appearance on this list does not imply support of this Black Lives Matter statement.