Toronto is the most diverse city in the world, yet many of its arts boards are woefully bereft of women and men of colour.
Four years ago, I wrote a Star column on the shocking white maleness of the boards of Toronto’s “Big 6” arts groups. Back then, all 25 board members of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra were white.
Two years ago, I wrote an update. Surely, in the most diverse city in the world, the Big 6 would diversify their boards to better reflect their donors and audiences. Many big arts groups appoint board members precisely because they have the means to help raise serious money from their communities.
Unfortunately, it seems Not in Our Back Yard. In fact, in 2015 things got worse for the Canadian Opera Company (COC), where all 36 of their board members were white. In Toronto, the visible minority had just become the majority, yet the COC couldn’t find a single person from this new majority to help guide and secure their future.
So how is the state of diversity now? Well, I described the pace of diversifying big arts boards between 2013 and 2015 as “glacial.” But glaciers are receding faster than some big arts boards are advancing on this issue. So let’s call the progress between 2015 and now “snail-like.”
First, it’s important to note that not all the big arts boards are lagging in diversity. Some are leading in it and always have. For example, TIFF’s board of directors is made up of seven white men, six men of colour, five white women and two women of colour.
The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) and the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) are doing pretty well too: The ROM’s board has six white men, three men of colour, six white women and four women of colour. The AGO’s board has 21 white men, four men of colour, 15 white women and two women of colour.
Meanwhile, the National Ballet of Canada board may have more women members than men, but of the 20 women, not a single one is a woman of colour. Not one. And of the 15 men, just one is a man of colour.
The Toronto Symphony board (reduced from 27 to 13) has seven men and six women on it board. All but one is white.
Once again, the Canadian Opera Company board lags behind. In 2015, 30 of its 42 board members were men and 12 were women. All were white. Today, with a board of 35, the number of women has fallen to 11, with not one being a woman of colour. Today, just two of its 22 male board members are men of colour.
Some people will argue that the arts aren’t obliged to have their leadership reflect the makeup of the general population. I buy that argument too. But all the organizations mentioned here are in the excellence business.
This means they’re also in the engaging-new-communities business.
This is why I don’t buy the argument that people from non-European cultures just aren’t interested in opera, especially since the “from” can now be several generations past.
Worse still, why could the COC not even recruit a single member to its board from a ‘white’ culture that’s bathed in opera for centuries? Not one Russian-sounding name appears on the COC board. What’s more, this year, the COC hosted the two most famous opera singers in the world for a sold-out “night to remember” concert: baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky and soprano Anna Netrebko. Guess where they’re from?
In my previous informal reviews of arts board composition, I’ve argued that more diverse boards will help the Big 6 expand its pool of ticket-buyers and financial supporters. Given that the arts are more challenged than ever on these two fronts, I thought that just made sense.
So what will move the slow horses to engage the extraordinary richness of talent and audiences that reside in Toronto?
Let’s try their own words.
The Canadian Opera Company’s latest annual report proclaims: “We are also a profoundly local organization, one that delivers education and outreach programming to our diverse communities, explores artistic partnership on a grassroots level, and extends our infrastructure, mentorship and administrative support to smaller peers within Canada’s cultural landscape.”
This looking outward is necessary for the COC’s survival. In fact, every arts organization in the city is breaking down its doors to find new audiences and donors beyond.
So when is the opera going to look inward and do the same thing?