The League of American Orchestras has Awarded the Grand Rapids Symphony a $19,000 Catalyst Fund Grant

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The League of American Orchestras has Awarded the Grand Rapids Symphony a $19,000 Catalyst Fund Grant

The League of American Orchestras has awarded a grant of $18,760 to the Grand Rapids Symphony to strengthen its understanding of equity, diversity, and inclusion and to help transform organizational culture.

Given to just 28 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.

Thanks to the League of American Orchestras, the Grand Rapids Symphony will use the Catalyst Fund grant to expand opportunities for more people to engage with orchestral music.

"In the past, a symphony orchestra's goal was to play great music, with the highest artistic standards, in a performance hall," said Grand Rapids Symphony President Mary Tuuk. "Today, the Grand Rapids Symphony aspires to bring music to its community in all kinds of settings."

"Truly serving our entire community means creating an environment of innovation and inclusion in everything we do," Tuuk said. "Creating inclusive experiences for all is paramount as we address decades of inequity in our industry."

Grand Rapids Symphony will use the grant money to expand its free Neighborhood Concert Series; to complete an organizational assessment for efforts in equity, diversity and inclusion; to develop an EDI advisory group; and to stabilize leadership and financial health of the organization.

The Grand Rapids Symphony was one of 23 orchestras that participated last year in the new program to develop best practices and strengthen organization culture to better serve its entire community. American orchestras also receiving awards this year include the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, and the Nashville Symphony.

"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."

The Grand Rapids Symphony continues to develop new educational opportunities as part of its Gateway to Music, a matrix of 18 education and access programs that already reach 87,000 children, students and adults across 13 counties in West Michigan.

Grand Rapids Symphony's Neighborhood Concert Series began in July 2018 with Symphony on the West Side, a free, outdoor concert in John Ball Park. The series continued last season with the second Symphony on the West Side in September and with La Sinfonia Navideña, a holiday concert held in at the Salvation Army's Kroc Center on South Division Avenue. Additional concerts are being planned.

Past successes in collaborating with community partners include the Grand Rapids Symphony's annual Access to Music concerts. Since 1983, the orchestra has offered the free concert to members of the community who aren't able to attend concerts in other venues due to mobility issues, physical limitations or related concerns.

In 2002, the Grand Rapids Symphony launched its annual Symphony with Soul and Celebration of Soul dinner and awards ceremony to build bridges and foster connections between the orchestra and West Michigan's African-American community.

Grand Rapids Symphony's Mosaic Scholarship program provides opportunities for talented African-American and Latinx students to take private music lessons with a professional musician of the Grand Rapids Symphony. The fully-funded program provides musical instruments, supplies, performance opportunities, and tickets to Grand Rapids Symphony concerts.

Nearly five years ago, the Grand Rapids Symphony launched Symphony Scorecard to open its concert hall doors to a wider audience by providing free tickets to those with financial challenges or economic barriers. Since 2015, the program launched with funding from the Daniel and Pamella DeVos Foundation has supplied more than 14,000 free tickets to members of the community who receive financial assistance from the state or to the families of men and women serving in the U.S. Military on active, reserve or guard duty.

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.

Catalyst Fund grants support orchestras' use of EDI practitioners 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.

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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