South Bend Symphony Orchestra
When our annual Martin Luther King Day Celebration was cancelled in 2020 due to COVID, we looked for a creative solution to still honor MLK’s legacy. We were able to schedule a recording in May with our musicians, and a celebration of Juneteenth seemed a perfect alternative. This grew into a beautiful project that involved our musicians but also many voices in the community. This program, broadcast in partnership with WNIT Public Television, was such a success, we plan to continue the Juneteenth celebration and broadcast in the future. The plans for 2022 are underway!
In the summer of 2020, we formed the Symphony’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion committee. We published a statement (found on our website) and formulated a strategic plan which included initiatives that the committee wanted to see enforced. This ranged from African American representation on our Board, to an emphasis on programming composers of African descent on our mainstage concert series. These initiatives including the Juneteenth project are all aimed at making us a symphony for everyone. We want to emphasize community work even more than before and want to meet community organizations where they are. We want to understand how we can work together to meet THEIR needs. Juneteenth allowed us to cast the net outside of the concert hall and into the community via public television. We also wanted to highlight a holiday that is often overlooked, or only appreciated and celebrated within the African American community. We saw this as an opportunity to educate and highlight composers of African descent exclusively. This is one way we have begun building important bridges in our community and with community leaders.
The response for this initiative has been overwhelmingly positive from the EDI committee to our Board of Directors (who immediately adopted the EDI statement and strategic plan in Feb. 2021), and to the greater community. Our viewership was 3,600, and the program was rebroadcast a couple weeks ago (Sept. 2021). Those viewer statistics are pending, but we imagine similar statistics to the broadcast premiere. We received valuable feedback on our social media, much of it coming from new voices in the community.
We see programs like this as a real agent of change in our community. We have already garnered attention from community leaders who are taking note of the work we are doing at the symphony. This is work that should have happened a long time ago, but now is better than never. We have gained momentum and plan to continue forging new relationships and prioritizing music education and performance in venues outside the concert hall. We want to be an even greater part of the fabric of our community and go beyond the scope of the performing arts. We want to help normalize minority musicians and serve as an organization that is known for actively recruiting them.
The two women featured in our Juneteenth film had no pre-existing relationship with the orchestra other than perhaps tangentially with other African Americans who ARE related to the symphony. One of our Board members, a well-known community leader, arranged the interviews. Gladys, as you can tell, is a pillar of our community and we were overjoyed to have her participation. She was delighted to be part of this project, and she is a perfect example of someone we’d love to collaborate with in the future, especially with any education related projects. There are so many possibilities. These two women are excellent and invaluable liaisons to the community.
Follow this link to see the full Juneteeth film by our South Bend Symphony:
WNIT Public Television