Calling it a “global issue,” Fort Worth Opera sent a strong signal that their work on diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility isn’t over, with a pair of panels aimed at directly addressing the issues as they relate to the arts.
Before the first discussion, Fort Worth Opera Director of COT Production and Civic Impact Sharon Goodspeed Keaton told the Fort Worth Report that this job cannot rest on just one person or group of people.
“It’s everyone’s job. It’s everyone’s problem. This is a global problem. It’s a problem we all have together,” she said. “And it can’t be fixed even a little bit unless we all work together as an arts community, as an education system, everybody.”
The first of the April 13 panels does not bypass the recent departure of former artistic and general director Afton Battle. Battle was the first woman and the first black general director to lead the Fort Worth organization — and one of the “very few” black women to lead a major opera in North America.
Moderator Antonio Cuyler opened the discussion by crediting Battle with conceptualizing the event, and panelist Quodesia Johnson, Dallas Opera’s manager of education and corporate culture, read a letter of support for Battle that was released by the Opera’s black administrators last December, following the news of her departure.
But her tenure was not at the center of the discussion.
Instead, music professionals with experience at The Met Opera, The Kennedy Center, and the Houston and Dallas opera companies discussed the history of the art form and how politics, justice, and inclusion have always been present—even if the vocabulary and manner in which they are discussed the topics have changed.
“The bigger question is what is political? Is politics a matter of politics? What are we creating policy for? What are we trying to regulate?” Johnson asked. “And is it a matter of how we live and experience our lives?” So if we’re creating politics directly related to how we live our lives, why shouldn’t art also reflect the way we live our lives?”
Dallas Opera Director of Education Christian Roberts pointed to several opera works that are inherently political, even those written centuries ago.
“If you look at the Figaro trilogy that Beaumarchais wrote, they banned it and almost drove him out of town because it talked about the aristocracy,” she said. “And then Mozart comes along a little later and puts on Fiagaro’s wedding music and he turns it down a little and everyone laughs – including the aristocracy.” And he hadn’t fled the city, but he still made his point by calling out the aristocracy.
Marsha Sells, the Met Opera’s first chief diversity officer, said the need to diversify and grow audiences was critical for arts organizations long before calls for action gained national momentum following the 2020 killing of George Floyd.
“The houses weren’t full and the tickets weren’t selling … the reality is we still need people in places,” she said. “If we age out the audience, what impact will we be able to have? … We absolutely have to look at how we tell stories to attract a new generation of audiences so we don’t disappear.”
The Opera House will continue the conversation with a second panel that will discuss the casting and the company’s current production of Aida. The conversation will take place at 1 pm on April 15 in the auditorium of the Museum of Modern Art in Fort Worth.
Marchetta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at [email protected] or at Twitter. At Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently by our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.