PoC Perspectives on Diversity Initiatives, Part 2

This is the second installment of a two-part series addressing the growing trend and praise of diversity initiatives alongside the transparent tokenization of PoC artists featuring interviews by Armando Bayolo, Natalie Calma, Nick Dunston, Mika Godbole, John Hong, Alice Jones, Treya Lam, Tanyaradzwa Tawengwa, and Phong Tran.

Read the introduction and Part 1 of this project here.

The interviews are presented in a zine/collage style. Full text is included below the image for accessibility.


On genre, possession, and expectation

“I want music as a general whole to just exist…this is all of music. We need to stop figuring out like, this is classical music and this is not classical music. Genre rejection…is thinly veiled racism.” – Phong Tran

“There are implications with the genre ‘classical.’ It’s classist. The issues that it raises are economic. We haven’t changed the base since Haydn left the Esterházys. We’re not trying to get jobs with dukes or princes, but we are trying to get the contemporary version of that which are industrialists and venture capitalists and captains of industry to support what we do. And it’s all about making them look good. And I think it ends up diluting the art work. Because then it becomes more difficult to speak truth to power in a way. Your subject matter becomes about stuff that can fit the concert hall.” – Armando Bayolo

“Typically I don’t write in English…in a recital setting you have translation. Even then, I’m like, just experience the damn thing. Just be in the moment, why do you have to have a piece of paper like this? Just experience it and let it be, you don’t have to own it intellectually for it to resonate. And I think that’s a very Western expectation of the performance experience, is to own something intellectually in order for it to have an effect. Possession and colonization is the undertone there: in order for you to feel a part and parcel of an experience you need to be able to intellectually possess it. Absolutely not! Some things are literally beyond understanding, and let that be.” – Tanyaradzwa Tawengwa

“It’s kind of like, ‘Ok we got you, we want you to do the thing…” like kind of forcing composers to talk about or make work about their experiences. And  “experiences”: it only ever means the traumatic. It’s like a pimping out trauma kind of thing.” – Nick Dunston


Organizations and gatekeepers

“…it’s that classic white liberal cosmopolitan style of thinking, where diversity is important as a concept to say that you believe in, but… I don’t get the sense from a lot of these people that are in the highest positions of power that there’s an urgency to change the system, perhaps because they benefit from it.” – John Hong

“I think a lot of people who are in these positions need to step down. And they’re not going to. They’ll do everything short of that. And that’s what’s required of a lot of these programs, is to sacrifice themselves for the greater good.” – Nick Dunston

“There’s not an acknowledgement of how broken the system is. People don’t understand…Peter Gelb has no clue. I’m not 100% sure that he gets it, but if he does, he doesn’t care. He doesn’t care that people don’t see themselves represented in the art that comes out of the most prominent opera house in the world. He doesn’t feel that sense of responsibility. To me, that should be a disqualifying quality [to lead] a major institution like that. But it’s not. That’s where the biggest challenge lies, in my view: executive accountability.” – John Hong

“When as an organization you’re claiming that you want to be better and support your community and be an ally of people of color, and all of a sudden all that work and all that research and all that education that you should be doing [is given] to me because I’m the person of color, the one person of color that you got…no. I don’t like feeling used.” – Natalie Calma


Economics, education

“They have a new president at Juilliard who is interested in EDIB: equality, diversity, inclusion and belonging. All four of those facets are really important. But there’s a little bit of fear and trepidation among the long-standing faculty there: that if you diversify the quality will go down. This was said to me in so many words by a faculty member…I said, those things aren’t mutually exclusive, that diversity and quality are not things that you trade one for the other, but in that kind of moment there’s a whole lifetime’s worth of learning and reinforcement of prejudice that I can’t overcome for that person. And it’s not my job to. You would hope just by being that person in front of them is enough to shake loose whatever their pre-conceived notions are, but it’s not.” – Alice Jones

“I don’t really like talking about money…how it’s a necessary thing to have in this city but a lot of times I find that people who are more marginalized are unable to invest in long-term projects…I think that just has to do with social economic histories in the country. And it’s not fair of me to make these assumptions, but if someone does not come from wealth, they might not be able to invest the unpaid time. [For example], my record was created entirely by women, and like the majority was non-PoC because they were the ones who were able to afford being a part of this project for a non-living wage.” – Treya Lam

“A lot of these institutionalized stations of the music, is so off people’s radar, just because of the economics of it. It’s almost required to do some of these programs to kind of integrate into some kind of structure.” – Nick Dunston


You’re welcome :)

“Face value diversity is not enough. There has to be a real sense of mission as to why diversity is a real priority for that organization. I think that that would be a great thing, to make organizations articulate [their mission] deeply. I think it’s also easy to reach for diversity elsewhere without investing in the community where they are. I would challenge those spaces to look in their communities and see if they’re addressing diversity, creating opportunities, and long-term solutions. There has to be a very clear relationship between the artistic, the social, the political, and the economical. We can’t separate them.” – Tanyaradzwa Tawengwa

“Part of the reason we don’t take those steps towards whatever that positive vision of the future is because they reveal your flaws and shortcomings, and that’s uncomfortable. And the first step is being honest about where you are right now and doing a full system check about what’s happening. You can’t start to make any progress until you’re aware and honest.”  – Alice Jones

“If you’re on an executive board, just observe who else is in the room with you. And if you notice that it’s really just one type of person, like, I think the change has to start from there.” – Treya Lam

“Ultimately you have to recognize that you have to trust…when it comes to issues relating to specifically people of color, people of color are gonna know better than you in a lot of ways. If you admire these people enough to give them these opportunities, then there should be people who you admire enough to actually trust with that kind of power and maybe, maybe they’ll see shit that you don’t see and will be able to implement it.” – Nick Dunston