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Open Gates Conversations

Monthly Conversations with our Co-Curators, Joe Chappel and Michele Kennedy


A few years back, in the “before” times, as we jokingly refer to the pre-lockdown years, Gene Murrow, executive director of Gotham Early Music Scene, reached out to me one day to invite me to lunch. Gene and I have known each other for many years through our mutual involvement with the Early Music scene in New York, so I didn’t hesitate at accepting a chance to catch up with a dear old friend. There would be much to discuss.

When we finally met, there was plenty of laughter and reminiscing, but the conversation quickly turned to more serious matters. You see, Gene and I had maintained contact over the years, through our presence on social media. And it was through this online friendship that we discovered our shared interest in politics and issues around social justice. As we sat in the august dining room of one of those Ivy League alumni clubs in midtown Manhattan, we started to talk about our industry and how many of the problems of the world had found their way even onto our stages and seeped into the culture of many of our beloved arts organizations. What were some of our biggest structural challenges? Where did inequity for artists of color begin?

I remember pointing out that for me, the gatekeepers were a very large part of the problem. The gatekeepers is the name we give to those who hold the power in auditions, boardrooms, artist management and other important hurdles artists must navigate to advance a career. They decide which artists receive the investment of time, money, and promotion . Their imprimatur can mean the difference between a truly ascendant career arc or one that plateaus indefinitely. Gatekeepers, like the rest of us, bring their own bias and prejudices to their decision-making and this is often reflected in whom we do and don’t see on the stage.

After our lovely lunch and much discussion, I thought of our conversation as just that – a lovely and talkative one-time-get-together. However, in the early days of the pandemic, Gene reached out to me again with a proposal. What if we turned our conversation into action? What if we started a concert series focused on presenting artists of color and also bringing the beauty of Early Music to new and underrepresented audiences? And would I be interested in co-curating with Michele Kennedy? The answer to all those questions was obviously a resounding “YES!”

One the first tasks for our new venture was thinking of a name, and while we came up with more than a few good ones, The Open Gates Project (OGP) took an early and decisive lead. It just made sense, in light of our conversations and the genesis of this concert series. The imagery of an open gate connotes access and an open dialogue that we want to always encourage. Michele and I will constantly ask you to join us in our ongoing conversation about the nexus of music, equity, race, social justice, and so much more. The conversation is meaningless if we don’t hear from you. And this is a conversation that has been going on for a very long time when you consider artists like Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson, Leonard Bernstein, Bartok, Britten and many others from all musical periods.

Speaking of conversations, please enjoy the short video below of Pat Neeley and Dongmyung Ahn. It is a beautiful musical conversation from Rosenmuller’s Sonata Terza. Dongmyung and Pat are two artists who will be joining OGP for our inaugural concert this fall.

Remember, the invitation to participate in the OGP dialogue is open and permanent. We want to hear from you!

— Joe Chappel


Open Gates Project is a project of Gotham Early Music Scene, and works towards engaging more artists of color on stages and growing the diversity of our audiences.