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Our bold and ambitious mission: engaging more artists of color on stages and growing the diversity of our audiences. And letting the magic of Early Music and the power of live performance do the rest. 

 

Joe Chappel youngJoe ChappelA little black boy goes to school one day and a music teacher, a black man, demonstrates the violin and other stringed instruments to all his students. The little boy, with total wonder in his eyes (unaware that his fascination might be seen by some as odd or unexpected) runs home after school, announces his desire to play violin, and so begins a lifetime of dedication to music performance in the Western classical tradition. 

That little boy was me, Joe Chappel.

The power in that critical moment is that someone who looked like that little boy did something truly wonderful, and therefore made it seem natural, accessible... wholly possible that he might be able to do it, too. 

This is the same power of live performance in general, but particularly meaningful for artists of underrepresented communities missing from our stages and for underserved communities missing from our audiences. There is a conversation, a magical exchange of energy and sentiment that happens between performer and listener, and sadly some voices have been historically stilled into silence and kept at bay.

How many times has an artist of color entered a rehearsal room full of musicians and discovered that they are indeed the ONLY artist of color present, even though they know many other capable talented colleagues of color who just weren’t asked to participate? How many times do well-meaning colleagues and admirers ask some version of the question, “How did someone like YOU end up performing music like THIS?”, not knowing that this is a subtle form of “othering” that artists of color must learn to negotiate their entire careers? How is it that so many people of color still feel less entitled to enjoy, as patrons, centuries-old music traditions that truthfully, we must all approach as dedicated students to fully understand and appreciate, regardless of our race or ethnicity? In many ways, big and small, from the micro-aggressive to the downright discriminatory, people of color are given multiple signals that this beautiful music tradition we all hold so dear belongs to someone else, but certainly not to them. They are welcome to “audit” the craft but can never assert true ownership in it. They are culturally disenfranchised from Early Music.

The Open Gates Project boldly professes a new paradigm and sets forth the following truths as the guiding principles in our mission:

  1. Artists of color deserve equity in representation on the stages of Early Music performance; indeed, they are entitled to equity in access and the creation of safe, supportive, non-discriminatory spaces for nurturing and displaying their artistry. They are not visitors in their own craft – but fully vested practitioners, stewards, and teachers of their vocation and should be regarded as such.
  2. Communities of color deserve open access to the performing arts – all of them and in all styles, including Early Music. Early Music does not belong to anyone if not to everyone. No matter our ancestral path, as citizens of Western Civilization, people of color are entitled to claim the cultural heritage and legacy of Early Music as their own, because it is. They have bought and paid for it in the tumultuous history of colonization, forced cultural replacement and appropriation, and globalization. People of color needn’t constantly prove their right to enjoy Early Music. Their appreciation is as valid as anyone else’s.
  3. Until audiences see themselves reflected on the stage, they will always feel like outsiders when they absolutely should not. Early Music is glorious, transformative, and wonderfully and ironically relevant to the modern aesthetic. Above all, Early Music belongs to us all. 

The pandemic is a dreadful shock to the arts. But it is not the end of the arts... far from it. This is a unique once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be still and reassess infrastructures, protocols, and marketing tendencies in our arts organizations. This is a time to re-examine the way things have been and ways in which we might change them to more closely mirror our aspirations. We have been given a chance to open a few more doors for underrepresented artists and reach a few more underserved audiences. In the process we may even reach a few more little girls and boys who will see themselves reflected on our stages and for the first time, expand their imagination to include a future filled with Early Music as a distinct possibility. 

This is the bold and ambitious mission of The Open Gates Project: engaging more artists of color on stages and growing the diversity of our audiences. And letting the magic of Early Music and the power of live performance do the rest.

 

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.