Nov 2, 201701:13 PMMosaic Marketplace
with Deborah Biddle — A blog for diverse business enterprises in and around Madison.
Community and collaboration: Keys to enhancing diversity at performing arts centers
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As in many cities throughout our country, conversation and actions have been taken with the goal of increasing diversity in performing arts, particularly in engaging people of color to partake of and participate in events presented within their communities. Centers for performing arts have wonderful goals of immersing a wide array of people in the performing arts, educating the community about various cultures and art forms distinct from the typical and familiar, influencing thinking to help us become communities that embrace diversity and promote inclusion, and ensuring the activities and events have a sustainable impact on the community. To that end, centers are recruiting and hiring individuals with the expertise to affect these desired objectives. Madison’s Overture Center for the Performing Arts is no exception. In August 2016, Ed Holmes began work as the organization’s first ever director of diversity and inclusion.
I recently sat down with Holmes to learn more about his role, progress, and vision for the future of preforming arts in Madison. What follows is our conversation.
Ed Holmes (EH): So, you want to start with a specific question [laughter]?
Deborah Biddle (DB): Yes, tell me, why did they hire you? What was the impetus for the hire?
EH: Overture Center leadership came to the place of thinking that it was really critical to have someone to specifically address issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion. When the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families released the 2013 Race to Equity Report, the foundation board looked at that report and were very dismayed and disheartened about those disparities, primarily the disparities between African-Americans, other people of color, and white counterparts in all major quality of life indicators — health, education, and jobs — and socioeconomic disparities. That was their call to action. They wanted to do something to address those disparities because what they saw at Overture Center was that they were serving a specific clientele in the Madison and Dane County community with programming and audiences that were not diverse. Based on the information they saw in the Race to Equity Report, they realized the organization was not as diverse as they thought they should be.
DB: So, what are you working on right now? What has been your focus?
EH: It’s a work in progress. The first thing that I did was not to necessarily just focus in one area. The first year was an opportunity to do a vertical analysis of the organization. My background is in education. I spent 24 years in education in the Madison Metropolitan School District, and another 14 years working in diverse communities organizing in what used to be called the United Neighborhood of Dane County, which was a community center system before the Boys & Girls Club. That’s been my path to get here. So, you kind of reinvent yourself a couple of times. You go from community organizing, which is connected to public education. It’s working with the same families — working with the kids in the community who go to the public schools. In the public schools, I started off as kind of a counselor, a social worker, but moved into administration pretty quickly. Most of my career was as an administrator.
For 10 years, I was head principal at Madison West High School. Throughout my career, I’ve been working on issues of diversity and inclusion. I’ve been an advocate and a supporter of the arts, which is how I came to this place. I think it’s a great opportunity because my experiences have been connecting people with resources, advocating for the importance of arts education, and the importance of arts for our community. The arts are an important part of quality of life for all people. I don’t know that people understand the significance of the role the arts can play in connecting with the communities, and just for the sheer enjoyment, putting people together for entertainment, socializing, and art for the purpose of raising social consciousness.
We recently had a huge exhibit called Faces of Incarceration. We started the summer series with the exhibition, Captured, followed by a youth panel on incarceration and a showing of the documentary, Milwaukee 53206. What we do is art, and it’s entertainment. It’s both performance and visual arts, and it’s raising social consciousness, awareness, and education. It’s all those things that I’ve been doing over the course of my career. I’m excited about that.