Open Letter from the Soloist Coalition on Anti-Racism
The operatic, dance, and choral artistry in the United States must reflect our union membership’s diversity. But we cannot do that effectively if we do not know the diversity of our membership.
At this time, there is no systematic measurement of critical demographic information, like race and ethnicity, in the opera industry. A census, scheduled regularly by our union, AGMA, will allow us to build anti-racism structures into our industry as the standard of behavior, not the exception. A census will move us from the feeling that companies are doing the right thing to the knowledge that they must change. A census will move us from the anecdotal to the scientific to show gaps in representation, providing vital evidence on hiring and rehiring practices as well as overall pay equity between groups.
The most comprehensive, accurate, and useful way of gathering that information is through voluntary self-identification of our union members, where union members could provide information about their race/ethnicity, gender identity, disability status, and sexual orientation.
A census could be done in several ways: through the AGMA website, through its email listserv, through membership renewals, or directly negotiated into future collective bargaining agreements. Other entertainment unions such as Actors’ Equity have already done the work and established best practices, including methods and critical questions. AGMA should follow the example of our sister unions to collect this data, analyze it, as well as ensure the confidentiality of the responses.
Naturally, there is concern over sharing such private information for fear of discrimination; However, responses would be voluntary, the individualized data would never be shared with employers, and the self identifying is a critical part of the accuracy and breadth of the information gathered. As we more accurately identify ourselves, for example, as living with a disability, we paint a clearer picture of the diversity of our membership and help keep AGMA accountable to representing us.
We know that gathering this data has been on the radar of AGMA’s Board of Governors as they seek better ways to represent our membership. These changes are often necessarily methodical and slow. It will take a significant amount of time to implement a new system, gather information and survey the data. But in order to make great strides for equity in our industry, we must take this first step. And we must take it now. Our sister performers’ unions are well ahead of us in this task, but now we must follow their example.
Mary McColl, the Executive Director of Actors’ Equity Association, emphasized the responsibility of unions in this way: “Equity cannot control who an individual employer chooses to hire, but we can be loud and insistent in calling out a structure built on biases both implicit and overt. It is our duty to be a part of the solution, to work to tear down barriers and rebuild a structure that is truly inclusive.”
As we strive for a better AGMA, we must ensure each member is seen, valued, and represented. Join us in calling for this census of our union’s membership by contacting a local AGMA shop representative, area representative, or member of the Board of Governors.
Make your voice heard.