At Peabody Institute’s Next Normal symposium in November, panelist Alysia Lee (MM ’06, Voice) discussed equity as a way for arts institutions and organizations to engage their communities.
Lee, the founding artistic director of the El Sistema-inspired Sister Cities Girlchoir and a 2019–20 Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow, clarified that by engagement she not only means how institutions inform or consult with community members about what they’re doing. She’s talking about how community members “have active decision making in the priorities that are set forth by our institutions,” she said. “That is the change we want to see.”
In January, Lee was named the inaugural president of the Baltimore Children and Youth Fund Inc., a nonprofit organization that awards grants to organizations providing youth services. She’s also one of the co-organizers of the Next Normal: IDEAs for the Future of the Performing Arts symposium on April 27, the third installment of Peabody’s ongoing exploration of the future of performing arts. The April session will examine inclusion, diversity, equity, and anti-racism in the industry. (Visit peabody.jhu.edu/next-normal for more information and videos from all three Next Normal events.)
“What I’m most excited about with this symposium is that we’ve seen how these conversations can be transformative,” Lee says. “Throughout the day we’ll hear from people who are working in the field of racial justice about their successes, lessons learned, and innovative ideas, and how this work connects to a longer arc of conversations and movement-building that can help drive a more humanistic version of the performing arts industry than what we see presently.”
She adds that the April symposium is coming at the right time. The multiple crises we are living through — not only COVID-19, but also anti-Black racism, ongoing economic inequality, and the accelerating climate crisis —could too easily devolve into cycles of intense institutional activity that fadesover time. Lee commends the work of artists, arts leaders,andorganizers, including Peabody Dean Fred Bronstein,who are refusing to permit the issues facing the performing arts to disappear in the rear-view mirror.
“Hopefully this symposium will be a shot in the arm to say, ‘No, let’s keep on moving forward,’” Lee says. “Some of us need to begin at the interpersonal level, but some of us have positions of power where we can impact not just institutional change, but systemic change. This [symposium] is about providing people with some actionable, principle-guided steps forward toward creating an arts industry that values belonging and inclusion and the principles of humanity. And I’m excited about that possibility.”