We Are All Contributors
Dr. Daniel Bernard Roumain, Associate and Institute Professor, Arizona State University Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts; Resident Artistic Catalyst, New Jersey Symphony; Board Member and Vice Chair, Association of Performing Arts Professionals; Board Member, League of American Orchestras
As last year came to an end and we experienced moments of rest, reflection, and anticipation, I was thinking about my role in this moment caught between the brutal and the beautiful. With so much and so many lost, what is my responsibility to my art and my audiences? As I look to 2023, I am reminded of the protests, proclamations, and promises of our recent past. I am wanting to turn promise into practice. The question before us all might be: How are you wanting to contribute to our field and our shared future in the arts?
In my own teaching, I don’t use the words teacher or student. In our classrooms, we refer to one another as contributors—signifying that we all actively contribute to a classroom, community, country, and world of ideas.
The singular, nuanced, and significant embrace of that word—contributor—has led to a profound change in my own thinking and approach to teaching and my relationship to learning from all others. Affirming the unique value of all contributors speaks to equity, shared responsibilities, and the boundless possibilities of integrated, collaborative teaching and learning. I see arts education as a constant, fluid shift from one rhythmic pool of traditions towards a red-hot cauldron of imagination, discovery, and innovation.
As an example, I have asked contributors (students) to replace the words “music rehearsal” with other words of their choice that better reflect their values. Their responses are always varied and fascinating; they have ranged from “music jam,” “musical experience,” and “discovery session” to a “deep conversation” and “an exchange of ideas between my friends.” Words matter. The words we choose and refuse matter. The words we embrace and celebrate matter. Consider, then, which words you will embrace in the new year, and how those choices can lead you to new ideas and innovations in your own teaching.
I often look to the contributions of leaders in our field for guidance and inspiration in my own work. Leading requires both contributing and learning. Some of the most accomplished arts leaders I follow can be found in our field and in the organizations and communities they serve.
Maestra Xian Zhang, the Music Director of the New Jersey Symphony, has created an array of new programs, commissioned works, and educational offerings that has transformed this 100-year-old organization, whose deep commitment to community and education is reflected in its mission statement. In a recent interview with WNYC’s Tiffany Hanssen, Zhang emphasized her commitment to performing more works by female composers and composers of color, to bring new and different perspectives to orchestral music. “I feel that in the past five or six years, the situation has improved a great deal for female conductors,” she said. “It does feel, to me, that the tide is turning in a favorable way toward women conductors.”
Lisa Richards Toney, President and CEO of the Association of Performing Arts Professionals, has managed to lead, diversify, change, and challenge one of the world’s largest arts service organizations towards programs focused on REDI (Race Equity Diversity and Inclusion), sustainability, and growth. Toney stated, “We in the performing arts field are of the world, and we feel crises acutely. We also have the potential to make the most impact, to move hearts and minds, to better humanity and the human experience…This current moment, facing the multiple crises we face, is our opportunity to work differently—more equitably, more sustainably, with more support for arts organizations and, most importantly, for arts workers themselves.”
Afa S. Dworkin, President and Artistic Director of the Sphinx Organization, leads one of the most remarkable and impactful organizations dedicated to diversifying our field. Dworkin said, “Imagine a world where every stage, board room, and artists’ retreat reflects the vibrant diversity of our communities! My contribution is my commitment to personally work toward that vision. In the next year, Sphinx will engage in at least five active commissions, nurture and empower hundreds of young Black and Latinx artists, welcome Cohort 5 of Sphinx LEAD fellows, and record an album by all Black and Latinx composers and artists.”
With these remarkable contributors as inspirational examples for our work, I envision 2023 as an exciting destination where the vital contributions we all make in our classrooms and communities will be reflected in the performances, commissions, and educational programming of the organizations and leaders we look to for inspiration, guidance, and grace.
To learn more about Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, visit their website.