Can Diversity in Artists and Programming Save the Arts?

Oscar Mireles

Oscar Mireles

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By Oscar Mireles

In the past two weekends, Madison, Wisconsin witnessed an array of remarkable performances that may have eluded the attention of some readers. Let's take a brief look at these recent events and the insights they offer for the future of the arts.

Embracing Diversity in Arts

  • Mariachi Herencia:The return of Mariachi Herencia to the Capital Theater was met with an enthusiastic, sold-out crowd.
  • Greg Zelek's Cuban Fusion:Madison Symphony Orchestra's Principal Organist, Greg Zelek, who is of Cuban decent, invited talented musicians from his hometown of Miami, Florida, to present an intriguing blend of classical and traditional Cuban music.
  • Frederico Uribe's Magical Sculptures:The Madison Museum of Contemporary Arts (MMOCA) opened an exhibition by Colombian-born and Miami-based artist Frederico Uribe. His enchanting, colorful, and sculptural menagerie crafted from everyday materials was a testament to creative innovation.
  •  "The Wiz" at Madison Children's Theater: The Playhouse hosted a performance of the Broadway hit "The Wiz," showcasing the talents of local young actors.
    • Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra's Jazz Collaboration:The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra continued its partnership with resident composer Dr. William Banfield, presenting the compositions of Grammy-nominated jazz artist and composer Patrice Rushen.
    • Exploring Frida Kahlo:PBS Wisconsin featured a series of shows dedicated to the iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.
    • LOUD's Hispanic Heritage Exhibition:Latinos Organizing for Understanding and Development (LOUD) organized a Hispanic Heritage Month Exhibition at the Rotunda Gallery. The event featured portraits of local Latinx leaders, painted by local Latino artists.

    While these events were primarily organized by individual institutions in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, they collectively underscore a vital message: diversity enriches the arts. This multicultural tapestry breathes new life into the cultural scene and opens doors to new experiences.

    Uncovering Lessons and Potential Collaborations

    Beyond the performances, there are valuable lessons to be learned. Greg Zelek, after a captivating performance showcasing his multifaceted talents, remarked, "This has been a dream concert that’s been in the works for a long while." It's a testament to the power of collaboration and innovation right here in Madison.

    Patrice Rushen, a UCLA Professor and Composer, reminded us that Madison is a thriving hub of artistic creativity, echoing the sentiment that excellence isn't confined to major metropolises.

    A notable initiative was undertaken by the Overture Center, where I serve as a mayoral appointee on the Board of Directors. As part of LOUD’s Gallery opening before Mariachi Herencia's performance, the Overture introduced a 'pay what you can' ticket pricing model. This approach not only sold out the show but, more importantly, brought new residents to the Overture, fostering new connections with an untapped audience.

    The Path Forward: Donors, New Faces, and Long-term Commitment

    Donors: A critical cornerstone in diversifying the arts landscape is the generosity of donors. These patrons, often unsung heroes, include Diane Ballweg, Cedric Ellis, Ana Hooker, Joe and May Ellyn Sensenbrenner, Pleasant Rowland, Jerry Frautschi, Nick and Judy Topitzes, Jonathan & Susan Lipp, Betty and Corky Custer. Additionally, Mark Fraire with Dane Arts and Karin Wolf, the City of Madison Arts Administrator, have played pivotal roles in supporting and fostering diversity in the arts.

    Fresh Faces in Leadership Roles: The arts community is evolving under the guidance of fresh leadership. Visionaries like MSO Managing Director Robert Reed, Madison Ballet Artistic Director Ja’ Malik, Joe Loehnis, and Composer in Resident Dr. Bill Banfield of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra are leading the way. On campus, Corey Pompey, UW Marching Band Director, Sophia Snow of OMAI First Wave, and Chris Walker of Division of Arts are pioneering change and promoting diverse leadership.

    Long-term Commitment: Several organizations have committed to the cause of diversity. The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, for instance, has committed to featuring Black composers and their music over the next five years. The Madison Symphony Orchestra is set to collaborate with Mariachi Los Camperos in May 2024, presenting a vibrant blend of symphony and Latinx culture. Stoughton Opera House's show with Grammy award winners Los Lobos quickly sold out, underscoring the demand for diverse acts. Organizations like Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society have embraced diversity and inclusion as a core value, acknowledging their role in shaping a more inclusive future. The Wisconsin Academy of Arts and Science, in their recent issue of People and Ideas, featured contemporary Indigenous artists and has plans to host United States Poet Laureate Ada Limon next year.

    This is just the beginning. To sustain and build upon this momentum, we need more donors to step forward and invest in diversity. The impact of their contributions is immeasurable, enriching the arts and fostering a more inclusive and vibrant community. As we move forward, let us be inspired by these recent experiences and recognize the importance of donors, patrons, and investors in the arts. Their support is not just financial; it's an investment in the heart and soul of our community.

    Join us in this journey, and together, we can ensure that the arts in Madison continue to thrive, evolve, and inspire, thanks to the diversity and creativity they celebrate

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