Examining Racial/Ethnic and Gender Diversity in the Orchestra Field

Antonio C. Cuyler, PhD, is a Professor of Music in Entrepreneurship and Leadership at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance. On this episode of Michigan Minds, he discusses findings from a report he co-authored titled Racial/Ethnic and Gender Diversity in the Orchestra Field in 2023. Cuyler explains the ways in which this research can help the creative sector accelerate progress toward equity, diversity, and inclusion in orchestras.

“The central research question I seek to answer and explore in my research is: in what ways and to what extent can the creative sector protect and ensure the creative justice of historically discriminated against, marginalized, oppressed, and subjugated peoples?”

Racial/Ethnic and Gender Diversity in the Orchestra Field in 2023 provides a detailed understanding of representation across the field. Commissioned by the League of American Orchestras, the report covers a 10-year period from the 2013–14 season through the 2022–23 season, and presents analyses by orchestra role and demographic group, building upon the League’s landmark 2016 demographic study.

“What I most appreciated about the process is that we sought to elevate each group within the report to receive equitable attention, in terms of their representation across multiple positionalities within the orchestral field. Also, speaking to some of the nuances that each racial group experiences, as well as the gender groups as well.”

Cuyler explains that his team analyzes data by separating orchestras by roles, which includes musicians, conductors and music directors, staff members, top executives, and board members. By doing so, Cuyler notes that he looked holistically and comprehensively at all the different roles people of different positionalities can take on within the orchestral field. 

The team analyzed orchestras by demographic and gender. The groups included American Indian and Alaskan Native, Asian and Asian American, Black and African American, Hispanic/Latinx, multiracial, Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander, BIPOC, and white. Gender groups included male, female, and non-binary. 

“Orchestras are very close to achieving gender parity in almost all of those positionalities except for the music director role, which is still primarily an artistic leadership role within orchestras,” Cuyler says. “When it comes to non-binary folks, their representation across positionalities remains flat. And so that’s an opportunity that orchestras have to engage more people when it comes to gender, who identify as non-binary.”

Cuyler discusses key findings from the report, and says that while there has been some progress, there are still plenty of improvements that can be made in terms of diversity and representation. He hopes that orchestras use the data from this report as a tool to reflect on how they can make change. 

“This report is an enabling tool to help orchestras judge themselves, measure their own progress, but also to light a fire underneath them to do more to make sure that orchestras and their communities can fully enjoy all of the benefits that come with having an orchestra within the community.”

“It is very important for us to live creative and expressive lives—and everyone has a right to do that, and to do that in a way that is authentic to them and representative of their creative and expressive curiosities. Orchestras are just one way to do that,” he says. “And as we’ve seen with the report, there are multiple doors in which humans can walk in through to participate fully in orchestras, if only orchestras allow them to.”