How Is Mellon Working To Boost Professional Parity in the Orchestra World?

Followers of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation know the outfit is particularly keen on funding innovative musical organizations. No surprise there.

The foundation also works hard to boost minority representation across various segments of society, most notably in higher education. For it example, it recently awarded the American Philosophical Association $600,000 over a three-year period to support undergraduate institutes designed to boost diversity in the philosophy field. Mellon also awarded $250,000 to Atlanta's Spelman College to pilot a two-year collaboration, dubbed the Curatorial Studies Program, which aims to prepare the next generation of African-American students for curatorial professions.

This brings us to today's news out of Cincinnati, which represents an elegant overlap of these two distinct funding areas—music and boosting minority representation. 

Mellon awarded the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO) and University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) a combined $900,000 grant to pilot a groundbreaking collaborative fellowship program aimed at developing young, graduate-level musicians from underrepresented populations and preparing them for the professional orchestra world.

Just as these grants responded to tangible "supply-side" deficiencies in the fields of academia and curatorial studies, Mellon's give to the CSO and CCM aims to address the structural problem of American orchestras and conservatories' issues of diversity.

"We looked at the data and saw that only four percent of American orchestra musicians were African-American or Latino, a figure that is also reflected in conservatory settings," said Trey Devey, CSO President. "The CSO and CCM felt it essential to address this issue head-on and provide life-changing experiences within a highly creative and multidisciplinary artistic environment for graduate-level musicians across the country."

The four-year pilot program will graduate two classes of up to five fellows each through June 2019. Fellows will consist of graduate-level string musicians who are simultaneously enrolled in CCM’s master’s or artist diploma degree programs. Each class of fellows will perform five weeks per season with the CSO in a progressive sequence of concert weeks based on program difficulty, with one week focused on community engagement and educational activities.

Fellows will be provided with a unique support system built on intensive professional mentorship, plus a CCM fellowship stipend and one-time Graduate Dean’s Excellence Award, with opportunities for additional performing and non-performing community engagement activities through CCM, eight career development seminars including mock auditions and full tuition scholarships.

Given the depth and breadth of these offerings, all involved parties hope the fellowship program will attract underrepresented musicians from all over the world. (Our hunch is that these hopes are well-founded.)

So what, exactly, is the takeaway here for other music nonprofits out there? To quote their mission statement, Mellon clearly values music's role in deepening our "understanding of the human condition and experience." And Mellon seems to be increasingly drawn to organizations that stay true to this vision while simultaneously providing opportunities to traditionally underrepresented populations.