Cultural Equity

Our work relies on being an ensemble, and our ensemble only thrives with diversity, equity, inclusion, and respect. We commit to actively confronting and dismantling white supremacy, patriarchy, and exclusion in our company, field, and community.

We commit to being inclusive, and strive every day to be an anti-racist organization.

During the 18/19 season, the Portland Opera Board of Directors and Metropolitan Group led the company through the process of creating a strategic plan for the company, resulting in an exciting set of ideas for Portland Opera’s next chapter. Strategy Three of the plan specifically outlined fundamental progress to activate an organizational commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion, in order to create the opera of the future.  Our journey and outcomes with this work impacts every strategy outlined in the plan: from our mission, vision, and values articulations, to our civic practice, community connections, and more. 

In the two plus years since developing our goals, we’ve pursued change and began our journey to transform our company.  Below you will find updates and specific progress details (some of which occurred concurrently) about Portland Opera's transformation thus far. 

Accountability Partners & Learning Labs
  • Through our extended network, we were introduced to Keryl McCord and her company, Equity Quotient.
    • In 2019 we established a staff working committee for the first scope of work with Keryl: a 2-day learning lab for staff members about the genesis of race and dismantling privilege; and a one-day board retreat. These workshops resulted in shared vocabulary, learning, and the initial synthesis of our challenges (and solutions) as a company.

  • During this time we also began work with an agency to lead us through the process of refreshing our mission, vision, values, and brand platform.
    • The conversations intersected, and the process unfolded in surprising ways as we navigated COVID-19 and national civil unrest (along with local civic demonstrations) with increased intensity for the Black Lives Matter movement.

  • This process clarified immediate actions that we could take as a company in order to begin our transformation.
    • This immediate impact meant action within our ongoing future season planning process, our community programs, the creation of artistic advisor roles, and our COVID-19 programming.

  • Portland Opera is committed to ongoing learning and professional development specifically in relation to inclusion, equity, and diversity.  The company has created an annual budgeted line item for ongoing learning activities and employee engagement, with the expectation that it will be used in full each year.
Our Committee

As a result of our initial learning labs, we developed a staff and board member working group, with the goal of building sustainable and institutional change together.  This group is charged with developing a Cultural Equity Plan for Portland Opera, in consultation with ongoing work with Equity Quotient.

  • Members of Portland Opera's Cultural Equity planning taskforce include Portland Opera board members: Sona Andrews, Linda Brown, Christine Lewis, David Salerno Owens (chair), and William Sweat. Staff members include Sue Dixon, Damien Geter, Celeste Miller, Jess Morgan, Christine A. RichardsonEthan Cope Richter, and Andrea Tichy (staff and consultant liaison). 

    The Cultural Equity Planning committee held working meetings on:

    November 5, 2020

    November 19, 2020

    December 3, 2020

    January 14, 2021

    January 28, 2021

    February 11, 2021

    March 11, 2021

    The committee held working sessions as a full group at times, and created three working groups with areas of focus including:

    1. Governance, Policies, and Practices
    2. Artistic/Production and Programming
    3. Organizational Culture

    Each working group created a charter with specific deliverables that would tie into the development of our combined Cultural Equity Plan.

    These taskforces were created in consultation with our partners at Equity Quotient; who continued to meet with chair David Salerno Owens, staff liaison Andrea Tichy, and general director Sue Dixon in between committee working sessions.

    When our vision, mission, and values statements were being refined for adoption, the committee worked to edit and build consensus around our core value of Cultural Equity and Ensemble. 

    • These articulations were sent to external stakeholders, community members, orchestra and chorus, full staff, and board for evaluation and consideration.
    • The staff voted to adopt them in December of 2020; the Board at their next regular meeting in February, 2021.
    • These articulations were made public in March 2021.
Company-wide Assessment

In February of 2021, Equity Quotient conducted a company-wide anonymous assessment regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Participation

The survey was sent to 303 individuals, including the Portland Opera Board of Directors, the staff and administration of Portland Opera, 20/21 Portland Opera Resident Artists, the Portland Opera Chorus, Orchestra, and stagehands.

The responses resulted in a 95% confidence level with an 8% margin of error overall. As we segment populations of responses, we report that:

63% of the Board of Directors participated

85% of the Portland Opera staff and administration participated

21% of Portland Opera Chorus, Orchestra, and stagehands participated

Confidence & Acknowledgements

Despite some segments’ low participation, we feel confident in putting forward our understanding of key findings. This assessment was intended to gather depth of information in a qualitative manner; and will be a starting part for pulse surveys and ongoing assessments in order to chart progress over time.

The administration wishes to acknowledge that orchestra, chorus, and stagehands were invited to complete the assessment on a voluntary basis, during a work closure caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, we wish to acknowledge voices missing from the administrative/staff responses due to COVID-19 furloughs and layoffs. We recognize the timing for this was not ideal,  but did want to shelf the process for a more opportune time.

The committee also wishes to acknowledge that because of segmented participation levels, the key findings of this survey are skewed towards the feelings, responses, and data collected by participating members of staff, administration, and the Board of Directors. 

We are grateful to everyone who shared their feedback.

Key Findings

The results of our company-wide assessment are five key findings that are centered in the strength of our ensemble and teaming, power dynamics, inclusive decision-making, and empowerment. We also learned that different segments require nuanced paths forward in order for us to achieve our intended transformations. 

We are currently holding working sessions based on the key findings, in order to identify patterns and circumstances that we can actively change; and strengths that we can utilize in order to achieve transformation. We will be able to share these key findings, and their correlated recommendations for change in the coming weeks, but at this time request privacy while we continue our internal conversations regarding what we've learned from our assessment. 

Our Equity, Financial & Strategic Plan Lens

The Governance, Policies & Practices subcommittee of the Cultural Equity Planning taskforce was led by Sona Andrews, Board of Directors. 

The charter of this subcommittee expanded upon the role of our subcommittee's activities of creating recommendations, to include the additional purposes of:

  1. Developing an equity, financial, and strategic planning lens (EFS lens)
  2. Suggesting a process(es) that the Portland Opera Board and Portland Opera will use to assess policies and practices through an EFS lens
  3. Suggesting prioritization for policy and practice review (found in recommendations)
  4. Propose how to codify those processes into board and management operations. 

The development of a lens/toolkit that incorporates equity, as well as strategic planning and financial wellness is a reflection of the multifaceted challenges and opportunities facing the organization. Each decision impacts our values; and this unique tool is meant specifically for the growth and support of Portland Opera.

The testing and development of the EFS lens began within the Governance, Policies & Practices working group; then expanded to include testing within the full Cultural Equity Planning team, and within Portland Opera’s Board of Directors Governance Committee, who utilized the lens in the process of updating the organization’s bylaws. 

The result of these processes, changes, and testing is reflected in this current version of the company's EFS lens, which is now being fully activated as a resource, and will be published as part of our full Cultural Equity Plan. 

Our Cultural Equity Plan

Originally we stated that our aim was to publish a full Cultural Equity Plan in June of 2021,  in tandem with institutional practices for accountability, sustainability, and transparency about our commitments to equity, diversity, and inclusion. 

While our goal still remains to empower systemic and institutional change at Portland Opera, we are not yet ready to share our full plan. This does not mean that our published Cultural Equity plan is taking a backseat within our priorities.  Rather, it means that we are digging deeper into some of the systemic issues we've identified in order to get it right. 

  • We continue internal and stakeholder working sessions and are continuing to identify recommendations through our assessment findings.
  • In April of 2021, the Cultural Equity Taskforce compiled a list of 85 commitments and recommendations for change at Portland Opera, based on working sessions in staff and board retreats, committee meetings, and in response to our commitment to Black Opera Alliance, and other accountability partners. 
    • These recommendations and commitments are currently being reviewed and organized by the staff of Portland Opera, and committee leadership. 
    • This doesn't mean that we are waiting to activate our recommendations or commitments until everything is published.  We are actively pursuing many of them now, while we continue to work on the big picture context for our company-wide plan. 
  • We continue to compile resources and toolkits for company-wide activation, based on feedback from all segments. We are listening to what is really needed for lasting and meaningful change. 
  • We continue to activate our mission, vision, and values to plan for programming outcomes and goals that align with our EDI commitments. 
  • Our team is also currently developing an accountability action statement for Portland Opera that recognizes that "the Portland Metro area rests on traditional village sites of the Multnomah, Wasco, Cowlitz, Kathlamet, Clackamas, Bands of Chinook, Tualatin, Kalapuya, Molalla and many other tribes who made their homes along the Columbia River creating communities and summer encampments to harvest and use the plentiful natural resources of the area" (Portland Indian Leaders Roundtable, 2018), and articulates actions that Portland Opera will take to respectfully support and celebrate Indigenous knowledge and culture—particularly in traditions of stories, teachings, and songs. 
The Black Opera Alliance Pledge

Signed by Sue Dixon, General Director, on behalf of Portland Opera; the Black Opera Alliance pledge consists of 8 commitments for racial equity and systemic change in opera. 

The mission of the Black Opera Alliance is to empower Black classical artists and administrators by exposing systems of racial inequity and under-representation of the African Diaspora in all facets of the industry and challenging institutions to implement drastic reform. 

Portland Opera takes our pledge seriously, and the eight commitments were discussed and workshopped in our Cultural Equity Planning taskforce meetings, resulting in specific additions to our list of Recommendations and Commitments that address specifically how Portland Opera will achieve our pledge. 

Learn more about the Black Opera Alliance