Earlier this year, the Eastman School of Music’s Paul R. Judy Center for Innovation & Research, in collaboration with the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance’s EXCEL Lab, sponsored Disruption. Action. Change. Creating a More Just and Equitable Arts Ecosystem. As part of the series, our five featured guests contributed blog posts that coincided with their virtual sessions. In the coming months we will be revisiting our guests’ timely and compelling blog posts. This week, our Blog Rewind will feature Dr. Antonio C. Cuyler.
Antonio C. Cuyler (Florida State University/University of Michigan)
Dr. Antonio C. Cuyler is the author of Access, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Insights from the Careers of Executive Opera Managers of Color in the U. S. He serves as Director of the MA Program & Associate Professor of Arts Administration at Florida State University (FSU) where he teaches doctoral and master’s students. He also serves as Visiting Associate Professor in the Theatre & Drama Department in the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance at the University of Michigan.
from Dr. Antonio C. Cuyler
Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defined stereotype as something conforming to a fixed or general pattern especially a standardized mental picture that members of a group hold in common and that represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment. Most historically discriminated against, marginalized, oppressed, and subjugated peoples know personally of the harms stereotypes can cause. In the U. S. cultural sector, one finds examples and discussions of the harms stereotypes have caused in dance (Black Ballerina), film & tv (Disclosure and They’ve Gotta Have Us), visual art (How to U. S. Museums Excluded Black Artists), and music, specifically opera (Discrimination in Casting Black Singers at the Metropolitan Opera, Operas by Black Composers Have Long Been Ignored. Explore 8, and Russell Thomas is much more than a Black tenor).
The operatic art form, too, faces enduring stereotypes that have undermined its ability to develop new audiences (Opera Is for the 99%). Yet, opera remains incapable of and/or resistant to letting go of enduring negative stereotypes. As Katherine Hu pointed out in 2019 in the NY Times, classical opera has a racism problem. I strongly agree with Hu. Opera must retire blackface, brownface, and yellowface now! In addition, I envision an antiracist and decolonized version of the art form in which managers and companies use opera as an intervention and educational tool to facilitate meaningful community-wide conversations about the role of stereotypical images in perpetuating and reinforcing oppression. A truly disruptive practice that the industry could institutionalize to ensure its sustainability. But how does one incentivize such a change? Opera and the cultural sector at large must grapple with the question of who benefits most from and who do negative stereotypes harm the most? One thing remains clear to me, however. In a society that lost $16 trillion over the last 20 years due to discrimination against Black people, opera, an industry consistently challenged to earn revenue, can no longer afford to peddle racist ideas. It is simply untenable in a society that prides itself for ruthless and unregulated capitalism.