Being a Cultural Advocate
Advocacy can be defined as the act of speaking or writing in support of something or someone, or taking action to create change. Advocacy is not limited to decision-makers and legislators, it is a practice that everyone can engage in. And most people do, every time they make a decision or discuss topics related to their work.
It is common for conductors and other music professionals to actively engage themselves and others as advocates for music, music education, or the arts’ place in society. Raising awareness of important cultural issues and creating a positive change, for example towards greater social justice and equality, may also be an integral part of one’s professional life regardless of career path. In this case, one becomes an advocate for certain morals or attitudes as well.
Artistic Choices = Advocacy
Conductors become advocates through their actions and words, either formally, through written publications, speeches and lobbying, or informally, such as through programming or teaching. All artistic choices, including how you programme and interpret music, actually contribute to how you express advocacy. By choosing to perform certain composers over others, or choosing to engage in a certain performance practice, you make a choice to expose someone or something at the expense of someone or something else. In this way, your artistic choices may become a representation of your point of view on a variety of topics.
Conductors will not only become advocates on behalf of themselves. A conductor in a permanent position is often required to serve as a spokesperson for the organisation they work for. The spokesperson may act like a public face or a “bridge” between the organisation and the public, tasked with activities that will help generate interest in certain performances, grow a local audience or improve their organisation’s reputation and positioning in the larger community. Conductors with more or less power in their organisations may sometimes want to change policies or practices, or attitudes and behaviours where they work. To successfully be an advocate for causes you find important, you first have to make a conscious choice on where you stand and define your own beliefs. The next step is to act consciously in line with your beliefs. You will have to build evidence on what you think needs to change, focus attention on the issues and influence those in power to take action.
Conductors are in the business of creating music and we have a duty to champion both quality music-making and expanding music’s contribution to and place in society. As leaders and representatives of this art form, we should be able to articulate why music is important and how society can and should support music and arts. In many situations, your values and attitudes may also be passed on to the people you work with or teach and routines and values are thus passed on to the next generation. To avoid stagnation and repetitive patterns, we are dependent on individuals choosing to work for change, even if it is only a matter of small and gradual changes.
To exemplify some topics beyond the baton that concern conductors around the world, we have gathered a few opinion essays and links to articles particularly relevant when promoting change in the world surrounding the professional life of conductors.