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A Path to Inclusion through the Arts

Kelly Salance

Foodie haven, top college town, music lover’s paradise, livable city are just a few of the ways people describe the charming city that is Madison, Wisconsin. It’s no wonder it’s often found at the top of ‘Best Places to Live’ lists. Despite these accolades, a report released by Race to Equity, revealed that this ‘Best Place to Live’ was not necessarily true for all of Madison’s population.

According to the report, Dane County, where Madison is the county seat and is Wisconsin’s state capitol, has some of the widest disparities between African Americans and Whites of any place in America. Moreover, African Americans in Dane County not only lag far behind Whites, but also generally fare less well and endure more negative life outcomes than African Americans elsewhere in the nation. With data that drastic, many Madisonians began to question the norm and wonder how much more they should be doing to make their city truly livable for all.

Since then, diversity, inclusion, and equity initiatives from all sectors have emerged with the goal to achieve greater racial justice for all. One such organization inspired by the report is the Overture Center For the Arts. Overture Center is a state-of-the-art performance center in downtown Madison with a mission to support and elevate their community’s creative culture, economy, and quality of life through the arts. Citing the Race to Equity Report as its catalyst, Overture realized they should be doing more because arts is an essential component to the health and wellbeing of a community. As a result they created a comprehensive plan of action committing to diversity and inclusion in their programming and workplace, beginning with hiring Ed Holmes as the Director of Diversity and Inclusion for Overture.

Over the last two years, Holmes and team have been creating opportunities to increase access to the arts for all. They offer subsidized tickets to the low-income individuals and families, and last year issued more than 3,000 community tickets to increase the expanse of audience experiencing their shows. Additionally, Overture offers a program called Disney Musicals in Schools, where youth to take the stage for the first time performing Disney songs and plays to transform the landscape of young performers to reflect Madison’s diverse community.  

Zendesk’s Diversity and Inclusion Manager, Khalida Ali, on Paths to Inclusion at the Diversity and Inclusion Symposium at Overture Center.

Zendesk’s Diversity and Inclusion Manager, Khalida Ali, on Paths to Inclusion at the Diversity and Inclusion Symposium at Overture Center.

Moreover, Overture partnered with Zendesk to host a Diversity and Inclusion Symposium in October 2018. This half-day event gathers leaders across industries dedicated to listening, learning, and collaborating on ideas for what a diverse and inclusive workplace looks like in Dane County.

Addressing deep racial inequality is not going to be solved overnight, and it will take people coming together from all parts of our society. The important work of Overture Center highlights that both simple and innovative solutions are imperative to building more inclusive community that is better for all its residents.

To learn more about their work visit their website.