The boards of Toronto’s biggest arts organizations are the last bastions of white maleness.
Very soon, Toronto will “tip” from being a city where the vast majority of its citizens are white (in 1957, 93 per cent of us were) to one where visible minorities will make up the new visible majority.
But the new big battalions are still far from being the powerful ones.
Nowhere is this more true than in those last bastions of white maleness, the boards of Toronto’s biggest arts organizations — the Art Gallery of Ontario, Canadian Opera Company, the National Ballet of Canada, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
In fact, all 25 of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s board members are white. Twenty-three of the Canadian Opera Company’s 36 board members are men, including all six officers of the board. And when it comes to non-white women (the majority of the new visible majority), only 15 out of the Big Six’s 203 board members are “women of colour.”
I don’t think any of these groups is deliberately turning away non-white women for their boards. Indeed, these women may not want to join even if asked. Who needs to feel so alone? And pay for the privilege?
But it is screamingly ironic that a city which views diversity as its competitive advantage has neglected this very virtue in its most prominent arts organizations.
While most women aren’t making million-dollar donations to the arts, they will be — or could be — sooner than you think. Power, education and demographics are all on their side.
Three years ago, there were precisely no women premiers in Canada. Today, Canada’s six women
premiers govern 85 per cent of our population. Most of the students in 13 of our 17 medical schools are women. At the University of Toronto Law School, 51 per cent of students are women and 32 per cent are non-white. Meanwhile, at the U of T’s Rotman School of Business and York’s Schulich School of Business, 30 per cent of their students are women — and growing.
So on their way to becoming a majority, how many of these women are non-white? Not many — yet. But there should be soon, and soon after that, more non-white women should be turning up on all Toronto’s arts boards.
But when I put my view to a major corporate arts donor, he said: “That’s complete bullshit. Opera and symphony and ballet are European art forms. A Chinese woman isn’t interested in that.”
What about those brilliant young Chinese violinists, singers and pianists performing to full houses at the Met or La Scala or the Mariinsky? Or the thousands of women of Chinese heritage from Toronto for whom “European” music is the music of home?
Indeed, in the next three months, half of Toronto’s Big Six arts groups are launching major initiatives involving Chinese artists.
Last week TIFF launched its first truly global venture: A Century of Chinese Cinema. It consists of a 70-film retrospective of Chinese films from the 1920s to today, plus the first collaboration ever between the China, Taiwan and Hong Kong Film Archives to create a gallery show that will travel to New York, London and Melbourne.
In August, the Art Gallery of Ontario will become the sole Canadian venue for a retrospective by the most famous Chinese artist in the West, Ai Weiwei, who’s been called “the most powerful figure in contemporary art.”
Then, in September, Lang Lang will perform with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. His program will be entirely works by Wagner and Mozart. He’ll be greeted by sold-out houses, standing ovations and screams of adoration — many of them from women whose background is Chinese.
Put another way, Toronto is hosting three of the most important events in the world involving Chinese artists and art forms.
I’m sure the fundraisers are scouring the Chinese community in search of sponsorship dollars.
But perhaps they could succeed if they did something they’ve neglected to do all these years: make room at their board tables where, today, the Art Gallery of Ontario has no women of Chinese background among its 40 trustees; TIFF has one woman of Chinese background in its 22-member board; and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra has no one of Chinese background on its board.
I’m not saying you just tick the box labelled “Chinese woman” and everything’s suddenly made right. You have to change your culture first.
But surely, every one of the Big Six can take their survival more seriously and invite non-white women in, not just to enjoy the performance, nor even to help fund it, but to share in pulling the levers of power by guiding the organization — from the top.
The most diverse city on Earth owes them at least that.