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Meet the Cleveland Orchestra’s first director of diversity and inclusion

Jejuana Brown is the Cleveland Orchestra's first director of equity and inclusion.
Roger Mastroianni
Cleveland Orchestra
Jejuana Brown is the Cleveland Orchestra's first director of equity and inclusion.

The Cleveland Orchestra is following the leads of ensembles in Cincinnati, Atlanta, Minneapolis and other major cities in hiring a director of diversity and inclusion. Jejuana Brown is the first tapped for the role at Severance. She’s a lifelong Clevelander, a graduate of Glenville High School and Cleveland State University - and early in her career was even a former Ideastream employee. Brown was most recently in a similar leadership position at the Greater Cleveland Partnership before taking on this historic new role.

Director of Diversity and Inclusion Jejuana Brown: I remember going to the orchestra when I was in school. I will say that in the fifth and sixth grade I played the violin. And my family was very happy when I stopped. So, that was not a talent of mine, but I did retain a love for a wide range of music. I've always appreciated the nuance and the expertise and the skill that it takes for someone to be a classically trained musician.

Ideastream Public Media’s Kabir Bhatia: I have to think that the Greater Cleveland Partnership and Cleveland Orchestra are very different organizations. What drew you to this role?

Brown: What drew me to this role was the opportunity to work with an organization which has global reach. That was very important. The intricacies of the orchestra – this organization is very complex – it was a new opportunity for me to really deepen my skill set in diversity, equity and inclusion. And a love for a global organization that's based here in Cleveland.

Bhatia: Looking ahead in your first year, what are some goals you have?

Brown: My first goal is to learn the building. The building itself is just a wonderful resource: understanding the history [and] where the orchestra comes from will definitely help to see where it expands. Understanding who comes to hear the orchestra. We have a wide range of audiences, so we have audiences for Severance Hall. We have audiences for Blossom. And even within those two venues, there are still different audiences within them for the different types of programming that we have. If we have a film, some people come to film, but they don't come to concerts. So, really understanding those intricacies and nuances of the audience will also help to make recommendations and to craft strategy around how to engage, how to expand and how to diversify audience participation. Currently, we have an employee resource group called READI. That is a group that I will be working with and they focus in on education and training, looking at systems and processes. As we're looking at that, how can we continue to strengthen the activities of that group internally?

Bhatia: You mentioned the READI group. That's for employees?

Brown: READI stands for “racial equity access, diversity and inclusion.” This group is made up of members of the board. It's made up of members of the executive leadership team. It's made up of staff members as well, and we also have musicians who are members of the group. They have come together to move forward a goal of the board for us to continue to unify the power of music with people of all races, identities and abilities. In order to do that, we need to have some intentionality around that. The board and the organization felt that the READI group was a first step toward that intentionality. Out of that, one of the things that they have is some education and training internally around anti-racism and implicit bias… for staff, musicians, volunteers and trustees. There is an organizational assessment that is provided by Greater Cleveland Partnership every year. The orchestra has participated in looking at that internal assessment. It's an internal survey of the organization in terms of where they are in regard to their DEI efforts, and it provides some internal benchmarking that the organization can use to move forward with their goals. So those are some of the things that we've done. We want to continue to look at what else we can do to deepen our efforts and our intentionality around being an inclusive organization.

Bhatia: The music which the orchestra plays, especially the basic repertoire - which hasn't been so diverse for the past few centuries - I know you won't be choosing the selections yourself, but is that going to be more diverse in the future? Maybe reflect the audience more closely?

Brown: The orchestra has already been very intentional about trying to diversify the repertoire: the composer, the number of solo artists. We have our composer in residence, Allison Loggins-Hull. We have a commissioned piece by Wynton Marsalis, as an example.

You definitely began to see people that are very diverse from not only a racial background but also from different ethnicities and countries. So, it's the intentionality we're continuing to build on. I expect that the music director and our artistic team will continue to amplify that as they move forward.

Bhatia: Musicians, I know, have gone out into the community and a lot of times into schools. There's, of course, many programs where students come into Severance Hall and experience the orchestra. What are your thoughts on expanding those or changing those?

Brown: Actually, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. program that we had was a showcase for that. There is a program called “Crescendo” and that expands from 3rd grade all the way through 12th grade. There is also a mentoring component that is a part of it. Those students were from a wide range of schools. They were from Cleveland public schools as well as other area schools. So, it was great to see the age, it was great to see the diversity… you just had a wide range of people that were on the stage that showed that music is for everyone. And I really loved their energy. I love their enthusiasm, and I think that that program is something that continues to expand. I know we have our neighborhood partnering programs [and] different programs going on from an educational perspective. I think we are continuing to look at how we can expand those, how we can deepen our relationships with the various neighborhoods and partner organizations that we currently work with.

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.