Since 1992, the St Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO) has been running its IN UNISON program, which partners with 33 African-American churches in the greater St Louis community.
The program aims to bring a more diverse range of people into contact with the orchestra's work. Participating church congregations receive visits from SLSO musicians, as well as access to discounted tickets to SLSO concerts. Alongside this outreach, the program also runs a 100-voice chorus that specializes in African-American music —plus the IN UNISON Academy, which offers scholarships and mentorships to young people.
Continuing their long-term association with the program, the Bayer Fund has awarded $160,000 to the SLSO to continue its work. This will mean the orchestra can increase the capacity of its Peer to Peer program, which provides mentorship to young African-American artists. The grant will also increase the capacity of the IN UNISON chorus.
Additionally, the SLSO has been awarded $19,500 by the League of American Orchestras, which will fund anti-bias training for the orchestra's staff. The orchestra also plans to allocate some of the grant to an investigation into how it can increase the diversity of its staff, patrons, and musicians.
"We are deeply grateful for Bayer Fund's visionary and longtime support of our IN UNISON programs," said Marie-Hélène Bernard, the President and CEO of the St Louis Symphony. "Thanks to their generous support, the SLSO has worked with community partners and fostered deeper relationships throughout our region. And together, through music, we help nurture a more equitable, inclusive, and diverse St. Louis."
Bernard is aware that while the orchestra has made significant strides in terms of diversity and community outreach, the board still needs to continually re-evaluate the effectiveness of its efforts.
The SLSO was the first orchestra in America to have female musicians in the majority, but efforts to increase diversity have moved more slowly. For instance, in 2021, 39 of the orchestra's 44 board members are white.
“The work will never be done," Bernard told St Louis Public Radio. "This is an evolution. It’s an investment in the future, forever. It's about how you continue to stimulate the flow of ideas that doesn't just come from me or my music director or board, but the people who come from St. Louis.”