Published on March 24th, 2022

Grantmaking program reimagines orchestras as laboratories for the field, developing strategies and utilizing a peer-focused curriculum to help drive field-wide change


Symphony Tacoma is excited to announce we are the recipient of a $75,000 grant from The League of American Orchestras to help create a more equitable organizational culture through collaborative, peer-driven learning opportunities. Given to just twenty orchestras nationwide, the three-year grants are made possible by a $2.1 million leadership grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, with additional support from the Paul M. Angell Family Foundation. The Catalyst Fund Incubator drives change by incorporating models from high-tech incubators, such as creating strong peer communities for brainstorming and strategizing and developing new ideas through mentorships. An important element of the program focuses on building capacity to attract new resources—including funding and partnerships—for the orchestras’ equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) work.

“Through this incredible opportunity, Symphony Tacoma is ready to take our EDI journey from the awareness phase to the action phase,” said Symphony Tacoma Executive Director Karina Bharne. “The grant contract earmarks funding for a consultancy with an EDI firm which will help make our goal a reality, along with seed money to initiate new community programming. We are thrilled to partner with Tammy Dowley-Blackman of the TDB Group, who will be working with all of our stakeholders—orchestra musicians, board, administrative staff and members of our community.

“We are actively interrupting a centuries-old pattern of exclusion in our field, to lessen racial disparities and to foster a culture of inclusivity—both on and off the stage,” continued Bharne. Symphony Tacoma seeks to become truly representative of, and essential to, our community. We are excited about the possibilities in the next three years of this journey and would like to thank the League of American Orchestras.”

“We’re so grateful to The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for their vision and years of support, and to the 49 orchestras in the initial Catalyst Fund pilot program who have infused the field with insights and helped the entire field begin to effect change,” said Simon Woods, the League’s President and CEO. “The new Incubator program accelerates and deepens this work, inspiring orchestras to nurture and sustain inclusive organizational cultures over the long-term. I’m especially excited about widely sharing this learning, including our new guide, Promising Practices: Actions Orchestras Can Take to Make Progress Toward Equity, and a fantastic slate of additional Catalyst resources to come later this year.”


2022 Catalyst Fund Incubator Grant Recipients: Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Charleston Symphony Orchestra, Greater Connecticut Youth Orchestras, Hawai’i Symphony Orchestra, Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, Jacksonville Symphony, Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, Napa Valley Youth Symphony, New Jersey Symphony, San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory, South Dakota Symphony Orchestra, Stamford Symphony, Symphony Tacoma, Chicago Philharmonic, Louisville Orchestra, Walla Walla Symphony, Winston-Salem Symphony, Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, and Youth Orchestras of San Antonio (YOSA)



Community building is a strong component of the Incubator. During the three-year grant period, participating orchestras will take part in five convenings each grant year—three curricular sessions and two peer learning convenings. Informal and facilitated discussion via online communication platforms will connect participants with the wider Catalyst Fund community of previous grantees. To encourage stakeholder engagement, administrative, educational, and artistic staff, board members, and musicians from each orchestra will participate.

The grants will enable orchestras to work directly with professional EDI consultants. The consultants’ work is multifaceted: helping orchestras clarify, map and measure equity, diversity, and inclusion goals, and offering guidance on a wide array of issues, such as avoiding common pitfalls when doing EDI work; mediating conflict around differences of opinion on approach and strategy; and best practices for including a multitude of voices and perspectives, among others.

Incubator grantees were required to demonstrate strength of vision, institutional commitment, and readiness. The 20 orchestras were selected via an independent panel of EDI experts and practitioners in the arts and orchestral fields.



Launched in 2019 and preceding the Incubator, The Catalyst Fund pilot program made a strong impact on the field, with several orchestras receiving multiple grants over three years to sustain their work. 76 Catalyst Fund grants were awarded to 49 orchestras of all sizes and types, each demonstrating a strong commitment and dedication to EDI work and an increased awareness that systemic change requires a sustained effort over time. More than 80% of first-year grantees reported making either policy or programming changes as a result of their funded work, with most engaging board and musicians alongside staff.

The Catalyst Fund Incubator and The Catalyst Fund pilot program are informed by earlier dialogue and research. A major national convening co-hosted by the League and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in December 2015 was catalytic in launching national task forces and annual convenings to engage orchestras in EDI efforts. Two important League studies, Racial/Ethnic and Gender Diversity in the Orchestra Field, and Forty Years of Fellowships: A Study of Orchestras’ Efforts to Include African American and Latino Musicians, further served to inform and stimulate action. In April 2018 the League launched, in partnership with The Sphinx Organization and the New World Symphony, the National Alliance for Audition Support, a national initiative that offers Black and Latinx musicians a customized combination of mentoring, audition preparation, and audition travel stipends. Additional information on these programs and other EDI activity, including the League’s Catalyst Guides, Promising Practices: Actions Orchestras Can Take to Make Progress Toward Equity and Making the Case for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Orchestras, its EDI Strategic Framework, and articles, webinars, and other materials, is available from the League’s Catalyst Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Resource Center.