We are Women! Hear us Roar Sing!
While women are gaining ground in the fight for equality and professional advancement, there is much still to be done…especially in the arts. According to an Opera America research study, historically there remains a static, very low (less than 8 percent) ratio of female general directors at the companies with the largest budgets. The GD/CEO percentages at mid-size companies have shown more variance but remain on average between 17 to 21 percent over the last 16 years. Performing arts organizations just don’t seem to select female leaders.
Opera Grand Rapids didn’t get the memo.
In 2019, OGR welcomed a new female Executive Director, Emilee Syrewicze. Leading the hiring effort, and the board of directors, was Grand Rapids attorney, Diane St. Claire. In early 2020, the Friends of the Opera Board of Directors announced Peggy Barber as its president. In just one short year, Opera Grand Rapids propelled not one, but three female leaders into the most important roles in the company. Additionally, the entire OGR staff is female… and all are under 34. For the first time in the company’s fifty-two-year history, women occupy the top positions throughout the organization.
“We weren’t trying to make a statement about female leaders. We just selected the best candidates for the jobs.” said Chris Edgar, Vice President of the OGR Board of Directors. He continued, “As an organization, we are reaping the benefits of female-centered leadership and our programs are better because of it.”
On the artistic side of things, OGR recently made headlines by organizing a virtual broadcast of its production of Scalia/Ginsburg, by Derrick Wang. The effort to execute a virtual show in less than forty-eight hours was led by women on staff alongside three female artists leading the production (Emily Jerrell Urbanek as conductor, Valerie Wheeler as stage manager, and Cara Consilvio as stage director). It’s only fitting that a main character in this particular opera is Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Executive Director, Emilee Syrewicze states, “I hope that if anyone ever needs a reason for why selecting female leaders is important, Opera Grand Rapids can be that case for elevating women to decision-making roles.”
It looks like every month at OGR is Women’s Month, not just March.