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The appalling killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month shocked us all and, together with the protests since, have rightly made us reflect on our own lives, what we can do as individuals, and what we can do as a Company. Welsh National Opera’s vision is for a world enriched and made inclusive through the power of opera, and I thought I would take this opportunity to share with you a few specific examples of how we are seeking to make this vision a reality.
In February 2020 we announced the world premiere of Migrations, a hugely ambitious new opera involving six writers from diverse backgrounds coming together to tell a series of interweaving stories about migration throughout history. The opera includes the story of Pero, an Afro-Caribbean slave in the ownership of a wealthy merchant family in 18th century Bristol, and the experiences of two doctors who migrate to the UK from India to work in the NHS. Migrations was due to be performed this Autumn Season but has been postponed until 2021 due to Coronavirus, where it will form the focus of WNO’s 75th anniversary year. In the meantime, we are continuing to work with the creative team to create some new digital content over the coming months.
WNO’s Youth & Community department delivers work that, while perhaps less visible than our operas on the main stage, is of equal importance. In Birmingham we have been running a mother and toddler weekly singing group for refugee parents in the city. Our long-standing relationships in Birmingham has enabled us to work with local community groups including Our Roots, and 80% of WNO Youth Opera members in Birmingham are from BAME backgrounds.
In Cardiff, as part of our 2019 FREEDOM Season of work on the theme of human rights, we formed a five-year partnership with Welsh Refugee Council. We have since been developing an artist-in-residence programme with refugee writers and directors, and have created a short piece that was shown informally as part of the FREEDOM Season last year. This will go on to be developed and programmed around the launch of Migrations next year. We have also been working with the Oasis Centre in Cardiff on two pieces written and composed by local refugees and asylum seekers.
It is not just our work that needs to be more inclusive, it is our organisation as a whole. In 2018 WNO set up an Inclusion Task Force, with representation from every department: this is our mechanism for delivering organisational change. We have worked closely on this with the Stephen Lawrence Trust, whose expertise and encouragement has been invaluable and continues to be so. Our action plan included commitments to diversifying our artistic programme and our audiences, but also how we operate as a Company, from recruitment practices to workforce development to governance.
Of course this is not enough, but it is progress. We are committed over the coming months and years to change ourselves, change our Company and reflect the society in which we live.