It’s Been A Year, ICD. Where’s The Change?
[A note from 2023 Eris: As my writing about the Institute for Composer Diversity (unfortunately) continues to expand, I’ve given up and created an entire blog category for these analyses. You can now find all my posts focusing on ICD by clicking here. Posts that mention them in passing but do not focus on their actions specifically will still be tagged, but you’ll need to search “ICD” in the bar at the bottom of the page—and likely scroll a little—to find those. Thanks!]
A year ago today, I published what I thought would be a relatively low-profile explanation to my readership about why I was removing myself from the Institute for Composer Diversity’s databases. I shared the email I’d sent to the Institute, along with some additional comments contextualizing my words and my decision. Something in there clicked with a lot of you, because . . . let’s just say my notifications were a mess for awhile afterward. My friends at Trade Winds Ensemble released their own incisive, blistering set of statements shortly thereafter, Rob (statistically speaking, it was Rob) misspelled my last name in a non-apology posted to ICD’s 7,000 followers without even asking if I was okay with being named, and thanks to a lot of public pressure and outcry from all y’all who read my post or Trade Winds’ or engaged with the ensuing conversation, ICD reviewed its own policy.
When that review went up at the end of January, I dug in, publishing somewhere in the neighborhood of 14,000 words (after edits—thank you, Nebal, for your patience) analyzing each and every finding and discovering that oh yeah, they plagiarized me and Trade Winds without even bothering to mention they were using our labor as their springboard. I sat on that anger for a month, wrote my analysis, published my analysis, and . . . waited. (Read it: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3.) Twelve days later, I decided two and a half months was long enough, and I emailed ICD’s leadership. Here’s an excerpt:
You didn’t ask for our consent to use our words. You didn’t cite us. You weren’t making this choice to protect us, because none of you ever reached out to ask if we wanted to be protected in this way. ICD’s theft of this labor continues its longstanding tradition of erasing the work of marginalized composers in favor of performative activism. Not only that, it completely eschews academic best practices, opting instead to punch down at scholars doing the work we’ve begged you to do yourselves.
In the interest of transparency, I’d like to note that Ciyadh (who, of the folks I’ve interacted with at ICD, is by far my favorite) got back to me the same day to confirm I was okay with how ICD planned to cite my work and giving me a firm date by which the updates would be completed (which I’d requested in my message). They definitely messed one up (Point 22 should be attributed to Trade Winds, not me), but at this point, I’m just tired and that in particular isn’t worth yet another email. I’m grateful the plagiarism was corrected and credit was given, but the review originally went up at the end of January, and the corrections weren’t issued until May. (And I started talking about them publicly, on my blog, in mid-March!)
But at this point, it’s been several months since I’ve spoken to anyone at ICD. (I’ll probably send Ciyadh an email when I drop this post, because I’m genuinely not always convinced the leadership team sees my writing if I don’t.) They’ve had time away from the public eye (or as away as they ever get), and in their review, they left us a specific set of changes we could expect to see at various points this year. I made further demands when I analyzed their review. And on this, the anniversary of the day my poor phone blew up (the first time), I’d like to go over those key changes and remind folks what we’ve seen so far and what we haven’t.
Here’s what ICD promised us this year, as published in late January:
- Early 2021: inputting consenting composers, adding new folks who are interested, and prioritizing updates and corrections. The list of available composers on the database if you just check the LGBTQIA2S+ box (the “vaguely gay” catchall) is up to 221 from the 148 that were present when I started publishing my analysis, so they’ve definitely been doing this. I’m guessing this is where most of their work has been prioritized this year.
- First six months of 2021: WE WERE SUPPOSED TO GET THE FINANCIAL REPORT. That didn’t happen. Period. ICD has been claiming they would do this for YEARS, and in the internal review, they promised we’d have it by the end of June. We are now [checks watch] a full three months past that point, and we’re still skating by on the two facts they put on their FAQ: that they made $11,000 in 2019 and $17,000 in 2020. There’s been no explanations of what those funds were used for or if any are remaining. ICD is still content to take money from members of our community without feeling the need to actually account for how those funds are being used. Maybe I should start a day counter: “it has been x days since ICD promised a financial report.” (And by the way, those reports are supposed to start rolling out annually. Yeah, right.)
- In 2021 generally: yes, the year isn’t over yet, but given what’s remaining on the list, ICD has a LOT to do in the last three months of the year. The one thing they’ve very definitively accomplished has been hiring on the Communications Coordinator (who is, you guessed it, white, despite very repeated yelling from pretty much everyone that the leadership team needed to be diversified). Brigit, if you’re reading this, hi; you probably won’t like me very much, since I spend more time than I’d like to pointing out what your colleagues apparently still can’t fix.
- Also on the list for the rest of 2021 was the development of the Composer Resources page, which definitely doesn’t exist yet (or if it somehow does, I can’t find a single link to it anywhere on their site); nonspecifically prioritizing education and working against tokenism, which I’ve seen no evidence of as they haven’t even published another Notes blog since the review and theoretically education requires you to actually talk to your audience; introducing a proactive spotlight program and issuing a “transparent process” for vetting and approving volunteers, neither of which have been announced; and linking from the ICD site to other resources focused on specifically decolonizing classical music. If I’d thought ahead, I would’ve saved the site’s appearance earlier this year to Wayback Machine, but I didn’t, so I can’t definitively say how much work they’ve done on this. Aside from the excellent group Decolonizing The Music Room, very few of the groups listed on ICD’s Outside Resources page seem interested in decolonizing work at all. None, as far as I can tell, have any formal connection to or focus on Indigenous voices in the U.S., and you definitely can’t do decolonizing work without Natives. (Hilariously, they do include WIJO on their list, whose reputation with a lot of non-cis folks is pretty garbage despite the fact that they claim to work on behalf of some of us.)
- Continuing re: linking to outside organizations, I can think of at least a handful of groups that have done great work in the last year, some of which are run by people who left ICD because of Rob, that have not been included on ICD’s resources page.
So based just on the things they promised us, ICD’s year in review is looking pretty grim unless they really put the pedal to the metal here in the last quarter. But given how many items on the above list went completely unaddressed, surely they’ve done some other things, right? Made some other really clear, obvious changes? I obviously can’t know what their priorities have been this year (besides the list of priorities they’ve mostly ignored), so the best metric I have with which to evaluate this is revisiting some of the big points I made in my review. Let’s check on those (it’s a long list):
- I worried that “don’t submit others’ queer status” was a flimsy defense against outing folks to ICD staff, but they’ve changed that to “living composers should submit their own information,” which is much better.
- Who knows if they’ve gotten their system working to the point where they can push pronoun updates quickly. If you’re listed on the databases and you’ve updated yours this year (NOT in the “confirm your info” emails), I’d love to hear how it went.
- Their information on Indigenous populations has still received exactly zero edits. First Nations, Inuit, and Métis (the three distinct Indigenous peoples in Canada) are blurred together under the term “Canadian Aboriginal,” which is a very White People way to phrase that. Aboriginal peoples in Australia, where that’s a term that actually gets used somewhat regularly, are still absent from their list. They still want to see proof of tribal enrollment (or corroboration from an enrolled member) if you’re trying to submit your Indigenous identity, which means reconnecting Natives are still probably out of luck.
- They still use Latinx, even after approximately a billion people have pointed out that’s just linguistic imperialism. Latine isn’t that hard of a switch.
- The gender categories are still insufficient and hard to use. (Did you know if you click “transgender” and “women” you don’t get all the trans women, you just get everyone who’s trans AND all the cis AND trans women? Useless!)
- The one policy I have seen shared to their site (in the FAQ somewhere, I think) is the “we now won’t name anyone publicly without their permission” clause. I’d like to see this for ALL their communications policies. (I wouldn’t normally request this for an organization, but they’ve put their foot in their mouth too many times.)
- In my analysis of the review, I wrote “Addressing some concerns once does nothing to move toward an environment where concerns are consistently, honestly addressed,” and guess what? I don’t see proof that they’ve even consistently addressed the items they said they were going to in their own report! So I 100% do not believe they’re listening and responding in a way that’s meaningfully better.
- Rob’s name has been removed from ICD’s little “History” blurb on their FAQ, which doesn’t fix everything but at least means new visitors to the site might not call it Rob’s Database.
- Despite the fact that ICD’s analysis of Point 12 of the report said they should put their rationale for using Latinx instead of Latine on their FAQ page, it still doesn’t exist. (See also: linguistic imperialism still an issue.)
- Still no clue what the “main contact email” is.
- We have not yet seen a formalized staffing policy, nor have we seen meaningful evidence of ICD’s supposed commitment to increasing racial diversity among their leadership team. (PS: I know multiple incredibly qualified folks of color who would’ve applied for that Comms job if it was paid appropriately.)
- Again . . . where is the DEI expertise, besides Ciyadh? No offense, but pretty soon I’m going to be more qualified in that regard than most of your leadership combined.
- No clue if they ever implemented that automated Facebook message they said they were going to add, or if Rob’s given up the reins to the social accounts, but if someone wants to go poking around and figure it out, that’d be cool. Let me know and I’ll throw you a shout-out here.
- Also, I’m just going to point out that on top of the $11,000 in 2019 and the $17,000 in 2020, ICD has a ONE-HUNDRED-THOUSAND-DOLLAR GRANT IT RECEIVED WHICH HAS NOT BEEN ACCOUNTED FOR EVEN IN PASSING.
- No concrete timeline on when disabled composers will be represented in the database.
- Is the Comms Coordinator still in charge of teaching the whole staff how to do DEI? Because that’s what y’all said was going to be the case in Point 18.
- Seriously, are we going to be notified when they’re done confirming consenting composers? (Of the questions, this one is not high-priority, but it remains unaddressed.)
- THE BEST PRACTICES PAGE IS STILL GARBAGE. The stats they recommend are still all entirely arbitrary, and just like when I yelled about it in fucking March, QUEER PEOPLE ARE LITERALLY NOT MENTIONED ON YOUR BEST PRACTICES PAGE! I will reiterate exactly what I wrote in my analysis: is anyone content-editing their website?
- The mentioned “we’ll write about ownvoices in the Notes Blog!” and the “we’ll use the Notes Blog to platform marginalized composers!” ideas have not happened at all. (Nor has the “we will define trauma performativity on our website” point.)
- The “Composers” section of the FAQ still says ICD’s goal is not to directly provide publicity to its composers, which goes against damn near everything they claim to be valuable to us for. [2023 note: This section has now been removed entirely—ICD no longer has even a single spot on its website dedicated to addressing questions composers may have.]
- The financial accounting should also include what happened to those MyScore memberships from JWPepper.
- Spotlight series doesn’t exist yet.
- There is not yet comprehensive education (or commensurate resources) readily available on ICD’s website to explain how to avoid tokenist programming. It’s mentioned in a couple spots, but not with the specificity a brand-new-to-inclusive-programming band director would need.
- We still have not received a thorough accounting of or review of Rob’s behavior and leadership as outlined in the original intent of the internal review. He has in no way been held even remotely accountable. The only meaningful public-facing change has been removing his name from a single paragraph about ICD’s history, which is nested away in the FAQ. Not a single concern of mine about Rob’s tenure as Director, his choices, his influence on the leadership team, or the consequences of his actions have been addressed to date.
- There has been no obvious reorganization of the Executive Advisory Council. Nobody’s been kicked off as far as I can tell, even for overt racism clearly referenced in Trade Winds’ writing. A YEAR AGO.
- The white saviorism problem has not improved, particularly after hiring a white person to manage their communications.
- We have not heard a single word of accountability or even acknowledgment of Rob’s shortcomings in his role as Director. I still have no faith he is the best-qualified person to lead the organization (especially not in general, but even among his own staff).
- I’m just going to reiterate this, from my analysis: “See, my qualms with Rob are not that he’s a white, cishet man. He is someone with privilege who positioned himself as an industry leader after stumbling into DEI work. In the intervening years, he refused to learn and adapt to additional perspectives unless it caused an outcry he couldn’t stifle or ignore. Countless individuals, some of whom have documented their experiences publicly, have offered to educate him personally for free; Rob has not accepted those invitations. He is among those in the music world who have had the most opportunities to better represent marginalized people and the most urgent professional reasons to do so in the past three years. Despite this, he is content to ignore his blind spots, learn only when consistent pressure is applied, and continue to sell his organization as the voice on intentional programming in the band world especially.”
- As I mentioned previously, despite claiming to want to connect visitors with anti-colonial organizations, Decolonizing The Music Room is the only explicitly anti-imperialist group listed.
- They still don’t seem to realize trauma performativity and “the conditions under which it might be appropriate and meaningful to ask a particular composer to write a piece that addresses a specific marginalization or violence” are two different things I included in the same sentence. They could hire me to teach them, though. I lecture about it! Regardless, they haven’t defined trauma performativity anywhere on the site or built any resources to talk to their visitors about commissioning composers.
- The Best Practices page is still absolute bullshit.
- Nothing has been done to address the social capital Rob has gained as head of ICD. He has artificially inflated his own importance to the field at large, when in reality he should not be seen as an authority. Stepping down (or firing him, leadership team) would be at least an initial step toward correcting this gross imbalance.
- Where’s the financial report? I want to see how much ICD’s paying to reimburse Rob for going and talking about them. (Also, does he do every speaking engagement for free, or does he get paid personally by colleges when he visits?)
- In my review, I wrote about the ICD name, “I’m concerned they’ll spend all of 2021 doing business under the same name.” So far, they have. We deserve, bare minimum, an update on what’s been discussed re: a name change and a more realistic rebranding.
- The review claims to be a step toward more communication and transparency, but ICD’s socials have been mostly dark for most of the year. How are we supposed to believe either of these things is attainable under current leadership?
- Many instances of disrespectful or further-marginalizing language in the report have not been changed, nor have they been publicly addressed. And as ICD hasn’t put out any meaningful content since the review went live (again, in January), we have no way of measuring if they’ve actually improved or even implemented most of the things they discussed in the review.
For an organization that lists action as part of its mission statement, ICD sure isn’t interested in making any actually happen. Wording across the vast majority of their website remains unedited. They still explicitly identify women and nonbinary people as part of their representation in the “who is diverse?” section of their FAQ. They still have “Latinx,” presented without explanation or justification, slathered all over their website despite years of Spanish-speakers telling them “Latine” is the more appropriate choice when keeping Spanish-language audiences in mind. The Best Practices page is still the 100% bullshit percents they’ve been pushing publicly since at LEAST 2019, when I saw Rob use the exact same slides at IWBC. An appalling number of changes they either explicitly promised or otherwise needed to make lie apparently abandoned, and little visible change to ICD’s public operations has occurred in the last eight months.
Many people saw ICD’s internal review and said “oh, see, it’ll be fine! They’re doing something about it.” In reality, they put out a shiny document, hired exactly one person to work five hours a week on issues that would fill a full-time job for months, still have no one taking care of the content on their website, and have used the façade of progress and change to continue running a site full of microaggressions cloaked in social justice language. They’ve raised, by their own admissions, at least $128,000 in the last two years and they’ve used it to miseducate a community in desperate need of actual resources on these issues, not just a pat on the back and a “don’t worry, you can still keep programming mostly cishet white men!” sticker.
Institute for Composer Diversity, it’s been a year. Step up and fix your shit, or get out of the spotlight. Our lives and careers are not a game, and we deserve an institutional advocate that cares more about what it’s teaching the public than about its own reputation and mentions in the New York Times.
We’ve been tired of waiting. Keep your fucking promises.
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