The ICD Internal Review Part 3: Resign, Rob (And Other Big Takeaways)
[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!]
Welcome back! Today we’re wrapping up our multi-day adventure through the ICD review. If you haven’t read the previous installments, I recommend checking out Part 1 and Part 2. After we conclude our point-by-point walkthrough, I’m going to mention some major concerns I didn’t get to talk about previously. As always, thanks for being here! I would’ve given up at Point 10 without y’all.
- Click here for an unmarked, unedited PDF of the review as it was published on January 29, 2021.
- My introduction, ICD’s introduction, and Points 1-14: see Part 1
- Points 15-30: see Part 2
- Section 5 (cont.): Feedback on Rob Deemer and ICD Leadership
- Section 6: Systemic Issues in Classical Music
- Section 7: Additional Feedback
- Point 34: I Know More About This Than ICD, So They Stole My Words
- Point 35: ICD, Where Do These Stats Come From?
- Point 36: Plagiarizing Trade Winds Again (“Self-Reflexive Data Analysis”)
- Point 37: Stop Taking Individual Credit
- Point 38: White Profits Should Help Artists of Color
- Point 39: “ICD” Is Inaccurate
- Folks, we made it to (their) conclusion
- What’s Left? My Closing Thoughts
- Works Cited
Feedback on Rob Deemer and ICD Leadership (cont. from Part 2)
Point 31: Rob Isn’t Qualified. Period.
“Rob is not qualified to run a program on inclusive programming, and the ICD should hire people with sociological expertise and racial awareness.”
I made this critique. Trade Winds made this critique. Many voices have made this critique on social media platforms.
The Review Team Says:
- Reviewers believe ideal leadership would be primarily folks with various marginalizations.
- White and cishet folks can improve their DEI knowledge through learning; however, more lived experience would improve ICD’s output.
- “Reviewers also believe it is important not to burden individuals from underrepresented groups with all the work of DEI.”
- Proposed survey of staff and volunteers to figure out what representation and what DEI experience folks have.
- My upper margin notes: “This is extremely disappointing & disheartening.”
- Rob’s name is never mentioned in the response. Neither is his Director title. They flat-out do not address this, though they try to convince us they do.
- To not know who on your staff has DEI experience after almost three years is ridiculous. How do we believe Point 13 when it says ICD sought staff for their expertise?
- Re: not burdening marginalized people with DEI work: what was ICD’s initial response to this criticism? It brought on a leadership team that’s half women of color, and here’s why the hypocrisy is almost laughable:
ICD’s own choice when it realized the white, cishet man leading their organization does a shitty job was to “burden individuals from underrepresented groups.”
If you talk to ICD, they’ll probably tell you otherwise. These women stepped up to the challenge! They volunteered (or accepted a nomination, who knows) and agreed to put in the time and effort!
Yes. They did. And that’s the point.
Marginalized people stepped up because all of us live in varying iterations of a world where we have to make our own opportunities and do the work ourselves if we want things. Marginalized people stepped up because they wanted a chance to influence the outcome’s quality. Women of color stepped up because every single one of them carries expertise in this field solely by living through it, and because as they continue to grapple with the world, some of them still find the time and energy to lead.
If Rob Deemer wants to remain the head of ICD, the entire organization must convince me and the community that he is not only appropriately-qualified but the best-qualified person to hold this Directorship.
“If @RobDeemer wants to remain the head of @ComposerProject, the entire organization must convince me and the community that he is not only *appropriately-qualified* but the *best-qualified* person to hold this Directorship.”Tweet
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.
Rob’s institutional approach to activism steeps in a vast sea of arrogance. That arrogance is the foundation of white saviorism, and it’s my foremost problem with his continuing leadership of ICD.
These issues? They’re big ones. But they’re also well-documented to the point that you could quickly learn about any of them within a single afternoon on Google. In his ICD work, Rob isn’t blazing a trail through unexplored territory. He’s ignoring clear, posted signs and refusing to listen to the GPS in his speakers.
The fact that he seemingly can’t tell the difference should be the final nail in the coffin of his tenure as Director.
Systemic Issues in Classical Music
Point 32: Acknowledge Colonization’s Impacts
“Putting anti colonial voices (music) in an inherently colonialist system (concert program) without acknowledgement of cost of attendance, space where it is performed, standard audience reached, and to what communities it is promoted, does not fix a big part of classical music’s problem.”
They cobbled this complaint together with copy-pasted excerpts from the Trade Winds post.
The Review Team Says:
- It’s important visitors know databases don’t absolve them of colonizer status.
- Language on the website (nonspecific) proposed to “discourage the use of the database as a single action.”
- Link users to organizations doing anti-colonial work; in the future, assemble a sort of “toolkit” in collaboration with other orgs.
- ICD should tell us what organizations they would like to include; this will help us understand how they conceptualize this work.
- It’s unclear if this has been implemented (or when it will be).
- Everyone should think critically about what’s keeping marginalized people out of their performances as artists and listeners. How can you remove those systemic barriers in your artistic practice?
Point 33: Antiracism, Not DEI
“What classical music needs is not diversity and inclusion but dismantling of racist and oppressive infrastructure of ‘classical music’ as we move forward.”
This, again, is straight from the Trade Winds post. (The reviewers sidestep Rob’s mention and the part where ICD should provide resources to their composers.)
The Review Team Says:
- Radical change is necessary. Also, see Point 35(???)
- Point 35 is about repertoire percentages and doesn’t relate at all. (Point 32?) ICD team, pls fix. 35 isn’t radical.
- This isn’t a new idea, either; here’s a few articles from other outlets that go into more depth.
Point 34: I Know More About This Than ICD, So They Stole My Words
“ICD should address trauma performativity or 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.”
Here’s what I wrote: “There’s no discussion about trauma performativity or 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.”
The Review Team Says:
- Define trauma performativity on the ICD website and FAQ page. Link users to other resources about this. (Not currently implemented.)
Cut it out.
If y’all reading this want my thoughts on trauma performativity so you can actually learn about it, I talk about it in my post about ownvoices.
Point 35: ICD, Where Do These Stats Come From?
“The statistics on suggested repertoire percentages are conservative and language around these being minimums is not prevalent enough.”
This complaint has mentions in my post, Trade Winds’ post, and others’ thoughts on social media.
The Review Team Says:
- They’re too conservative for “meaningful and lasting change.”
- Language citing minimums isn’t apparent.
- Proposal: “Explore increasing suggested minimums in consultation with other organizations and community members with relevant expertise and experiences. Make language about the percentages programming be more prominent on the website.”
- If you’ve ever tried to get ensembles to program people who look like you, you probably know they’ll usually stick to lower percentages.
- IMO, percentage-based programming does not belong in DEI, but even if it did, you can’t just make up stats.
- Percentages (still entirely excluding queer composers) are now on the Best Practices page, which means ICD is continuing to market bullshit information as the right choice for unsuspecting band directors.
- If they’re smart, they will change or remove this immediately, so for context, here’s what that page looks like before the problematic Venn diagrams from Point 20:
Somehow, information on tokenism and trauma performativity isn’t on the Best Practices page. Resources on decolonizing classical music structures aren’t there. Instead of waiting, working, and launching this page as a helpful tool, ICD has done what it usually does: it’s thrown together a bunch of internal copy and failed to ensure it includes the demographics they claim to represent. They continue pushing their arbitrarily-generated statistics that aren’t… you know… best practices.
And we’re supposed to believe ICD is credible?
Point 36: Plagiarizing Trade Winds Again (“Self-Reflexive Data Analysis”)
“ICD should initiate self-reflexive data analysis of the real-world efficacy of the ICD in practice.”
This is plagiarized from the Trade Winds post without attribution.
The Review Team Says:
- Give visitors an optional survey to disclose how they’re using the site’s data.
- More metrics needed, like whether directors make concerts available to marginalized audiences and how their yearlong programming looks.
- How are funders not asking for this already?
Point 37: Stop Taking Individual Credit
“Refuse personal credit in media coverage.”
This is plagiarized from the Trade Winds post without attribution.
The Review Team Says:
- Individual staff credit is not appropriate.
- Communications Coordinator will address this in ICD’s communications policy.
- Most of the org’s announcements and quotes should come from the Communications Coordinator.
- Quotes from “a representative of ICD” will result in less clout for specific individuals (good!)
- However, this item is about Rob, and here’s the issue:
This doesn’t address the long-term impact of Rob’s ICD visibility. His position has gotten him interviews and other social capital, and I’m going to talk about it a lot in 38.
Point 38: White Profits Should Help Artists of Color
“Donate all money the white individuals gained from this initiative, especially Rob Deemer, to initiatives that support the right for PoC to have the tools and training they need to become artists.”
This is plagiarized from the Trade Winds post without attribution.
The Review Team Says:
- Clarify which positions are paid. The Director position is not (but “expenses for necessary travel and technology costs are covered,” which may mean Rob sees more money from ICD than anyone else).
- An annual financial report should note all compensation. ICD should make a compensation policy that specifies what jobs are paid and if reparations are a contributing factor.
- Please, please, please tell me Ciyadh gets paid.
- When they say “fiscal report,” do they mean “we’re applying for 501(c)3 status and releasing our 990s” or “we’ll make up a document using arbitrary standards”?
- Is ICD seeking 501(c)3 status? Nonprofit equals board of directors (read: someone who can hold Rob accountable). For regulation’s sake, I think they should.
- Rob’s non-salary is not necessarily “all money [Rob] gained from this initiative,” and here’s why:
To pretend a salary is the only financial gain someone could get from leading an org like ICD is to ignore the elephant in the room. Rob’s position as Director and the many shout-outs he’s subsequently received have tangible impacts on his career trajectory (and, by extension, his finances). He’s already benefited from the ASCAP award and his faculty award at Fredonia. These may not come with massive monetary contributions (I don’t know), but if Rob ever, say, wants to seek a professorship at a new institution, those accolades will have a direct positive effect on his candidacy.
It’s a one-two punch of potential for financial gain and social capital: clout. Rob looks very, very good on paper. And his ascent is not without cost. Because of his leadership, volunteers are constantly leaving the Institute. Because of his leadership, ICD harms the composers Rob claims to champion (without seeming to be into our music very much, FWIW).
I’m aware that tenured faculty and department chairs don’t look for new jobs very often. That doesn’t mean Rob’s status won’t help if he wants to join the faculty of a summer festival, give yet another presentation, lead a panel at Midwest, start a podcast, or get quoted in even more media. It doesn’t mean his countless quotes and guest appearances haven’t resulted in commissions from people who wouldn’t have found him otherwise. ICD has ignored that here.
Point 39: “ICD” Is Inaccurate
“The name ICD connotes a more sociologically informed research tool when it’s more of a reference tool, and the name should reflect that.”
This is chopped-up plagiarism of the Trade Winds post without attribution.
The Review Team Says:
- The title doesn’t represent ICD’s work.
- Someone (nonspecific) will “continue to review a future name change to accurately reflect [their] work….”
- When will this decision be made? Will we get updates?
- We need an estimate. I’m concerned they’ll spend all of 2021 doing business under the same name.
Folks, we made it to (their) conclusion
Though the review team’s focus is “increasing transparency and communication,” we won’t know how effective this is for a while. The report’s lack of attribution reduces its transparency and disadvantages folks reading the report. How are they supposed to know what the team is responding to? How do they judge how completely ICD has addressed a topic if they can’t see the source material?
I’ve spent way too long trying to analyze this report, and I wrote one of the complaints. If it takes me upwards of fifty hours to fully(?) understand the information, how is anyone whose literal job is anything other than this going to get it?
I’ve got a couple more thoughts about the bullet points and closing paragraphs:
- Two-way communication is not happening.
- ICD must update us on policies the Communications Specialist creates.
- “a continued commitment to working with external experts in underrepresentation [and DEI]”? “Continued” is, at best, a stretch.
- I’m disappointed in the excuse for avoiding an external review. Their words: “[internal] reviewers are aware of what proposed actions might be feasible and efficient given the size of staff and staff hours available.” This is not the limitation they claim it would be; firms and organizations exist specifically to do this kind of work, and I promise you they make their money because they tailor their feedback to your group’s needs.
- The review team specified several time frames; many are nonspecific. Let’s check those:
In 2021 generally, we should see:
- Website links to other resources for decolonizing classical music.
- Development of Composer Resources page.
- Prioritizing education and working against tokenism (no specifics).
- Developing the spotlight program and “a transparent process for responding to volunteer requests.”
- Hiring the Communications Coordinator (“as soon as possible this year.”)
In early 2021, the review team specifies:
- Entering consenting composers into the database.
- Adding interested composers.
- Prioritizing corrections and updates.
In the first six months of 2021, ICD promised us their financial report. We should see a document that shows us how ICD has been earning and spending its money. I wish we had tax returns to look at, but because the Institute seems content to sit back in its fiscal sponsorship and dodge the accountability processes that come with nonprofit status, we don’t have a 990.
The Communications Coordinator(/Specialist)
The review team alludes to policy decisions they have yet to create or implement; most of these changes are reserved for the yet-unhired Communications Coordinator (listed as the Specialist in the review). I started tracking the review team’s job requirements, and ICD kindly released their job posting in late February. We can compare notes! Here’s what the review says the (now-retitled) Communications Coordinator will do:
- Point 8: serve as Feedback Manager, likely sending feedback to the leadership team and communicating its results. Possibly also create policy surrounding volunteer requests, though that isn’t clear.
- Point 10: “streamline communications with composers and others.” No specificity.
- Point 13: manage, oversee, or access the primary ICD email. Still not sure which address this is; if it’s rob@composerdiversity, might I suggest… you know… contact@?
- Point 18: “make sure ICD is up-to-date on issues of access, diversity, equity, and inclusion.” They’re asking for this person to be the leading DEI expert within their organization while also handling numerous other responsibilities. This shouldn’t be part of that job. There’s a difference between “make sure you understand DEI enough to make statements that don’t make things worse” and “teach everyone else about DEI.”
- Point 23: facilitate community discussions to “discuss… real systemic barriers.” Managing written content would likely be more in line with a comms specialist’s wheelhouse, but knowing who to include and what questions to ask requires an extensive music background.
- Point 25: create the opt-in spotlight program. This should span all genres and marginalizations, and because artists want to be represented in terms that speak to their work, this requires music knowledge.
- Point 27: though not explicitly mentioned, creating the communications policy will probably fall to them.
- Point 28: Craft a social media policy that de-prioritizes leadership. This will probably include having a dedicated, not-Rob person managing social media content.
- Point 37: center anonymity in the communications policy. Again, the whole policy will likely be the Coordinator’s job.
Between the content creation, moderation, and PR work, this is already two people’s jobs, at least. It also needs to pay well ($100K, give or take?), but when the job posting went up, a few things jumped out:
- The position is unpaid, save an annual stipend—no info on the amount.
- The new hire will work closely with Ciyadh but will ultimately report to Rob. That’s going to fix things. (That’s not going to fix things.)
- The Coordinator will manage and develop content for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, the newsletter, and the blog, plus create policies and stay current on “news and trends” so ICD can “reach stakeholders through digital space.”
- The 5hrs/week they specify won’t even get you that communications policy in the first two months of work. (It might be enough for social media content, but even then, I’m skeptical.)
- They omitted DEI work entirely. So now it’s no one’s responsibility to make sure ICD actually knows what it’s doing? (The job posting does say qualified applicants should have “interest in diversity in the music world,” which is roughly the mindset I’d say ICD operates under.)
ICD wants someone to come in and save them for free. They want someone to do one hundred thousand dollars of work for nothing. Their posting isn’t just ludicrous; it’s exploitative.
What’s Left? My Closing Thoughts
ICD’s Language Problems
Here’s the thing: most of my complaints about this review’s content could be lessened or eliminated by ICD knowing how to use respectful language. This isn’t a reviewer-exclusive issue; ICD’s public statements have historically pointed to its leadership’s poor understanding. Many of ICD’s public-facing staff have distinct weaknesses when speaking on marginalizations they don’t experience—it’s part of their white saviorism problem, continuing queerphobic policy, and complete lack of interest in the disabled community.
Some issues extend beyond ground-level knowledge, but ICD is a DEI institution. That advanced education is mandatory. And to dismiss the voices of Latine composers correcting their representation? To forget to add queer people to their recommended stats? To give a diversity statement on their FAQ page that lists women and non-binary people as represented genders but lumps trans men in with the rest of the LGBTQIA2S+ acronym? That reeks of carelessness.
(Note to everyone: if you mean “not cis men,” the term you want is “gender-marginalized people” or “gender-diverse people,” not “who identify as female or non-binary.”)
How will the Institute explain—to funders, to composers, to the music community at large—inculcating and indoctrinating a generation of band directors into a vocabulary of microaggressions cloaked in progressive optics?
Privacy Issues and Data Use
My data concerns stem from two specific things: one, the lack of anything ICD says about their use of our data, and two, the private half of the database. The first of these is self-explanatory: how do we know our info is safely stored and never sold? That’s important. The second half, though, I’d like to talk a little about.
I removed myself from the ICD database on September 20, 2020 in response to the September 17 confirmation email. This was before implementing pronouns or artist statements; once those existed, ICD sent another email.
On November 12, I got that one.
I’m calling bullshit one more time. ICD put me on the Composer Diversity Database before implementing the system of positive consent, and I pulled my information unequivocally. I told them, “I’d like to be removed from your listings and databases in full.” ICD shouldn’t be hanging onto my (outdated and incorrect) gender information. They don’t need my location. They shouldn’t have any part of my identity except for the names I use professionally and the fact that I have withdrawn consent.
That’s true for everyone who’s opted out. We need a guarantee from ICD that removing our information from their database means removing it from all their records. It’s not just that we don’t want it publicly listed; a lot of us don’t trust it in their hands for any reason.
Okay, let’s wrap this up.
Rather than a group doing the work to stay ahead of the game in representation and access, this review shows that ICD has cocooned itself into an echo chamber of white institutions who find small repertoire changes worthy of a pat on the back for doing The Work™. ICD has made the public believe marginalized composers are accurately, positively represented by the Institute despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.
They have taken our seats at the table and filled them with white savior, anti-queer narratives that favor the most privileged within their ranks.
“@ComposerProject have taken our seats at the table and filled them with white savior, anti-queer narratives that favor the most privileged within their ranks.”Tweet
Marginalized composers need community and visibility.
- We need performers and directors showing their friends our music they love.
- We need advocates who take corrections and make them.
- We need representation who proofreads their work not only for grammar and syntax but for microaggressions and stigmatizing language. (Consider hiring a sensitivity reader, like I did!)
- We need people who will work with us, to work from the expertise of queer and trans people of color, and act as builders of the equitable world they envision.
ICD has proven they are disinterested in the attention to detail required to create that degree of representation. They have hemorrhaged staff members for years as volunteers have realized that critical concerns will continue to be ignored or overridden under Rob’s leadership.
I have been of this opinion for many months, but let me say it clearly: Rob Deemer does not have the skills or the dedication to learning needed to front a diversity organization. He needs to stop playing God with the identities of marginalized composers.
Step down, Rob, unless the cause is less important than your ego.
As John Hong stated in his January roundup of the ICD situation, “people of privilege should advocate for and help build an antiracist society, but they do not get to dictate how the antiracist society is built.” People of privilege, especially white folks, especially Rob Deemer: it’s our responsibility to push for better, but we don’t get to decide that 50% or 75% or 90% right is sufficient.
So what do we, the regular everyday people, do now? Here’s my best advice for filling the gap of things you’d currently get from ICD:
- Get to know the composers in your communities—local, virtual, instrumental.
- Ask your friends and colleagues about the composers who inspire them, and share your own!
- Explore your favorite composers’ websites and find out if they’re open for commissions. Commission them.
- Make a point of following queer, trans, Black, and Indigenous creatives and activists on your social platforms.
- Amplify and signal-boost voices talking about issues that make you uncomfortable as well as voices discussing musical work.
Over time, you’ll find your reach will extend, and you’ll know more composers of all marginalizations doing work that resonates with you.
The work does not stop here. If you’re just tuning in, this is your beginning. It’ll require a lot of accountability—and ICD doesn’t have that, but I believe you can.
Thank you—for being here and for investing in our communities.
[scroll down for works cited]
This review has been a big project. Many thanks to Nebal Maysaud for their brilliance in editing and sensitivity reading, to Brandon Rumsey for their archival assistance, and to Nick St. Croix for his patience as I upended our apartment and schedules for a month and a half to get this done.
Thanks for reading! If you learned something from this post and would like to tip me, head on over to my Ko-fi page. For more analysis and commentary like this in your life, check back again soon, and consider subscribing to my mailing list (at the bottom of the page or in the sidebar) for quarterly update emails on my biggest projects. To support the long-term work I do as an artist and advocate, you can find me on Patreon and @honestlyeris on Instagram.
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Deemer, Rob, et al. “ICD Update (November 2020).” Institute for Composer Diversity, Institute for Composer Diversity, 6 Nov. 2020, www.composerdiversity.com/notes/2020/11/5/icd-update-nov-2020.
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Deemer, Rob. June 11 apology. Facebook, 11 June 2020, 4:27 a.m., https://www.facebook.com/robdeemer/posts/10100514579535963.
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DeJarnett, Eris. “Ownvoices versus Intentional Programming: A Primer.” Eris DeJarnett, Eris DeJarnett, 8 Mar. 2020, https://erisdejarnett.com/blog/2020/03/07/ownvoices-versus-intentional-programming-a-primer/
Fernandes, Kathy. “My Score Grants Help Composers Reach New Audiences.” Cued In, JW Pepper, 31 Aug. 2020, https://blogs.jwpepper.com/index.php/my-score-grants-help-composers-reach-new-audiences.
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“Get Involved.” Institute for Composer Diversity, Institute for Composer Diversity, www.composerdiversity.com/get-involved.
Hong, John. “The Institute for Composer Diversity: White Leadership, DEI Initiatives, and Ethical Advocacy.” I CARE IF YOU LISTEN, 7 Jan. 2021, www.icareifyoulisten.com/2021/01/institute-for-composer-diversity-white-leadership-dei-initiatives-ethical-advocacy/.
Institute for Composer Diversity. Internal Review Announcement. Facebook, 6 Oct. 2020, 7:56 a.m., https://www.facebook.com/instituteforcomposerdiversity/posts/3966991753329905.
Institute for Composer Diversity. “LGBTQIA2+ Composer Database Form.” Google, Google, https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdN1V-0ORX4YUrO1SBpRj-bDN6LCVt53Pj0fNV-VPIICnsRcQ/viewform?.
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“Institute Team.” Institute for Composer Diversity, Institute for Composer Diversity, www.composerdiversity.com/team.
Maysaud, Nebal. “It’s Time to Let Classical Music Die.” NewMusicBox, New Music USA, 24 June 2019, https://nmbx.newmusicusa.org/its-time-to-let-classical-music-die/.
Mena, Christopher. “Accessing the Inside of the Tent: The Optics of Inclusivity in Music Education.” Medium, Medium, 23 May 2020, https://christopher-r-mena.medium.com/accessing-the-inside-of-the-tent-the-optics-of-inclusivity-in-music-education-eb140a1f46e7.
Vendil, Sugar. “PoC Perspectives on Diversity Initiatives, Part 1.” I CARE IF YOU LISTEN, 10 June 2020, www.icareifyoulisten.com/2020/06/poc-perspectives-diversity-initiatives-part-1/.
Vendil, Sugar. “PoC Perspectives on Diversity Initiatives, Part 2.” I CARE IF YOU LISTEN, 11 June 2020, www.icareifyoulisten.com/2020/06/poc-perspectives-diversity-initiatives-part-2/.