Overture’s Senior VP Ed Holmes on Diversitry and Inclusion
Artistic Equity & Innovation
|Senior Vice-President Ed Holmes is working to make Overture Center for
the Arts diverse from top to bottom in all phases of its operations.
Part 2 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling
It was November 15 when the Overture Center for the Arts held a luncheon to give its
donors an update on the results of the center’s diversity and inclusion efforts. Ed
Holmes had been hired in August 2016 as Overture’s director for diversity & inclusion,
efforts that would require targeted donations in order to make it a reality. It was the late
Sandra Gajic, Overture’s CEO, who had raised Homes profile at Overture, making him
a senior vice-president and formally recognizing Holmes’ diversity work in all phases of
Through targeted donations to Overture for diversity and inclusion efforts, Holmes has
been able to utilize his community connections to ensure that diverse populations were
accessing Overture on a regular basis. While Holmes was implementing the diversity
efforts, it took administrative support and donor financial support to make it happen.
“The people who were at the luncheon were people who specifically identified diversity
and inclusion at the time and now equity and innovation as something they wanted to
contribute to,” Holmes said. “We had a donor who wished to remain anonymous to
make a significant contribution to subsidize tickets for Overture. While we can’t do
subsidized tickets for all of the events, we try to do as much as we can. We try to honor
requests as much as possible. We want as many people as possible to be engaged.
Over the course of the three plus years that I have been here, there are 78 community partner organizations and even more community leaders and people in the
community whom I connect with to try to honor requests and reach out to for different events that are happening here.”
However, while having diverse audiences attend Overture events is an important first step, Holmes and others feel that the next step is equity and innovation to
ensure that diversity is present in all phases of Overture’s operations.
“The whole idea of equity and innovation is really trying to move the whole concept of equity, diversity and inclusion to the next level so that it’s not just engaging
patrons and engaging the community in performances and what we do here, but really changing the infrastructure so that we have more people on our staff so that
we are more representative of the community that we serve,” Holmes said. “Our community is becoming more and more diverse. And the place that you see that
diversity is in the public schools. Now I would say that the Madison schools have more students of color than they do traditional white students. It is 55:45. And
while the public schools were projecting this, it’s different when you see it in reality and think about what that means. Is there a plan in place to try to figure out what
we do differently and how we serve an evolving and changing student population? I think those are the types of questions that this whole idea of equity and
innovation is trying to answer. What do our programs look like to engage an evolving and changing school community? What does it look like when we are trying to
engage a growing and more diverse community that we serve? That’s why we have the whole idea of innovation. We want to have people at the table to really help
us understand and be a part of the discussion about how we do the work. It can’t just be a few people in the back room trying to figure it out. It’s got to be everyone
at the table really having a say in how we make it work. And that is the innovative part.”
Holmes’ work is important to the long-term viability of Overture as Madison and Wisconsin experience the browning of America. It must take measures to remain
artistically relevant to the entire community.
“If Overture doesn’t evolve, people will create their own institutions where they feel welcome and they feel they can have some input and be respected, honored
and valued,” Holmes said. “And the traditional institutions like Overture Center will become irrelevant. I’m sure that Overture recognizes that they don’t want to be
on that trajectory and Overture is trying to be proactive. I respect and honor the organization for really thinking forward in this area.”
In the future, Holmes wants to plant the seeds for Overture’s continued diversification, to create the possibility for diversity and inclusion in all aspects of Overture’
“I want to continue to expand the ACES program,” Holmes said. “I have some ideas about ways that we can cultivate and elevate the young people we have
established a relationship with as well as with their families. Now we are talking about engaging kids of diverse backgrounds and young people of color to create
an access point and also to create a path to opportunities and possibly internships and employment down the line. I think that is the way that you do it. It’s the old
‘grow your own’ type of idea where you engage young people early on and you maintain the relationship. And those young people who are really interested stay
connected. And those are going to be the next generation of leaders.”
Holmes’ most important goal is to make the need for his position at Overture to be needed no more.
“I want this place to look differently internally,” Holmes emphasized. “I would love for there to be more people with diverse backgrounds in key roles and positions.
I would love for there to be a more significant volunteer base of people of diverse backgrounds. I want to have more vendors and people who have different
services and goods that we can purchase through our purchase of services so that in every area of the organization, we’re doing business with vendors of color.
We have a diverse workforce. We have a diversified volunteer core, so that the entire organization has embraced equity, diversity and inclusion.”
If Holmes’ dream comes true, the community will be able to see the difference as Overture remains relevant for generations to come.