President and CEO Vanessa Reed reflects on her first year at New Music USA

Written By

Megan Ihnen

Towards an imaginative, collaborative, and inclusive future

Dear friends and colleagues,

When I joined New Music USA just over a year ago, the world was a very different place. I spent those first months on the road, meeting composers and music practitioners, and listening to live music in festivals and concerts – from Detroit, Miami, LA, and New York to Minneapolis, Denver, and Tanglewood. These encounters contributed to my understanding of how New Music USA can develop its role as national advocate and supporter.

With your input, I found that:

  • we can improve our visibility and impact outside of New York, using our platforms to draw more attention to the music being created nationwide;
  • our financial support is of utmost importance to the new music ecosystem (we received over 2500 applications this year);
  • our role as “connector” is valued by practitioners, who recognize the silos and missed opportunities within their own city or music community.

Through our online survey, you also urged us to spotlight the diversity of US-based new music practitioners. This aligns with the Amplifying Voices program I introduced at the end of 2019 which we launched to increase opportunities for Black and Latinx composers and to help transform the future of symphonic music promoted and commissioned by US orchestras.

No-one could have predicted the reality we face now as my first year comes to an end.

Since the pandemic took form this March, many of you have been out of work, and many have suffered from illness or personal loss. Nearly all of us – whether audience member or artist – have been deprived of experiencing live performance, one of our greatest, life-affirming joys.

Racial and social inequities, already exposed by COVID-19, were amplified by the murder of George Floyd; and we are finally recognizing the impact of systemic racism across every walk of life – including the performing arts.

Our first response was to collaborate with artist leaders from our community, to create the New Music Solidarity Fund, which has now helped over 1,044 freelance musicians with emergency financial relief. We then awarded 110 Project Grants, so that we could allocate over $1.2M in total funding in the last few months alone.

In parallel to these crucial funds, we embarked on an eight-city virtual tour, with over 250 practitioners, to update our knowledge of the challenges that you are tackling and how New Music USA might help.

And we turned inwards to identify the anti-racist actions and policies we have committed to as part of our vision for an equitable ecosystem for new music.

These are just a few examples of how we will continue to change as we move into my second year at New Music USA.

We recognize that there’s no turning back to where we were.

Instead we can channel this momentum toward a re-set that enables New Music USA and everyone in our community to be more imaginative, collaborative, and inclusive than ever before.

For New Music USA this will include:

  • adapting our project grant funding criteria to support the sector’s recovery over the next year;
  • instigating new partnerships, which bring more resources to where they are needed most;
  • continuing to engage in open conversations on anti-racism and inclusion, as we make active changes to support a more just future;
  • continuing to develop our Board and staff under the leadership of our new Co-Chairs.

In my first message as CEO of New Music USA, I shared my belief that music, like every art form, deserves specialized resources and advocates who will create a better future for its creators, practitioners, and audiences. I am personally committed to the work that this entails.

I want our organization to be relevant and responsive, serving our current community whilst opening doors and creating opportunities for those who’ve previously been excluded.

Please get in touch if you have ideas or questions since the last time I was in touch. This is an open, ongoing conversation that I welcome you all to join.

Vanessa Reed

President and CEO
New Music USA