-photo credit NIMAN

While many classical music organizations are looking inward to address racial equity issues, a new initiative is taking a new approach to advocating for young musicians of color. The National Instrumentalist Mentoring and Advancement Network (NIMAN) is a network made up of like-minded organizations and individuals seeking to promote racial equity in classical music.

Based upon the work of former Nashville Symphony Orchestra Director of Education Walter Bitner, NIMAN became the brainchild of Play On Philly! founder Stanford Thompson. Since the concept was introduced in 2018, years of research and planning have culminated in NIMAN’s launch in January 2021.

The development of the organization is due to the work of volunteer musicians, educators, and administrators from across the country. Over three years, volunteers engaged in several discussions and a convening to develop a strategy for the organization. Many of the briefing documents, meeting minutes, and other materials from these meetings are available on the organization’s website. From this work emerged NIMAN’s Bridge Matrix—a detailed, solution-oriented plan focused on cultivating the artistry of young musicians throughout their career. The Bridge Matrix outlines the trajectory of a musicians career from the moment they pick up an instrument to when they enter the professional music world.

This trajectory is then cross referenced with five key impactful elements of a musician’s career:
psychological and behavioral preparation
technical training
logistical and financial support
organizational support,
and talent identification and opportunities.

While there have been a variety of approaches to similar equity work, NIMAN specifically focuses on how these five key elements intersect with the different stages of a musician’s career. With this information, they are able to identify the unique obstacles that exist within each intersection, and develop resources to mitigate these challenges.

With this detailed analysis, NIMAN has planned a variety of resources focused on supporting musicians of color. These resources include a youth musicians leadership summit, and summer festival and college campus visits for middle and high school-aged musicians. Additionally, the organization plans to provide career development opportunities for pre-professional and early career professionals, as well as teaching seminars for developing educators. Finally, NIMAN plans to offer a national convening for its members and supporters to collaborate on strategies and evaluate collective progress in the classical music field.

Existing organizations that align with NIMAN’s mission are eligible for NIMAN membership, as well as music programs that train and support musicians of color. Individual membership is also available, and includes an accessible pay-what-you-can model. Membership with the organization includes benefits such as members only events, discounts, and access to data, among other perks. NIMAN also offers a variety of task forces that focus on artist mentors, an advisory council, member engagement, and nominating and governance. While some of the task forces are reserved for NIMAN members, there are opportunities for nonmembers to be involved with the organization.

NIMAN presents a multifaceted and holistic approach to impacting equity in classical music. In addition to making a successful career in classical music more accessible, the organization aims to prioritize accessibility in its structure. NIMAN has built a foundation for groundbreaking work in the development of musicians of color over the years, and as the organization settles from its launch, the results of this work are on the horizon.