Lyric's commitment to IDEA values

Lyric Opera of Chicago has established four core areas that represent and describe our work in IDEA. These core areas or pillars are: Leadership, Artistic, Culture, and Communication & Engagement.

As you visit the statement below that outlines Lyric Opera of Chicago's commitment to Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access, we will also continue to provide updates on recent actions that reflect our work.

This summary outlines our progress in our IDEA commitment over time. We will publish regular updates here.

Land acknowledgement

As a Chicago institution, it is Lyric Opera of Chicago's responsibility to acknowledge this historical context and begin to build reciprocal relationships with the tribal nations on whose lands we are situated.

Read Land acknowledgment

March 10, 2023


We spent 2022 focusing on building upon our commitment to Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access (IDEA) while navigating a global pandemic and its ongoing impact on our staff, our artists, our audiences, and our city.

We used this moment to listen more deeply to our company members and to be more creative and courageous with how we could better support and engage with one another. We made intentional and concerted efforts to embed and exemplify the core values of IDEA in our processes in our workplaces, in relationships built with our communities, and in spaces we share with our audiences.

We had our fair share of successes and roadblocks. Reflecting on the lessons learned on our IDEA journey, we were reminded of the need to continue evolving in order to continue serving our Lyric community to the best of our ability.

As we look back at 2022, we would like to share these notable moments with you:


Embedding IDEA principles throughout the organization

We continue our commitment to embedding IDEA principles at all levels of the organization. Within the Board of Directors, Lyric’s IDEA mission is woven into each meeting and all the committees continue to explore strategic ways in which they can be most impactful in this work.

Focusing on inclusion and access, Nancy Santi, Women’s Board President, hosted various Employee Resource Groups from ITW to experience Lyric Opera, many for the first time.

Board of Directors and Executive Committee member Brenda Robinson was welcomed as Lyric’s new IDEA Steering Committee chair. An entertainment lawyer and executive producer with extensive experience in the film, television, and music industries, Brenda is the first Black president of the International Documentary Association and is a dedicated philanthropist and activist.

To improve learning and understanding, Lyric engaged leadership and communications strategist L. Michelle Smith, who is also a member of the Opera America board of directors. Through a series of workshops, group sessions, and individual coachings, select Lyric staff explored the different dimensions of how to infuse inclusion, diversity, equity, and access into how we connect and engage with community members, opera-goers, donors, and other important stakeholders through nuanced communications and interactions.


Removing Barriers: Intentional Recruitment and Equitable Work

Lyric dedicated resources to enhance its Diverse Talent Recruitment, recognizing that Lyric’s organizational demographics are not yet reflective of the city of Chicago. In engaging with a professional firm, Lyric was able to identify new processes for more inclusive hiring practices. As a result of this intentional recruitment initiative, a pathway to a wider pool of talent was created, making space for those of diverse educational backgrounds and areas of expertise. In 2022, 57% of new hires identified as BIPOC, and 57% of all administrative staff identified as women.

The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center, Lyric’s post-graduate, professional development program, reexamined its audition process to continue attracting the best talent possible from the largest possible pool. Audition notices were more widely publicized and were intentionally sent to as many colleges, universities, and conservatories as possible, including historically black colleges and universities. To ensure financial accessibility, the application fee was dropped.

The opera field remains challenged filling the pipeline for young talent, especially those from underrepresented communities. To begin the path for these young artists, three new, paid positions were created as part of the Ryan Opera Center ensemble: Conductor/Pianist, Stage Director, and Stage Manager. All three positions were filled in the Spring of 2022, and for the first time in the history of the Ryan Opera Center ensemble, the majority of artists identify as BIPOC.

With generous support from the Elizabeth Morse Genius Charitable Trust, Lyric launched its first-ever paid internship program. The program, which was designed to remove financial barriers to participation, allowed Lyric to market internships more directly to underrepresented communities, and to engage diverse interns as a way to build a pipeline to diversify the company’s management and staff. Over 700 applications were received and 11 interns were selected for the first cohort, which began in August 2022. In this first cohort, 82% of interns identify as BIPOC. This program was made possible by the generosity of the Elizabeth Morse Genius Charitable Trust.


Creating Space: Finding a more inclusive Lyric

As an art form deeply rooted in European heritage, Lyric continues to create opportunities and to make space on the mainstage for more diverse artists. Lyric’s artistic administrators, general director, and music director examined existing casting processes and opportunities for underrepresented voices. In the 2021/22 season, all guest conductors identified as women, BIPOC, or both.

Lyric Unlimited’s ongoing partnership with the Chicago Urban League began its fifth year with the beginning of the 2022/23 EmpowerYouth! Program. Designed for high school-aged students, participants worked with professional artistic staff and program facilitators in learning how principles of performance, theater, music, and dance relate to their everyday lives. These young artists engaged in a youth-centered co-creation process to devise an original showcase that tells the story of their experiences as young Chicagoans.

Lyric is committed to diversifying both the range of stories we tell and the storytellers we engage to tell them. In the 2021/22 Season, we presented our first mainstage Spanish language opera, Florencia en el Amazonas, and the Lyric premiere of Fire Shut Up In My Bones by Terence Blanchard and Kasi Lemmons, based on the book by New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow. It was a privilege to bring these topical works to Chicago audiences.

Lyric continued utilizing different channels for employee feedback, including monthly staff meetings, office hours with the general director, and our anonymous portal, AllVoices, to continue building bridges of transparent communication and access.


Looking ahead to 2023

This report serves as a marker, one that Lyric can look back at to reflect on and influence our decisions as we continue forward into 2023 and beyond. With our lessons learned, 2023 will feature a renewed focus on our connections and commitments to one another. Lyric will build a series of learning and training opportunities so that all members of the company may be more empowered in their IDEA knowledge. There will also be focus on employee wellness and professional development.

Lyric continues with a renewed energy for what opportunities lie ahead, with a deep appreciation for what has been accomplished and all that remains to be done.

Previous updates