Joshua Barone, New York Times, January 25, 2021
Marcia Sells — a former dancer who became an assistant district attorney in Brooklyn and the dean of students at Harvard Law School — has been hired as the first chief diversity officer of the Metropolitan Opera, the largest performing arts institution in the United States.
Her appointment, which the Met announced on Monday, is something of a corrective to the company’s nearly 140-year history and a response to the Black Lives Matter demonstrations that followed the killing of George Floyd in 2020. It’s also a conscious step toward inclusivity by a major player in an industry in which some Black singers, including Leontyne Price and Jessye Norman, have found stardom, but diversity has lagged in orchestras, staff and leadership.
Since last summer, cultural institutions across the country have made changes as the Black Lives Matter movement drew scrutiny to racial inequities in virtually every corner of the arts world. The Met was no exception: The company announced plans to open next season with Terence Blanchard’s “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” its first opera by a Black composer, directed by James Robinson and Camille A. Brown, who will become the first Black director to lead a production on the Met’s main stage. It also named three composers of color — Valerie Coleman, Jessie Montgomery and Joel Thompson — to its commissioning program.
But to make broader changes at the Met, an institution with a long payroll and a budget in the hundreds of millions of dollars, the Met is turning to Ms. Sells. As a member of the senior management team, she will report to Peter Gelb, the general manager. The human resources department will be brought under her direction, and her purview will be broad: the Met in its entirety, including the board.
Diversity has been at the fore of her work as an administrator — at places including Columbia, the N.B.A. and eventually Harvard Law, where she has been the dean of students since 2015. Her mandate at the Met won’t be too far from that of Harvard, another institute often perceived as elite to the point of exclusivity.
She plans to start at the Met in late February. Among her early tasks will be to conceive a diversity, equity and inclusion plan that could be implemented across hiring, artistic planning and engagement; she will also examine structural inequities at the Met, and work with the marketing and development departments to broaden the company’s audience and donor base.