Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Celebrating Diversity within the Arts

Porgy-and-BessAt Michigan Opera Theatre, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is about celebrating and recognizing the value of diversity within our community.

When our founder and artistic director David DiChiera started Michigan Opera Theatre in 1971 he had a vision. His vision included building a world-class opera company that served as a cultural resource for both the state of Michigan and its home base in Detroit. But part of that vision was ensuring his opera company represented the community in which it was based, specifically the African-American community that has been traditionally underrepresented in opera companies.

“Building bridges into the community was a primary mission – making sure that the African American community, the majority of Detroit’s population, was represented on the stage,” DiChiera said. “Not only by nurturing artists such as Kathleen Battle and native Detroiter Maria Ewing, who have gone on to great international careers, but by producing works that reflected the African American experience.”

Michigan Opera Theatre has been proud to be among the first to produce such works, including the world premiere of Margaret Garner, an opera based on Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” about real life events in pre-Civil War America, as well as Porgy and Bess and Treemonisha.

But DiChiera’s vision was more than focusing on one segment of the population, it was championing all artists of color and creating an opera company that welcomed diversity and reflected the numerous cultural identities in Detroit. Michigan Opera Theatre was proud to be the first opera company in North American to present the Armenian opera Anoush. In 2015, we presented Frida, an opera based on the Mexican artist’s life. And last year we showcased The Passenger, a powerful opera about the Holocaust.

As we celebrate the holiday, we acknowledge the tremendous work done by Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement. We also recognize the significant amount of work still ahead and will continue to play our part in championing diversity in the arts.

“The mission of embracing and reflecting the incredible diversity of our community is an ongoing part of the Detroit Opera House mission,” DiChiera said. “Because we are all enriched as we share and experience one another’s culture.”