Music

Yannick Nézet-Séguin's powerful open letter to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris urges immediate action on the arts

‘The arts should have that vital, moral authority that comes with pronounced federal support,’ he writes.

‘The arts should have that vital, moral authority that comes with pronounced federal support,’ he writes

Yannick Nézet-Séguin leads a performance by Orchestre Métropolitain at Montreal's Maison symphonique. (Francois Goupil)

Canadian conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin has written an open, three-page letter to U.S. President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, urging them to support the arts in their new administration, which begins Jan. 20.

Nézet-Séguin is music director of the Metropolitan Opera, the largest performing arts organization in the United States, and the Philadelphia Orchestra — institutions that have been forced to shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Like many industries, the arts and culture sector of the United States has suffered greatly over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic," he writes, "and vital government support for the arts has been late and insufficient to date."

That suffering has led to mounting tensions. The musicians of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus have been furloughed for 10 months and have publicly criticized the company's management for "using the pandemic opportunistically" and "seeking permanent cuts" rather than coming up with a short-term crisis plan. Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Opera has set up The Voice Must be Heard, an emergency fundraising campaign. Nézet-Séguin has announced he will personally match donations up to $50,000 to the Met's orchestral musicians and chorus members.

"Your presidency begins in a tumultuous time," he continues in his open letter, appealing to Biden and Harris's platform that promised a presidency for all Americans. "The arts can assist with healing, with self-expression, and with uniting diverse voices."

Perhaps most importantly, Nézet-Séguin calls on Biden and Harris to consider appointing a cabinet-level champion dedicated to arts and culture. "In order to progress, to elevate the arts, we need a voice at the table that will be heard," he writes.

Read Nézet-Séguin's full letter below.


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