Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

The Colburn School is dedicated to providing equitable access to excellence in performing arts education. Founded on the core principle of community, Colburn believes that equity, diversity, and inclusion is vital to our collective success.

BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) and low-income communities continue to be underrepresented in many major disciplines in the institution, including classical music and ballet, and we seek to correct this. We believe that we are uniquely positioned to address access barriers at all points of artistic development.

Our programs are designed to identify dedicated students at all levels who face structural inequities that create barriers to quality arts education and to support them with the resources of the institution for as long as they wish to study. By providing the highest level of performing arts instruction starting in early childhood and extending though pre-professional studies with a robust scholarship program, we offer students and families an unparalleled arts education curriculum.

In conversation with our staff, faculty, students, and board, we have developed a series of initiatives grounded in these cornerstones which began with the 2020–21 academic year and will continue long after, becoming part of the fabric of the institution. Responding to the limitations imposed by COVID-19, we have adapted to provide virtual touchpoints and invested where needed to make online teaching and learning possible and effective.

We seek to recruit, train, and empower the next generation of artists who will use their gifts to enact meaningful change in the world. We believe these deep commitments will result in a stronger, more diverse artistic workforce and creative society.

Building on Our Foundation

To effectively do this important work, Colburn is proud to build on the foundational cornerstones that have informed our community-based work for decades:

Access to excellence: The Colburn School has a history of opening its doors to all members of the Los Angeles community who wish to pursue dance and music at the highest level. Created through the remarkable vision and transformational philanthropy of Richard D. Colburn, Colburn began as a community music school dedicated to providing equitable access to excellence in performing arts education. In 2003 Richard Colburn’s vision of a fully scholarshipped Conservatory came to life, removing all financial barriers for talented young artists. Robust scholarship support is available across the institution and nearly $10 million in scholarship support is awarded annually.

The legacy of Herbert Zipper: Considered the founding father of the community arts movement in the United States, Herbert Zipper championed the notion that Colburn and a performing arts education should be available to everyone. His legacy lives on in our vibrant Community School, thriving community engagement programs, and through the spirit of our many community partnerships in Los Angeles.

A thriving performing arts pipeline and scholarship program: Over the past 10 years, Colburn has built a robust pipeline of programs for students from 15 under-resourced partner schools within six miles of the institution. These programs offer opportunities for full scholarships to study in all areas of the Community School from the time they enter the program. The current pipeline serves over 200 students from the Los Angeles community.


This series celebrates the careers of artists of color through a number of on-campus, short-term residencies that include performances, master classes, and panel discussions. Colburn will also support each artist with institutional resources, including recording projects, marketing support, and engagement work in the community through the Center for Innovation and Community Impact.

Artists featured on the Amplify Series include:

  • Composer and pianist Kris Bowers (Community School)
  • Bassoonist Andrew Brady (Conservatory ’13)
  • Choreographer, dancer, and former Dean of the Trudl Zipper Dance Institute Silas Farley
  • Choreographer Alonzo King
  • Bassist Marlon Martinez (Conservatory ’15)
  • Violist and composer Nokuthula Ngwenyama (Community School ’93)
  • Cellist Thomas Mesa
  • Dancer and choreographer Michael Montgomery

The Social Innovation Grants were created to provide financial support for students working towards community engagement projects that benefit the BIPOC community or commissioning projects involving BIPOC composers or choreographers. Students whose projects are selected for funding will receive ongoing mentorship from the Center for Innovation and Community Impact. The grants are available to all currently enrolled Colburn students.

Past Social Innovation Grant recipients include:

The Honduras Oboe Foundation
Eder Rivera (Conservatory of Music, Oboe)
The Honduras Oboe Foundation was created to give low-income communities the opportunity to study the oboe through student scholarships that provide students with the opportunity to learn an instrument and have broader opportunities to study abroad. H.O.F.’s mission is to promote musical and instrumental education through the social inclusion of teaching an unconventional instrument.

The Heartbeat Music Project
Gregory Lewis (Conservatory of Music, Violin)
The Heartbeat Music Project was founded in 2016, and is a student-led organization based on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico. HMP’s mission is to provide tuition-free music education to Navajo Youth through an annual Summer Academy and Winter Workshop. The organization strives to remove all socioeconomic barriers preventing students from receiving a music education, by taking actions including providing daily ground transportation, instruments, and two meals – free of charge. Also central to their mission is an emphasis on Navajo cultural studies, and the incorporation of traditional Navajo music into their curriculum.

Recording Album for Clarinet and Strings by Black Composers
Max Opferkuch (Conservatory of Music, Clarinet)
This album will feature works by black composers for clarinet and strings, centered around the Clarinet Quintet in F# Minor of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

Brass Out Loud
Melissa Muñoz (Conservatory of Music, Trumpet)
Brass Out Loud is an organization dedicated to uplifting and inspiring brass players everywhere. The organization is especially interested in supporting brass players who have felt underrepresented in the music world. After seeing many brass workshops with a majority white cis male faculty, Brass Out Loud hires black, indigenous, people of color, female, trans, non-binary, and LGBTQ+ musicians.

Large ensemble and chamber music programs across all units of the School will regularly include works by BIPOC and other underrepresented groups. With an emphasis on alumni as an extension of the Amplify Series, Colburn will commission a series of works from artists of color.

Learn about recent commissions:

Michael Montgomery previews his new piece, Trú, created for Colburn’s Dance Academy students. Watch

Nokuthula Ngwenyama discusses her new work for the Primrose International Viola Competition, commissioned by Colburn and the American Viola Society Watch

Alonzo King speaks about his approach to art, dance, and choreography as he prepares choreography for an onstage master class. Read



Colburn has partnered with local and national organizations who are established leaders in the EDI space to learn from their experience and perspective. Partner organizations will benefit from free access to Colburn spaces, teaching artists, and access to institutional resources, as well as scholarship opportunities for participating students.

Colburn and ICYOLA, the largest majority Black orchestra in America, have embarked on a multi-faceted partnership to include:

  • side-by-side collaborations
  • scholarships
  • in-depth teaching artist support
  • the creation of a joint strings and literacy program in predominantly Black elementary schools in South LA

Effective immediately after the announcement of the partnership in 2020, Colburn began offering direct scholarship support in its Community School to young artists in ICYOLA, and 10 students in the Conservatory of Music began weekly online lessons with ICYOLA musicians ranging in age from middle school to high school. Read more.

Colburn has partnered with the Sphinx Organization, a non-profit organization based in Detroit dedicated to transforming lives through the power of diversity in the arts, with the aim of creating new opportunities on the West Coast for emerging young Black and Latinx musicians and arts professionals.

As part of the partnership, Colburn will:

  • provide full scholarships in its Music Academy program to pre-collegiate musicians who are winners and semi-finalists in the Junior Division of the Sphinx Competition
  • present the Sphinx Virtuosi in a residency that encompasses performance, education, and community engagement
  • host the first West Coast retreat for the Sphinx LEAD cohort

This partnership is designed as a long-term, collaborative venture and the two organizations will explore additional opportunities to engage, develop, and empower young artists of color.

Community Engagement

Colburn will expand existing community engagement programs and intentionally engage a more diverse community.

The Jumpstart program is a pipeline for students from Title I schools to gain exposure to the performing arts and scholarship-supported access to the Colburn School. This program provides guidance for students and families in navigating a performing arts education and provides 100% tuition-free scholarships, which are available to the students from the time they begin—as early as seven months through their high school graduation.

In 2021, Colburn created a new Jumpstart Dance program to intentionally engage a more diverse community. This will complement existing Jumpstart programs in band, string, piano, harp, and early childhood.

Founded in 2017 at Colburn, Fortissima is a leadership development program for young women from underrepresented minorities in classical music. In 2021, it expanded from a local pilot program to one available to students across the nation.

Overseen by Colburn’s Center for Innovation and Community Impact, the expanded Fortissima program seeks to inspire, equip, and empower diverse young women in classical music to pursue professional training and careers in the field. Open to high school students who identify as female and are from an underrepresented minority group in classical music, this six-month program will include virtual learning, mentorship, and an in-person residential intensive on Colburn’s campus. Program participants will attend at no cost to them.

Scholarship and Audition Travel Support

Colburn will dedicate resources to enable a diverse pool of aspiring artists to apply, audition, and study at the School.

Expanded financial aid will be available for students of color in the Community School, Trudl Zipper Dance Institute, and Music Academy. (All Conservatory students already receive full scholarships.) Colburn will link recruiting activities and scholarship support, and will also work with local and national partners to reach diverse populations of talented students. Scholarships are a key offering of Colburn’s partnerships with ICYOLA and Sphinx.

Audition travel support will be available for prospective students of color when applying in-person to the Conservatory, Music Academy, and Dance Academy.


The Colburn Conservatory of Music will offer an enhanced academic curriculum to engage students with issues of social justice in the classroom and beyond, harnessing their ability to lead and to informing their art for future good.

Beginning in the 2020–21 school year, a suite of course offerings titled “Protest. Educate. Change.” was available to every student in the Conservatory of Music, regardless of program or level. Courses discussed racial inequality, ethics, social justice, and the Black Lives Matter movement. These offerings will continue to be offered in an augmented and updated form each year to provide a rich and diversified curriculum. Most students will fulfill degree requirements for either the Bachelor or Master of Music degrees.

The Music History curriculum in the Bachelor of Music degree will continue to engage students actively with current events in classical music culture that touch on bias in terms of gender, race, sexual identity, and cultural origins and practices. “History of Jazz” will be offered as an elective for the Master of Music and going forward, new electives in both the bachelor’s and master’s programs will be developed. A course titled “The History and Future of American Symphony Orchestras: Systemic Racism and Reparations” was also offered as part of the Music History curriculum during the 2020–21 school year, covering a historical examination of the institutional practices linked to racial inequities in the American symphonic world, as well as an exploration of strategies and new approaches currently in practice.

Additional Humanities courses that have been offered in past years and will be offered again in the future, include “Voices of Protest: The 1960s and Today” and “Topics in American Literature: A Literary History of #blacklivesmatter.”

In 2020, mandatory annual EDI training was implemented for all faculty and staff, as well as Conservatory, Music Academy, and Dance Academy students to ensure the community is a place of inclusion and belonging for all. Colburn will continue to seek opportunities for ongoing learning and dialogue, including events for Community School students.

The School will expand current efforts to recruit a diverse applicant pool for open positions to increase the number of BIPOC in faculty, staff, and leadership positions.