As the University of Wisconsin makes moves to promote inclusivity and diversity on campus, the Overture Center for the Arts has followed suit by creating a new diversity and inclusion director position, to be filled by Edward S. Holmes.

After reading the 2014 Race to Equity Report issued by the Wisconsin Council on Children & Families, the Overture Center Foundation Board of Directors were “moved to act” on some of the racial disparities in Dane County, Ted DeDee, Overture Center for the Arts president and CEO, said.

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To improve some of those disparities and to fulfill the center’s mission of enriching the lives of individuals by “creating, encouraging and catalyzing extraordinary experiences,” DeDee said the OFC board decided to launch their own Racial Equity Initiative.

As part of the initiative, the Overture will focus on four areas for equity: employment and governance, purchasing, programs and education and community access.

To keep the initiative successful and sustainable, Dedee said the OFC board needed to make the idea of a director of diversity and inclusion “not just an idea,” but a “sincere commitment.”

With 38 years of experience in community-based and public educational programs, Dedee said they knew Holmes was “uniquely qualified” for the position.

The UW alum served 10 years as principal at Madison West High School, where he was credited for closing the achievement gap between ethnic minority students and their white student counterparts. In addition, during his tenure, he made sure to keep West High school consistently ranked as one of the top public high schools in the state of Wisconsin through ACT and SAT scores.

As the newest addition to the Overture’s staff, Holmes said he’s “humbled” and “excited” to bring changes to the center. As a music and theater connoisseur, Holmes said the position provides the perfect intersection for his interest in the performing arts and his passion for community outreach.

“The performing arts is a catalyst for bringing people together to share their experiences,” Holmes said. “[The Overture] creates a forum where people come to share their experiences, explore who they are, challenge what they believe in and explore our humanity.”

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His first encounter with the performing arts was as a 10th grader in Washington D.C. Holmes had just received his schedule and saw that one of his classes was “male choir.”

During the Thursday news conference, he summed up his initial encounter with the class in one word — yikes.

Over time, however, Holmes said he gained the “confidence, self-esteem and sense of identity” through the choir.

“[That class] led me to do a number of the things I did in Madison,” Holmes said. “I understand the power that experience had on me, and I want that for others.”

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As Holmes’ position is the first of its kind in the U.S. at any performing arts center, he considers it a “call to service” and is ready to help the Madison community benefit from what the “arts represent.”

Through the financial support of the OFC board, the Madison Community Foundation, the City of Madison, Susan Lloyd and other donors, Holmes’ position has secured funding for the next three years.

“I hope to transfer all the experiences I had with the arts to the Overture,” Holmes said. “We want to provide access and create a culture where everyone feels welcomed and a part of something.”