Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit Tackles Diversity Issues Behind The Scenes With 2017 Knight Arts Challenge Grant

“Whatever the diversity issues are on stage…there’s a much greater issue behind the scenes.”

29 artists and non-profit organizations are now $1.8-million richer after the Knight Arts Challenge announced its winners.

Winners include poet Jessica Care Moore, the Arab American National Museum, and the Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit, which just wrapped up its 25th anniversary season. You can read about all the Knight Arts Challenge winners in this Detroit Free Press article here. 

The theatre, which is heavily invested in the Detroit community, has many programs intended to empower youth around the city. One of these is BackStage, a technical training program that focuses on equipping minority youth in Detroit with behind the scene theater skills such as carpentry, light design, and production. 

BackStage is a relaunch of a program Mosaic canceled due to lack of funding in the early 2000s. 

WDET’s Ryan Patrick Hooper speaks with the Mosaic Youth Theatre’s founder and artistic director Rick Sperling about receiving the grant funding and how that will impact the BackStage initiative. 

Photo via Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit

Lack of diversity issues in the film and theater business are usually framed around who is seen on stage or on the screen. However, these issues also exist behind the scenes. 

“Behind the scenes is not diverse,” explains Sperling. “Whatever the diversity issues are on stage, which still exist, there’s a much greater issue behind the scenes.” 

According to Sperling, there’s a much greater chance to succeed pursuing a career in theater production as opposed to only being an actor.

“These are great careers,” he says. “If people think that the only jobs you can have in the arts is to be a performer…they’re missing out on the ability to have, you know, a great career in the arts.” 

Click on the audio player above for the full conversation. 

Full Disclosure: WDET was also a recipient of the Knight Arts Challenge for our Framed By Series that pairs audio story telling with photography to shine a light on Detroit communities. 


  • Ryan Patrick Hooper
    Ryan Patrick Hooper is the award-winning host of "In the Groove" on 101.9 WDET-FM Detroit’s NPR station. Hooper has covered stories for the New York Times, NPR, Detroit Free Press, Hour Detroit, SPIN and Paste magazine.