Moving forward as one community
The senseless murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis resulted in worldwide protests seeking justice, reform and a path — if we are willing to walk it — to finally believe, assert and demonstrate that Black lives matter.
As the brilliant James Baldwin wrote, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Along with George Floyd’s name, we’ve been running the second half of this quote on our LED towers to illuminate and support the call for justice and change. But making statements is not enough.
We are all reacting differently to these events, especially as they intersect with the most significant pandemic in 100 years. Some are taking action; some feel paralyzed. Some are overwhelmed and unable to speak; some are communicating with passion and clarity. As we face these challenges and sorrows as a community and seek to create long overdue change, I believe the Guthrie must identify both short-term and long-term actions to create a proactive, effective path forward and ensure we remain committed to those actions over time.
The Guthrie is a historically white arts organization, which means we must acknowledge that we have participated in systemic racism. We cannot practice equity and anti-racism work without amplifying, listening to and learning from Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities. While there are many ideas about what the Guthrie should say and do right now, I feel compelled to set the microphone down and humbly gather feedback and insight from Black artists and community leaders, understanding that although we have taken some steps in recent years, they have not been enough and we have a long way to go.
My friend and colleague Nataki Garrett, artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, shared her view on what is required, describing the steps of Acknowledgment, Atonement and Action. This reminded me of something I (and the Guthrie staff) learned in past equity trainings: One of the symptoms of historically white organizations like the Guthrie is leaping to action without sufficiently acknowledging and owning our own biases.
In conversation with Black artists, the challenge and path forward is beginning to come into view: Build authentic connections and partnerships with artists and communities of color, seeking out those who are already practicing anti-racism work instead of trying to do it only on our own. Doing this work will, at times, be uncomfortable and imperfect, but we commit to staying the course. Today, we are heeding that call by creating projects and actions for the future while taking these steps in the short term:
- Engage in immediate and explicit anti-racism training for all Guthrie staff with the Minnesota-based firm Team Dynamics. Months ago, the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) planning committee at the Guthrie identified this national firm to help us with our EDI efforts. We have shifted the timing and scope of that work to begin immediately and focus on anti-racism training.
- Continue to meet with Black artists and community leaders and listen to their guiding voices as we strive for significant, lasting change. We will seek to integrate the ideas we collect from these voices, in addition to the voices of our staff, into our short-term and long-term planning.
- Use our communication channels to educate our audiences about the type of work we’re undertaking as an organization as well as to amplify messages and work happening in our field and region by BIPOC communities.
While the Guthrie has taken strides in its diversity work in recent years, we have simply not done enough to include and herald Black voices. We cannot correct 57 years of exclusionary practice in a single gesture, program or initiative, but my colleagues and I are committed to doing better.
Although we can’t make theater right now to address the challenges of our hurting world, there is much we can do. We will actively work to dismantle systemic racism at the Guthrie and beyond. We will hold ourselves accountable to the theater’s mission and core values, build relationships with those who seek the light of justice and move forward as one community.
I encourage you to consider attending a film screening of New Dawn Theatre Company's A Breath for George as we seek to learn and do more together.
With humility and in solidarity,
June 17, 2020