Anti-Racism Work and Commitments

The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020, just a few miles from the Guthrie, sparked a global call for justice and reform so significant that it knocked a once-in-a-hundred-years pandemic off the world’s headlines. The theater has always had a role to play in creating a more just and equitable society, and we will play our part in the pursuit of justice.

The Guthrie is a historically and predominantly white institution, which means we must first acknowledge that we have participated in systemic racism. While we have taken strides to expand the diversity of our work on and off the stage, we have simply not done enough to include and herald Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) voices. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, the Guthrie’s Senior Management Team began gathering insight from Black artists and community leaders, staff, board members, national advisers and industry colleagues on how the theater might work toward becoming a more anti-racist and multicultural organization.

Along with these ongoing conversations, we will proactively and publicly share our commitments to anti-racism work at the Guthrie — not only to outline what we are doing with candor but to hold ourselves accountable and be held accountable by everyone we serve.

There is no completion date for this work. Anti-racism is a daily practice that requires constant pursuit, and the list of actions below is far from exhaustive. There is also no room for excuses or merely performative action. To be clear, transparent and accountable, we have outlined, in as much detail as possible, where we are currently focusing our attention. We cannot correct 50+ years of exclusionary practice in a single gesture, program or initiative, but we are committed to staying the course and creating lasting change at the Guthrie and throughout the American theater.

Artistic

Programming: After George Floyd was murdered and the Twin Cities became the epicenter of the call for racial justice, Artistic Director Joseph Haj felt compelled to set the microphone down and gather feedback and insight from Black artists and community leaders. Two initial meetings were held on June 9 and 18, 2020, and the group ranged from current students in our B.F.A. acting program to artists who have performed on our stages for decades. We are deeply grateful for their continued time and feedback as well as their intellectual and emotional labor.

Since August 2020, we have held many meetings and working sessions with this group of Black artists and leaders, who have named themselves the MN Black Theatre Circle. This collaboration led to a multipart proposal that included a series of new theater works, commissions and co-creations to be presented in partnership with the Guthrie on a monthly basis through April 2021. This work will culminate in a festival celebrating Black voices and artistry. Blackness Is… will take place May 21–23, 2021, at various Twin Cities locations and is intentionally scheduled one year after George Floyd’s death. To learn more or apply to perform in the festival, visit www.blacknessis.com. Minnesota Black artists from all mediums are encouraged to apply, and all selected artists will be paid.

The series of monthly programming running through April 2021 includes:

I AM
curated by SHAVUNDA BROWN
in partnership with MINNESOTA BLACK THEATER ARTISTS
October 30, 2020

Presented days before the 2020 presidential election, this collection of two-minute micro commissions by Black artists responded to the importance of voting at a crucial time in U.S. history.

A Breath for George
presented by NEW DAWN THEATRE COMPANY
October 31 and November 1, 2020

After New Dawn Theatre Company initially screened their film A Breath for George in the Guthrie’s service lot on June 29 and 30, 2020, they returned in the fall to screen an evolution of their project honoring the life of George Floyd, which included the addition of three short films that featured artistic expressions of the history and pain of violence against black and brown bodies. A community talkback was held after both screenings.

STOOPIDITY
written and performed by DOMINO D’LORION, MICHAEL McKITT and IAN McCARTHY
November 16, 2020

In this moving choreopoem written and performed by Guthrie B.F.A. alums, three Black boys sit on a stoop and discuss what it means to love deeply, question tradition, be queer and be unapologetically Black in the world today.

When Our Joy Matters
presented by THE BLACK ENSEMBLE PLAYERS
curated and produced by ASHAWNTI SAKINA FORD
December 1, 2020

Through song, dance, poetry, scenes and monologues, 10 Black artists in the Twin Cities responded to our cultural/political/societal moment and shared what joy currently means to them.

Missing Mississippi Moons
written and performed by ANTONIO DUKE
directed by ELLEN FENSTER 
January 14, 2021

Inspired by his grandfather’s story, local actor/playwright Antonio Duke embodies a mosaic of characters struggling to find their power in the Jim Crow era.

The Uprising Volume II: Black HERstory
a DARK MUSE PERFORMING ARTS production
written and directed by VANESSA BROOKE AGNES
February 1, 2021

Building on the peaceful performance protest that honored the memory of George Floyd in summer 2020, Volume II focuses on Black HERstory — the experience and contributions of Black womxn throughout history and today.

Dining With the Ancestors
conceived by REGINA MARIE WILLIAMS
written by DAAIMAH MUBASHSHIR
March 2021

In this poignant and humorous one-act play, party host Vivian invites inspirational Black women from the past and present to attend a conference/meeting/dinner/visit. Vivian thinks she is the one who will be asking the questions, but the tables quickly turn as the ancestors question who she is and how she is making her mark in history.

Tears of a Willow
by OYA MAE DUCHESS
April 2021

This powerful play for two actors investigates sexual assault, mental health and police brutality through the metaphor of setting fire to an ancient willow tree. It closely examines Black trauma and how to rise from the ashes.


Youth art commission:
 We commissioned Juxtaposition Arts (JXTA), a nonprofit visual arts center that invests in young artists in North Minneapolis, to create a public art installation or stage infrastructure for the Guthrie. We are working with JXTA to finalize the project’s design and scope. The Guthrie will continue to build on our existing partnership with JXTA and explore other long-term partnership opportunities between the two organizations.

Policies: We will continue our policy that creative teams for all productions must be diverse in race and gender. When appropriate, all members of a creative team may be from the same historically underrepresented group. We will be adding anti-racist policies and expectations to our existing Respect in the Workplace policy, which is distributed and discussed with the entire cast and creative team at first rehearsal and again at first tech rehearsal with the cast, creative team and all production areas. We will complete this work by the beginning of our next onstage season.

Human Resources

Anti-racism training: We shifted our Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) training with Team Dynamics — a Minnesota-based firm selected by the Guthrie’s EDI committee — to focus explicitly on anti-racism work for a minimum of 18 months. Mandatory anti-racism training with staff and the board of directors is currently in session. As staff return from layoff, they will join these interactive training sessions. We are working with Team Dynamics to extend this training to part-time staff and volunteers.

Core values: Building on the implementation of the four core values that Joseph Haj established when he joined the Guthrie in 2015, we will further define, contextualize and deepen our understanding of and commitment to Artistic Excellence; Equity, Diversity and Inclusion; Community; and Fiscal Responsibility. These core values will be an essential part of our onboarding process and annual performance evaluations so all staff have a clear understanding of how to live them out in their daily work and behaviors. A staff-led Steering Committee and the Senior Management Team are currently collaborating on this work.

Policies: We are examining our human resources policies (hiring, recruitment and retention; onboarding; and apprenticeships, fellowships and internships) to build a more robust and diverse pool of talent. When hiring, we will continue our policy of requiring a diverse and qualified slate of candidates.

Retention: We recognize that retention of BIPOC employees is a challenge at the Guthrie. With guidance from Team Dynamics, we are redoubling our efforts, not only to recruit BIPOC employees, but to ensure that the Guthrie’s cultural and work environments ensure their safety, fulfilment and professional success.

Labor unions and production staff: We will collaborate with our union business agent to discuss how to work in partnership to change or expand practices in a way that promotes diversity within our production staff. We are exploring how BIPOC-focused apprenticeships or other new opportunities for paid employment can build and retain a more diverse production staff.

Artistic and Community Partnerships

Continued work with Indigenous Direction: We will continue our work with the Native community through our partnership with Indigenous Direction co-founders Larissa FastHorse (Sicangu Lakota) and Ty Defoe (Haudenosaunee, Six Nations/Anishinaabe Nation), including hosting community trainings about decolonizing/indigenizing professional spaces and processes in winter 2021 for our staff, board and other arts and culture workers in the Twin Cities. To prepare for this work, Indigenous Direction created a summer syllabus, completed by a group of Guthrie staff, which included films, essays and books on the history and present-day experiences of Native people, particularly in the upper Midwest. We are also developing a script written by FastHorse and Defoe through community conversations with Native people living in the Twin Cities and continuing to offer free Native-led classes and paid fellowships for Native artists. Most recently, three Native fellows performed various production roles during the filming of Dickens’ Holiday Classic in November 2020.

Land acknowledgment: In collaboration with Dakota and Ojibwe consultants as well as non-Natives who have incorporated land acknowledgments into their organizations, we crafted a land acknowledgment and began including it in our pre-show announcements during performances of A Christmas Carol in November 2019. This acknowledgment was also featured and explained in the play program and will continue to be displayed in our Level One lobby. We are now incorporating this practice into more publications and meeting spaces at the Guthrie, including play programs, first rehearsals, board meetings and other events and gatherings.

Building

Exterior and interior photography: We are conducting a holistic examination of the large photos of founder Tyrone Guthrie and notable American playwrights on the exterior of our building as well as the vast series of production images displayed in our lobby lightboxes, walls, ceilings and hallways to ensure our building feels welcoming to all.

Guthrie Store: The Guthrie Store reopened for online shopping in November 2020 with a focus on featuring new voices and amplifying local BIPOC artisans and vendors. Learn more about these artists and shop their collections, many of which were created exclusively for the Guthrie, at guthriestore.com. The Guthrie Store also built a new partnership with The Bridge for Youth, a nonprofit serving homeless and runaway youth in the Twin Cities, and gave shoppers the opportunity to purchase and donate a thermos or blanket to The Bridge for Youth during the 2020 holiday season. This donation program will continue into 2021, and you may purchase a donation bundle for The Bridge here. Additionally, youth artists from JXTA have been commissioned to design items that will be part of the Guthrie Store’s merchandise mix in 2021.

Vendor policies: We are revising our vendor policies to ensure all bids for work done at the Guthrie will actively seek and consider BIPOC-owned businesses. When seeking vendors, we will identify a diverse and qualified slate of vendors, similar to our employee recruiting policy.

Board of Directors

Anti-racism training: As previously mentioned, the board of directors is currently participating in anti-racism training with Team Dynamics.

Board diversity: Prior to the pandemic, the board’s Governance Committee established a Board Diversity Task Force to significantly expand our outreach to prospective BIPOC board members. We are continuing to build on this work.

Actions: Our board of directors has committed to working with the Guthrie to effect positive change and develop anti-racist policies at the Guthrie. The board’s Community Engagement Committee provided a forum to generate ideas from board members around future work, and those ideas were shared with the Senior Management Team and included in the discussions around our work toward becoming a more anti-racist and multicultural organization.

This outline represents a collective of ideas that emerged from listening to Black artists and community leaders, staff, board members and more. It is evolving and will be updated quarterly. 

Updated January 2021

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