Anti-Racism Work and Commitments
The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, 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 57 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.
After George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis 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 meetings were held on June 9 and 18, 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. On August 13, we convened a working session with many of those same artists and are working on an initiative based on these ongoing conversations that will be determined by the local Black artists in collaboration with the Guthrie. The initiative will be directed and produced by Black artists in the Twin Cities community with support from the Guthrie as desired and useful.
- Youth art commission: We are commissioning Juxtaposition Arts (JXTA), a nonprofit visual arts center that invests in young artists in North Minneapolis, to create an art installation for the Guthrie. We are working with JXTA to build on our longtime partnership and determine the nature of the project.
- Policies: We will continue our policy that creative teams for all productions must be diverse, and we are 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.
- 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 is currently in session; training with our board of directors will begin this fall. 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 seeking 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 that hinder 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 management staff.
Artistic and Community Partnerships
- Continued partnerships with BIPOC artists and communities: We will foster current BIPOC relationships and seek to build new ones, ensuring each partnership is mutually beneficial for both parties. Two recent examples include works by BIPOC artists that were presented concurrently and used nontraditional Guthrie spaces to share their art with the community:
- New Dawn Theatre Company screened their film A Breath for George in the Guthrie’s service lot on June 29 and 30. The project, which honors the life of George Floyd, was created by New Dawn and featured stories and performances by Twin Cities artists.
- Minneapolis-based artist Eric Rieger, known as HOTTEA, approached us about installing his magnet art piece Pure Imagination, which also honored the life of George Floyd, on the exterior of our building. The installation ran from June 24 to July 1.
- 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 presenting Indigenous-led works of theater, offering free classes and fellowships for emerging Native artists and hosting community trainings about decolonizing/indigenizing professional spaces and processes.
- 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.
- 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: We are opening the Guthrie Store for a limited time during the winter holiday season with an intention to feature products from BIPOC artists and vendors. Youth artists from JXTA will design items that will be part of a Guthrie Store bundle that may be purchased and donated to a local charity. Store hours and shopping details are TBD.
- 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 create 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 will participate in anti-racism training with Team Dynamics beginning this fall.
- 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 regularly.
Updated August 17, 2020