Originally published July 22, 2020 with ongoing updates
CHOOSE TO SEE. CHOOSE TO CHANGE. CHOOSE TO ACT.
16th Street Theater exists to tell the stories of all in our community. As the founder of 16th Street, I was driven to amplify the voices of those for whom the American theater had ignored for too long, including Black, Latinx, South Asian, LGBTQ writers and artists as well as writers with disabilities. (We have failed to tell any story written by an Indigenous writer.) While intending to always forge relationships built on trust, respect and understanding, that is not always what happened. Intention is not impact. I acknowledge artists have not always felt safe in our theatrical house. I am deeply sorry for the times artists experienced harm, pain, and stress, especially Black artists and artists of color. While we are a small theater with limited resources, we did not take care of our artists as we should have. As the leader, I am accountable for all that happens under my watch. I wish to acknowledge some personal failings:
- failure to recognize and confront micro-aggressions
- failure to ensure theater was properly executing Chicago Theatre Standards
- failure to bring in paid moderators for post-show discussions
- failure to recognize the implications of police presence during performances
- failure to listen to feedback without becoming defensive
Artists must have safe outlets for direct feedback. There must not be unnecessary burdens on BIPOC artists (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) to participate in discussions where they were unsure if they would feel safe and heard. Artists must be able to give feedback without theater leadership being defensive. I am grateful for the artists who have been unafraid to speak up and speak out in order to make our institutions better, including 16th Street. While I admit it has not been easy to hear, it was necessary to listen. Thank you for your courage.
We have made mistakes here at 16th Street; and we are committed to harm reduction and harm prevention. Here is what has taken place thus far:
EDUCATION, TRAININGS and POLICY CHANGES
– November 1, 2019 Instituted Chicago Theatre Standards (CTS) with a policy that everyone within the organization, including Board and Staff, must read the entire 33-page document and adhere to CTS at all times. Artists who collaborate with 16th Street are asked to read, understand and adhere to CTS. All first rehearsals now include a presentation of CTS with artists given a Conflict Resolution Path.
– December 9, 2019 Board Officer and Artistic Director (AD) attended Racial Justice Training with Race Forward.
– February 21, 2020 AD made phone calls to all His Shadow artists apologizing for harm they experienced during His Shadow.
– February 23, 2020 AD completed reading White Fragility by Robin D’Angelo
– May 4, 2020 The 16th Street Theater NFP Board of Directors pledged: “If you are not on board with Anti-Racism, you are not on our Board.”
– May 31, 2020 Theater issued Black Lives Matter statement in an email, on FB page, and featured on our web site here https://16thstreettheater.org/black-lives-matter/
– July 7, 2020 AD read and completed exercises in Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad as part of Book Club
– July 20, 2020 Board and Staff attended PGCC’s virtual discussion with author Ibram X. Kendi, “How to be an Anti-Racist.”
– July 21, 2020 AD participated in book club: Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall
– September 2020 AD completed Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi and Kendi’s How to Be an Anti-Racist.
– September 16, 17 2020 Managing Director (MD) and Box Office Manager participated in Anti-Racist Training through CROAR
– October 2020 AD completed reading Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead book
– November 7-8, 2020 AD participated in two-day Anti-Racism Theater: A Foundational Course with Nicole Brewer
– January 2021 AD and MD began Dare to Lead workbook, practicing communication with vulnerability on a weekly basis
– April 2021 AD and Board began diversifying Board leadership, recruiting and voting in two new young members of color
– April 14, 2021 AD participated in Hollaback’s Bystander Training to Stop Anti-Asian/American and Xenophobic Harassment
– May 5 2021 AD and MD and Board VP met with Brandon Michael Nase of Broadway for Racial Justice to find out about their program Allied with BFRJ
This is just the beginning of our ongoing journey to become an Anti-Racist organization. 16th Street Theater’s goal is to implement “We See You White American Theatre” policies https://www.weseeyouwat.com/ applicable to the theatre’s contract, as well as become Allied with BFRJ. 16th Street’s Staff and Board of Director’s have begun a process with Oak Park’s RGW Consulting in order to create facilitated sessions toward transformative justice along with listening sessions with the community. The Board will then create a strategic and succession plan through the lens of racial equity.
We must acknowledge, confront and work to change the deep-seated racism present within our country’s institutions. Here at 16th Street, we will continue to acknowledge when we fall short and cause harm. We will continue to practice doing better. We welcome your feedback at ann(at)16thstreettheater.org
— Ann Filmer, Artistic Director
Thank you to Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation for holding free anti-racist workshops for Chicago performing arts organizations. Both the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation and the MacArthur Funds for Culture, Equity and the Arts at the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation have been important partners in the funding of Anti-Racist initiatives for Chicago-area non-profits.