The day I sat down to write this letter to you was August 24th, 2020.
Earlier that day, white police officers in Kenosha, Wisconsin shot a Black citizen, Jacob Blake, in the back seven times…in front of his children.
As of August 24th, 164 days have passed since Breonna Taylor was murdered by police. Her murderers still walk free.
Three months ago, police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds until he was dead.
7 shots #JacobBlake
164+ days #BreonnaTaylor
8 minutes, 46 seconds #GeorgeFloyd
Since joining this organization in 2012, I’ve kept a yearly notebook to document what I’ve seen, experienced, and learned from IPAY. It is both a scrapbook to capture good memories and a road map to guide me as a leader in our community. On July 1st as I prepared my notebook for 2021, I was overwhelmed by the expanse of that first empty page. Like so many of us, I have felt vastly inadequate to take on the enormity of the hurt, fear, and frustration we’re experiencing . I didn’t know where to begin… then my pen shaped the numbers “8:46.” Eight minutes. Forty-six seconds. It is my daily reminder of the urgency with which we need to attend to the work before us.
Starting in June, the board of directors engaged in an imperative deep examination of our institutional practices and IPAY’s community culture that propagate systemic racism and discrimination against individuals of marginalized identities. We determined that the most critical work ahead of us was two-fold: (1) organizational culture--we need to ensure that IPAY is an open and welcoming space for all; and (2) aesthetic competency--we need to get over our white, Eurocentric, colonialist assumptions ideals about “artistry” and “excellence” and expand our understanding of other cultures.
IPAY will not tolerate racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic behavior in our community. It is irresponsible to invite BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People-of-Color) and gender non-conforming individuals into our community if we cannot offer them a safe, open, welcoming space where they are valued and treated with respect.
Perhaps you’re thinking, “…but IPAY is a safe, open, welcoming space.” The board thought so too, and we were wrong. Based on responses in our last two post-Showcase surveys as well as comments made directly to different members of the staff and board, there have been multiple incidents of racist, sexist, and transphobic behavior from our IPAY members and Showcase guests towards other members of our IPAY community. I know that is uncomfortable to hear, but it is true, and it is unacceptable.
This is what we’re doing to address this:
1. We are implementing a grievance procedure to empower individuals who experience harassment to report it safely and know that we will support them.
2. The full board and staff will receive Anti-Racism, Anti-Sexism, Anti-Transphobia, and Anti-Harassment training this fall. We will publicly disclose the name of the person conducting the training as soon as we have completed the arrangements.
3. Will are instating a No Tolerance Policy to protect against racism, sexism, transphobia, verbal assault, and other transgressions.
4. We will speak up when we witness racist, sexist, transphobic actions and hold our colleagues accountable.
5. We will publish public value statements that articulate our organizational expectations for everyone who intersects with IPAY.
We are actively working to make our Showcase application process more accessible to a wider cultural community, to diversify our Selection Committee, and to increase our cultural competency in our Selection Committee deliberations. In the last three years I have served on the committee, I have seen positive changes, though we always wish we could do more and do it faster. There are a lot of bigger systems (like “I Want To Showcase”) that we don’t have the autonomy to change, but we’re finding ways to operate more equitably within those larger systems.
Board members Rosa Hyde, Andy Packer, and Bebé de Soares formed the Nexus Initiative to take up the thorny conversation around “excellence” and “diversity.” We simply cannot continue efforts to bring more diverse artists to Showcase if we don’t address the elephant in the room of how we define excellence in artistry. We must expand our collective aesthetic and cultural competency. We will continue to limit arts experiences for young people if we continue to apply a white, Western, Euro-Centric lens to evaluate the worthiness of a theatre production about asylum seekers from Mexico and Central America, or a large-scale puppet performance performed by people of the First Nations, or a music set selected by an Afro-Caribbean musician. These Nexus conversations have produced a set of initiatives that I look forward to sharing with you in an upcoming newsletter.
We have several generations’ worth of work to do to balance the scales and take action to end inequality. There are days when it feels overwhelming and too big and we feel very small. There are days when there are fifteen other crises on our doorstep and we long for one less thing to worry about. We cannot falter and forget that this may be the most important work of our lifetimes. We need to move like there’s no time left on the clock.
To our BIPOC, transgender, and gender non-conforming colleagues; may we be worthy of your patience with us as we have come to this time of reckoning…may we clear away the obstacles and darkness so we all may walk in light.
Wendy Bable, IPAY Board President