In May 2020, an enduring 8-minutes-and-46-seconds-long moment reminded us yet again of the steadfast, malignant, and deeply entrenched institutionalized power of racism in America. People’s Light joined the chorus of organizations offering statements of solidarity with Black communities around the globe. At the time, we underscored that statements are not enough and committed to take further action. This is an offering to fulfill that promise: the first in a series of updates about our Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) and antiracist work.
In recent years, our EDI focus combines two major components:
- External Actions, where we build relationships and actively create initiatives to diversify our artistic and civic programs, who leads and makes this work, and who it is for. We develop new systems and practices to mindfully expand accessibility (in terms of race, income, gender identity, ability, geography, etc.) to our spaces and events.
- Internal Actions, where we concentrate on ways to strengthen our shared EDI analysis, or understand the power dynamics that shape every aspect of our lives, including our own complicity in perpetuating systems of racism and inequity. These efforts have been informed by our participation in Theatre Communications Group's (TCG) EDI Institute and a series of retreats with artEquity founder Carmen Morgan, which led to the founding of our Chartered Board EDI Committee and cross-departmental staff EDI Committees in 2017.
We recognize both components must be undertaken in tandem, in a cycle of constant critical examination, for genuine sustainable change to happen. We cannot pursue thoughtful diversity initiatives without rigorous internal analysis. And we cannot simply build our awareness without taking action to address the pervasive inequity that an EDI analysis reveals every day.
Our current strategic plan leads with our aspiration to weave EDI into every aspect of our organization. This commitment to EDI has led to critical changes and growth at People’s Light, inspired new models of engagement with each other and our community, and diversified the stories on and around our stages. And yet, the humanity of our BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) colleagues and communities continues to be denied, even to the point where some literally cannot breathe. As a result, in this moment of operational shift caused by the pandemic, we have intensified our internal and external EDI efforts.
- Amidst the June 2020 protests, we sought to respond with art that centered the Black experience. By reallocating existing resources and cultivating foundation support, we were able to offer our digital platforms for Black artists to creatively respond to the current moment. This diverse series of more than a dozen “rapid commission” short films became one immediately tangible way we could amplify the voices and perspectives of Black theatre artists with whom we have strong ties. (We recently posted Zonya Love’s addition to this series, a video with her new arrangement of “Soon I Will Be Done.”)
- Following five years of collaboration on multiple projects and developing a relationship of trust and mutual admiration, Steve H. Broadnax III has joined the artistic leadership at People’s Light as Resident Director.
- We welcomed additional BIPOC Board Members whom we met through education and community programs and our partnerships around accessibility initiatives.
- During the summer months, we sought to take advantage of our large property and offer respite for families with young children at home. We created Folk Tales in the Garden, a socially-distanced, outdoor "edu-tainment.” Intentionally seeking material beyond known fairytales with European origins, a Korean-American dramaturg on staff co-wrote an original world creation story inspired by Korean, Mohawk, and Ute folk tales.
- During the beginning of the shutdowns amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately affected BIPOC communities, we were able to ask community partners with whom we had developed relationships about their needs. In response, our costume shop and production staff members made personal protective equipment (PPE) for local hospitals, community centers, prisons, farm workers, as well as our New Voices Ensemble based in the City of Chester. The staff of our restaurant and event space donated boxes of fresh produce to the Chester County Food Bank and provided prepared food for local hospital staff and majority-Latinx mushroom workers in nearby Kennett Square, PA.
- We committed to increasing accessibility by offering captioning for all of our digital offerings. Our most recent digital release, A Christmas Carol in Concert, a film that weaves together musical performances and readings from Dickens' novella, has options to experience the story with ASL interpretation, audio description, or captioning.
At People’s Light, we believe that a necessary part of rooting out racism is to embed the urgent need for equity and antiracism as self-evident truths throughout the organization. Following that ethos, we formed a redesigned, cross-departmental EDI Committee in June. Members were selected to achieve the greatest diversity of perspectives—identities varied in terms of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, and organizational tenure and positional power. The Committee was designed to consider company-wide and department specific practices, programs, and policies with an EDI lens, recommend areas for further analysis or change, and be a proactive resource in our antiracist work. Seven interdepartmental EDI Working Groups were named and configured. Members of the EDI Committee would serve as Group Organizers of these Working Groups, each made up of five to eight staff members from all levels of the organization.
The following is a list of the EDI Working Groups and their areas of focus:
Hiring Working Group
- Gathered and reviewed information about each department’s hiring process.
- Identified multiple hiring categories across the organization and explored strategies to support BIPOC candidates in each of those distinct categories. We recognized that the majority of work opportunities throughout a theatre production calendar and in our event/restaurant spaces are in positions with less positional power.
- Explored ways to establish pipelines for all levels of our organization, local and national. We created a list of resources and networks to reach potential BIPOC candidates. Ongoing.
- Investigated who is getting hired in our local Philadelphia-area community and explored ways to expand the pool. Ongoing.
- Developed a working document of EDI considerations as a resource for our hiring processes.
Vendors Working Group
- Researched and evaluated the diversity and antiracist commitment of the companies and vendors with whom we do business. Ongoing.
- Reviewed present and past engagement with BIPOC-owned businesses.
- Sought out new connections with BIPOC-owned businesses and organizations, and strategized ways to expand opportunities to engage with them. Ongoing.
- Investigated if and how our ethical and antiracist values align with the companies and businesses that benefit from our investment funds. Ongoing.
Guest Relations and Hospitality Working Group
- Developed ways to listen and respond to staff members, especially those that identify as BIPOC, who engage directly with the general public and regularly experience sexism, racism, homophobia, microaggressions, etc. Ongoing.
- Connected with organizations with experience in bystander intervention, anti-bias training, and de-escalation practices to offer training sessions beginning in Spring 2021.
- Created a methodology to collect and document experiences from our Box Office, House Management, Farmhouse Restaurant service, and Telemarketing staffs to assess support needs and consider strategies.
- Explored how our physical spaces welcome or alienate those who work and visit here. These spaces will be renovated in the coming year to be more inclusive.
Writing Working Group
- Drafted language for a Code of Conduct for all staff, artists, students, volunteers, guests, and patrons clearly stating that shared respect in our spaces is paramount, and that we are committed to supporting those who experience implicit and explicit acts of harm.
- Decolonized our Staff and Artist Handbook to remove biased and oppressive concepts and language that exclude and disempower a diversity of lived experiences. Ongoing.
- Drafted and implemented a Land Acknowledgement to be offered when we gather, especially public offerings or project beginnings. It acknowledges that we are on the unceded land of the Lenape people, and are committed to learning more and building relationships with the displaced original caretakers of our ecosystem.
- Developed a preliminary frame for the tenets of our antiracism action plan: a public document that locates where we are in this current moment and maps our journey towards becoming an antiracist organization, with particular consideration of the momentous “We See You White American Theatre” document composed by a diverse BIPOC collective of theatre artists. This action plan will be informed by our work over the next six months.
- Researched our past in preparation for writing an antiracist history of People’s Light that fully acknowledges our privilege and complicity in inequitable and oppressive systems, as well as our present efforts to disrupt those systems. This will be completed in 2021.
Staff Development Working Group
- Curated a “Talk Club” series. Similar to a Book Club, Talk Clubs are voluntary gatherings to talk about key EDI concepts like strategies of addressing harm, etc. Contrary to a Book Club, there is no homework required before joining, although folx are encouraged to explore any kind of resource from articles, to podcasts, to conversations with a family member or colleague. Ongoing.
- Considered what an EDI education curriculum might look like as a series of antiracism workshops and trainings. Research will continue this winter. Workshops and training for all staff will begin in the Spring.
- Discussed ways to support people wherever they are on their own antiracist journeys. This could include developing a People’s Light EDI orientation, creating personalized internal networks of support, and offering a continuing EDI education schedule. Ongoing.
Resource Gathering and Curation Working Group
- Organized and collected a massive amount of antiracist resources that have been created, uplifted, and offered over the past few months. This includes online resources (videos, podcasts, Instagram posts, etc.) as well as a wealth of books and articles. Ongoing.
- Explored ways in which the staff can share resources and in so doing, provide common footholds as we build our awareness and antiracist analysis. Most recently, this has taken the form of a newsletter offering a diverse collection of resources that focuses on a single term or concept. Ongoing.
- Explored ways to encourage engagement with and curate the experience of the Resource “library.”
Data Working Group
- Examined and added to the data we have to help get a better idea of the demographics (age, race, geography, etc.) of our staff, Board, guest artists, student population, audiences, donors, etc.
- Supported other Working Groups with needed metrics.
- Questioned what kind of data is useful and interrogated the nature of gathering data that is ethically responsible and respectful of our own histories, our co-workers and colleagues, and those that enter into our spheres.
- Repositioned data gathering as a way to welcome and get to know each other. Ongoing.
Over the past seven months, these Working Groups have spurred deeper analysis of the systems, structures, assumptions, and policies that have disempowered, excluded, and done harm to communities that do not have the privilege of full visibility and ease of accessibility within and in relation to our institution, our work, and our spaces. Accepting our responsibility for pervasive systems of inequity within the context of this moment has required us to confront our own implicit biases, gaps in analysis, and complicity with enculturated racism that affects every aspect of our lives; but within the contexts of these Working Groups, it has also revealed what is possible to dismantle them.
TO BE CONTINUED…
In 2021, informed by what emerged from our Working Groups, we will shift into new committee work organized by targeted objectives and action steps. We will prioritize organization-wide EDI training led by experienced specialists, changes to our continuing EDI educational curriculum, and implement holistic strategies to diversify our staff and Board. As an organization that has committed to being antiracist, we are eager to collectively strengthen our EDI analysis and to continually interrogate and revise our policies and procedures to reflect that work.
We stand in hope and gratitude for the internal pulls and external pushes that inspire and impel our intensified recommitment to dismantling systemic racism at People’s Light and to manifest an organizational culture of equity and true inclusion. It has allowed us to be honest with ourselves, with each other, and with you as we continue in the urgent work towards lasting cultural change.
We will continue to update you on our journey.