The American Repertory Theater, led by Artistic Director Diane M. Paulus and Executive Producer Diane Borger, announced initial steps toward establishing its commitment to anti-racism on its website earlier this month. The outlined plan — which was released in response to demands penned by the A.R.T. People of Color Affinity Group in June as well as the national “We See You, White American Theater” campaign — includes implementing staff-wide training on implicit bias, opening channels for staff feedback to ensure accountability, and conducting an audit of institutional culture.
The A.R.T. announcement also stated that the institution will release quarterly summary reports regarding the status of the outlined commitments, the first of which will be published by November 16.
Both Paulus and Borger declined to comment on the new plan. Paulus, who is a member of the Harvard faculty and won a Tony Award in 2013, was accused in June of racism by Griffin Matthews, a black writer and actor who worked on a show at the A.R.T. with Paulus in 2014.
In a statement published online, Paulus and Borger wrote that they hope these commitments will contribute to “centering anti-racism as a core value” at the A.R.T.
“In late June, we implemented a staff-led search process that centered BIPOC employees and included representation from our Boards and external stakeholders to select a consultant to work with the A.R.T moving forward,” the statement reads. “This September, we begin a journey with Lisa Yancey and Yancey Consulting to build anti-racist practices into the A.R.T.’s structure, culture, and governance.”
Anti-Racism Engagement Co-Lead Alexandra B. Daniels, one of the co-writers of the A.R.T. PoC Affinity Group statement, described the group’s letter as having provided “a starting place” for the A.R.T. to implement anti-racist policies following national protests for racial justice.
“Just like we also say in the letter, everything that was discussed had been brought up before with little to no action taken,” Daniels said.
The letter put forth several specific action items which the POC Affinity Group members collectively agreed upon, including hiring more people of color in full-time leadership roles, investing in Boston-area communities of color, and breaking down barriers for diverse audiences to engage with programming.
“In the A.R.T.’s most recent statement about Black Lives Matter, the theater made the claim that this organization is committed to dismantling white supremacy, however many Black and other employees of color have not experienced the safe haven that the A.R.T. is supposed to facilitate,” the June statement reads. “In order for the A.R.T. to make this claim, we demand tangible steps in this process in lieu of vague language.”
“We would not be doing this work if we did not care about the future of the institution,” the statement adds. “This document is the culmination of a lot of labor and a lot more love for the American Repertory Theater, past, current, and future employees of color, and theatre at large.”
A.R.T. Anti-Racism Engagement Co-Lead Julia Schachnik wrote in an email she feels inspired by the “commitment to share power and space” she sees beginning to take place at the A.R.T., yet noted that these institutional changes are “just beginning at the theater.”
“As we work with our consultant, create more opportunities for staff to engage with each other, and have more and more conversations about what anti-racism at our theater can look like, the more the theater will truly become a place where each person connected to it will feel respected and heard,” Schachnik wrote.
—Staff writer Meera S. Nair can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.