Winds of Change: “the road weeps, the well runs dry” Continues to Affect Change in Alaska

Volume XI. Mar-April 2014
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Perseverance outreach dinner for the production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Photo Credit: Joanne Alcantara

For the past few weeks, the Taku winds have been blowing through Perseverance Theatre’s home in Douglas, Alaska. The gusts are strong enough to shake homes and keep neighbors up at night. The energy around the theatre, with the ongoing conversation on core values and the expectation of a statewide growth in the 2014-2015 season, is pulsing with change and expectation.

The theatre has been making steady progress on its goal of revising its values statement. On the opening weekend of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, about twenty community members gathered before the Saturday performance. As people entered the theatre’s black box space, they were greeted with hip-hop music and a spread of rice, beans, shredded chicken, and taco fixings. The Pride Foundation generously agreed to support this important outreach dinner, and many members of the LGBTQ community came for the conversation and the show.

As the room filled, Art Rotch, Perseverance Theatre’s Artistic Director, gave context to the evening, sharing his desire to see a shift in the values statement that would support a higher level of accountability and a new way to assess programs. Ten concepts were posted on the walls, including “social justice,” “racial equity,” “cross-cultural collaboration,” “cultural competency,” “centering marginalized communities,” “transformative multiculturalism,” “diversity,” and “inclusion.” Participants were asked to write their reactions to the words, after which a lively discussion began with the whole group.

The energy peaked around a few of the phrases. “Social justice” and “cross-cultural collaboration” were among the favorites. The idea of “cultural competency” was discussed at length and suggestions were made to make the phrase more accessible and active: “cultural fluency,” “cultural accountability,” and “cultural responsibility” were recommended as potential ways to reword this concept. While the group supported the ideal of racial equity, people agreed that it would be more meaningful for the theater to be a place that valued social equity in a way that was broader than race.

A week after this group met, a working group, including members of the staff and board, reviewed the notes from the outreach dinner, digesting the ideas and reactions to the potential language around the theater’s new value statement. The conversation shifted to the role of an arts organization and the activities of the theater. What actions would the theater take if it embraced “social justice,” “cross-cultural collaboration,” or “cultural accountability” as a core value? Considering this question, the staff and board centered on “cross-cultural collaboration” as an ideal that would support and enhance the theater’s current programs.

This body tasked the staff to spend more time diligently teasing out how this value might change day-to-day practices. The theater’s core staff had an opportunity to see the evolution of this process, including the words from the outreach dinner and charge from the staff and board working group. As the conversation deepened, it became clear that each department could find room to grow, from casting and human resources to company management, education, and artistic development. New training and assessment tools rose to the top of the staff’s wish list in order to thoughtfully and thoroughly support this value shift.

The next step in this ongoing process will be for the board to adopt the specific language of the theater’s new value statement. The entire team looks forward to this historic moment and the changes that will follow as the theater continues to embrace and deepen its commitment to serving all Alaskans as a statewide regional theater. The impact of Marcus Gardley’s the road weeps, the well runs dry continues.

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