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How Do I Really Diversify My Audience?
Episode 103

How Do I Really Diversify My Audience?

Live Conversation from Boot Camp 2021

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In this conversation, Theresa Ruth Howard poses alternative questions to leaders Zenetta Drew and Rachel Moore: What exactly does your organization mean when you talk about “diversifying audiences”? How do your organization’s values inform audience diversification initiatives? How can you demystify the word “community”? This conversation will inspire you to find your organization’s most authentic path to audience development.

Theresa Ruth Howard: Pleasure to be with you today. My name, as mentioned, was Theresa Ruth Howard. My pronouns are she/her/hers. I am a chestnut brown African-American woman. I’m wearing a red turban. A white ruffly blouse. Over my right shoulder is a window with the blinds drawn. Over my left shoulder is a image of my organizational logo, my ballet. I am coming to you today from the lands of the Munsee Lenape people. Lenape meaning the people or the true people of the Delaware Valley, Delaware Nation. And Munsee were also considered the wolf tribe. So I’m honored to be here on these lands of the indigenous caretakers, the elders, the indigenous of today, and the generations to come. And I’m so excited to have this conversation today with Zenetta Drew, who I would like to introduce first.

Zenetta Drew: Hello. I’m Zenetta Drew and I am a black female with caramel-colored skin and short black hair. My pronouns are she and her. And I’m worrying a gold blouse and navy jacket with bold red lip color. Today, I’m joining you from the lands of two displaced groups of people. First, from the original and stolen lands of the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas and from the Wichita and Tawakoni people and the Jumano Nation. And then second, I’m also joining you and would like to acknowledge the neighborhood we now inhabit as one of the original Freedman’s towns of Dallas built by those who were enslaved by European colonization. I would like to acknowledge that I’m coming to you from also the grounds of the former Moreland YMCA building in Dallas, Texas that was built by and for African-Americans during the Jim Crow era and the years of segregation. Today, I’m proud to say that this building is the home of the Dallas Black Dance Theater and anchors the eastern end of the multi-billion dollar Dallas Arts District, on a street that was the former dividing line between white and black communities of this city. Flora Street, which now bears the name of Ann Williams, our founder, was a historic statement of inclusion for our city because it was the first time a street was named for a woman. It was first time a street was named for a living person. And it is one of only a few streets in America where a street is been named for an African American that is not located in the hood.

Theresa Ruth Howard: Thank you, and I would like to bring in Rachel Moore.

Rachel Moore: Good afternoon everyone. I’m Rachel Moore. My pronouns are she and her. I am a white woman with reddish hair, an occasional freckle. And I’m wearing a green jacket, a white blouse, and gold earrings. I’m coming to you from the ancestral and ancient land of the Tongva tribe. The Music Center is a performing arts center, the third largest in the country after the Kennedy Center and Lincoln Center. We manage and operate about 2 billion in county assets, including four theaters, Disney Hall, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the Ahmanson Theater, and the Mark Taper Forum. Also a 12-acre park and a new plaza. We also program extensively in dance. And do a great deal of free and low-cost programming for every resident in LA county ranging from small educational programs, programs in the school, all the way to major tentpole events, like Fourth of July, where we have 75,000 people come and enjoy the arts together. And I’m so glad to be here.

Theresa Ruth Howard: Thank you ladies. We had a very spirited conversation preparing for this conversation. So let’s see if lightning can strike twice. I want to set up the context for why I wanted to speak to the both of you. When we talk about diversification, diversity, and in this case, how to diversify your audiences, I as an African-American woman know that, for me and my community, oftentimes, we don’t talk about diversity in terms of needing to include people unlike us, right? Like generally our arms are open. Our communities are open. I know organizations tend to be organically diverse. And so I thought that it would be great to have a historical dance organization represented to talk about the way that that looks in that community and that organization. And how they handle those conversations. And also I wanted to have an organization like The Music Center, right? Because it’s historically white, it’s 57 years old. It’s been around for a while and these are conversations that organizations like The Music Center, like ballet organizations, opera houses around the world are really grappling with. And these, I think, are two very different conversations in these different arenas. And so just to kick us off, Zenetta will you talk to us a little bit about the Dallas Black Dance and how organically as the organization was founded and as it exists, how does diversity figure in for you, both as an organization and your audiences at large?

Zenetta Drew: At Dallas Black Dance Theater, we consider inclusion to be our goal for bringing audiences together rather than diversification. Those are two different words that have different meanings and there’s a different value proposition with each one. When you say diversity, you’re really talking about an image proposition of creating a different image for the organizer. On the other side, when you say inclusion, you’re more or less saying, I’m looking for a value proposition that has reciprocal benefit for both. And so in building who we are, we say we’re inclusive and that means we exclude no one. Now that may seem a little bit challenging to look at, but for us historically, we’re looking at a founder of an organization who got the first master’s degree in dance in America as a black woman or a person of color. And then to move on and then to develop a dance company that is inclusive. Why would she do that? Simply because she understands what exclusion is. I am going to talk specifically from the background of being a portion in the southern sector of the United States. Having been a product of Jim Crow myself. And understanding what exclusion is versus diversity, which says you’re here. You’re in the room. But am I engaged? Okay, am I supported? You know, and those are the kinds of things that make the difference. What Dallas Black Dance Theater has done, founded in 1976, that was the first year in Texas that could have legally a nonprofit or organization of African American descent. And 10 years later I joined the organization. There was already white male board members, there white male dancers, and by the early 90’s, we had more white female dancers than we had black dancers. Why? Because the core value of the organization was one of inclusion. It was, you know, we looked at the target of what we wanted, excellence in dance. That ideal value is embedded and engraved in everything that we do. So that we end up now having the most inclusive audiences, staff, board, artistic component, and community supporters, because that core value system is what we built the entire organization on.

Theresa Ruth Howard: Thank And do you feel like the programming itself? Because it’s one thing to say that that is the foundational tenet, right, inclusion. How does that get translated out to the audiences. Is there something that you’re doing in terms of either what you’re presenting, how you’re marketing? Or is it just an organic sort of feeling a sense of the way that you are in the community that says everybody is welcome and we’re programming and presenting for humans.

Zenetta Drew: You know, one of the things we do full spectrum programming, which means that’s at every show. We don’t target to bring in a specific community or a specific demographic by creating a program that says this should attract a certain audience. And when you do that, people know that if I show up at any time at Dallas Black Dance Theater, there’s going to be something for me. The other thing that really is pertinent in understanding inclusion, is the fact that, of African Americans who are descendants of former enslaved persons, we’re all mixed. We are the epitomy of America’s a melting pot. So when we look at what is our culture, yes, we have derivatives of Africa, but also, all countries are a part of our culture. So when we do programming, we have programs that strong all of the backgrounds, ethnic backgrounds, cultures, and races, simply because that is also a way that we depict who we are.

Theresa Ruth Howard: Thank you for that. And Rachel, can you tell me a little bit about what The Music Center has been doing? Right? Like, maybe where it’s come from. And then what, what and how the philosophy has changed over both your tenure and maybe it started even before.

Rachel Moore: So The Music Center was built at the same time as Lincoln Center and Kennedy Center in the early 60’s when the world viewed the arts very differently than they do today. It was much more about the legacy of art forms and you know, beautiful work has been done here for decades. However, LA county, and let me step back. The Music Center is a product of a public private partnership with LA county and private donations that built these wonderful theaters. The LA county is one of the most diverse counties in the country. We have about 10 million people and we’re about 60% Latinx. That was not the case in 1960 when Music Center was built. So I was brought in to try to bring the Music Center into the 21st century in terms of relevance and resonating with the people of LA county, and I believe very firmly that, given that we are beneficiaries of taxpayer money, we have a moral obligation to serve every resident of LA county. Not just the few and, you know, we have been seen as the white castle on the hill and we’re trying to break that apart. And so what we did is when I came in, we completely changed our vision and mission to be about deepening the cultural life of every resident of LA county. A very outwardly facing vision statement that both said, we have as much to learn about the arts as to provide. It’s not, you know, top down. It is a conversation. And the arts happen everywhere, and we should be having this wonderful conversation with all these communities and all these residents of LA county about what should be on our campus. And it’s been a wonderful journey. When I came, we had about 4% of our board of color. We now have about 46% of our board of color. We still have plenty to do but I think that there’s a huge commitment to that. And I’m going to say, you know, when we talk about diversifying audiences, it strikes me, and this came to me after we had our initial conversation, that our audiences are simply the physical manifestation of the values and the culture of our organizations. And so, all the marketing or social media campaigns in the world cannot change that unless the core values are also deeply committed to diversity and inclusion. I think that it’s, you know, an inconvenient truth, because it means that you need to look deep, change deeply in order to authentically change your audiences to make them representative of the place that you live.

Theresa Ruth Howard: I love that because it, when you were speaking, I was thinking, how did you go about building the trust with the community? Because communities of color, when you say, you know, you ask a question, like, how do we diversify our audience, right? People of color know, okay, this is, now this is the transactional thing. There’s something in it that you, like, now you want me. And now I’m supposed to, as per the script, want and be willing to enter those spaces that, you know, 10 minutes ago you were trying to keep me out of. So how do you begin, right, to talk about, you coming from a long legacy, right?

Rachel Moore: Build trust. So that people can really know that this is not a phase as so often, you know, these things are treated. Well, I will say that we’ve had long relationships with our partners in the community. So it’s not just, you know, started yesterday, you know, we’ve had partners that we’ve been programming and co-creating work with for 15 years. And it takes time to build trust, you know, it’s not a light switch. It’s a dimmer that you turn on and on and on and on and I think it is first, recognizing that we are not bequeathing art upon others, that it is a conversation, that the creative process is involved shared power and shared experience. I think that we have spent a lot of time, we talk a lot about engagement, and when I think about how we engage with art, traditionally the Music Center has been about artists creating art for an audience, but equally important are works where we create with our audience, our patrons. And also, when they get to create their own art. So it’s not, you know, there’s these three very different buckets of how you interact. And we’ve privileged the first and we are now focusing on these second two. Second thing I did, was instead of hiring an artistic director, who the traditional model is, they sort of sit on high and there’s one viewpoint. We have a curatorial lens, a philosophy, that all of our programming is funneled through. So it is engagement. And so we think about, we have lots of different voices in the conversation about what we program, how we program it. Are we bringing in the right partners? So the power is more distributed. And I think that until you open up that curatorial process for multiplicity of voices, you’re going to still have the implicit bias of a single individual if that’s all you’re listening to. So I think it is also turning the curatorial process upside down, but also understanding that how we engage in the arts is much more. There’s much more breadth and depth to it than simply putting a show on in a proscenium theater.

Theresa Ruth Howard: Zenetta, do you want a piece of that? There was a lot there.

Zenetta Drew: I agree with Rachel and I think one of the things that we have to do in order to really identify, you know, how are we going to diversify our audiences and be authentic. Because we’ve got to ask some really hard questions and be honest. And those questions, why am I doing this? Is it to get more funding? I mean, we have to be for real. We have to decide, is it because it’s politically correct now to in this new era of racial awareness. And I’ll wait. And so what we find, you can’t get to a core value system until you can remove those barriers that are not authentic. And the other one is it to create a visual statement that the organization is addressing underrepresented audiences. Many times, I have seen organizations want to make sure that their donors and their patrons know that they are working at an effort. Okay, but unless you are internally motivated to actually authentically engage with an audience, then you are not going to have true reciprocal value. Do I understand the difference between what it means to be an outsider coming in? What I will say, the way you know that someone wants to build authenticity is to take yourself out of the comfort zone. Go to another cultural entities offering. Sit in the seat. Observe what it is taken you through emotionally, psychologically to even travel to that location to engage front of house to watch the product and engaging. And when you’re on the other, then you can very quickly determine how to become more authentic in engaging and developing a more diversified and inclusive audience. But the tendency is to take actions to create diversification and inclusion. But the real value, your core value comes from really understanding what exclusion is because you cannot move to inclusion until you understand the word exclusion and those factors.

Theresa Ruth Howard: And this brings me to the human element, right? And relationship-building. Because oftentimes when I’m working with organizations, I’m hearing the word, we serve the community or the community we serve or the underprivileged communities. There’s all this. There’s this mystical word of community. And often times when I ask people, who does that refer to, who’s in your community? What do they? They don’t actually know, right? So it’s this monolithic work that we stamp on different types of people, whether that’s the people that are already the patrons or those that we’re looking to diversify with. And can we talk a little bit about how you build relation, authentic relationships, right? And awareness of this mythical community, right? The different, are we, how do we become more familiar with the various communities, right, that surround us. And Rachel, I think that this is a, maybe start with you, because there are so many, you talked about the diversity in LA county. How do you begin to put a human face on that?

Rachel Moore: You listen. We have done many town halls. And also we’ve been around for a long time and already working with within the many communities that are, but you listen and you build relationships with individuals who are doing beautiful work in their community and you work together to figure out how can we bring that work into the Music Center’s fold, either on our campuses or in our educational programs, but it’s got to come from a place of deep respect, willingness to listen, and wanting to collaborate, you know, the most beautiful things happen when you have people coming together and creating something that they couldn’t have created on their own. And so I would say it’s, when I think for our programming, our programming staff has spent years developing relationships with people all over the county, both bringing resources that we might have to help support them in the creation of their work. Bringing them to the Music Center to partner on new endeavors. All, you know, but it’s got to be authentic and humble and it starts with listening. That humility piece, right, is we talk about that the castle on the hill, that humility coming down off of that pedestal and flattening the hierarchy so that we’re all the same, right? So that we’re all in this together. And I think that people get scared when you start talking about change and change in this way. And I like to say that it’s not either/or. It’s also and. And it’s not that we’re, this just means that we are doing this as opposed to doing this, right? That, you know, all I love Chimamanda Adichie’s quote of the danger of a single story is not that it is untrue, but that it is incomplete. And I think that what we strive for is to tell the complete story or as close as we could possibly get of LA county. And that includes people who look like me, you know, so it’s not an either/or. It’s an also and and I think you end up with so much more richness and I would also say that if cultural institutions don’t change in this way, they’re going to go out of business. Because at the end of the day you need to present art that people want to see and if they don’t see their own stories, they’re not going to come. So there is a financial imperative as well as a moral imperative to be representative.

Theresa Ruth Howard: So, Zenetta, you talk about the legitimacy divide. Can you please tell us what that is? I think it’s really important. And I think it’s impactful here in this conversation.

Zenetta Drew: In order to be legitimate you have to, you know, feel validated and justified in your existence. And in our country, there is a divide about who should and who shouldn’t have economics, education, political. Voting is a big issue. Who should be voting. Religion and the list goes on and on. And the big thing is that the arts are not excluded. And in order to really have equality and equity, there has to be a bridging of the divide of the perception of arts of color. Arts of color is not usually considered essential to an ecosystem in a city or in a region. It is optional. You will survive if you produce this year. So therefore funding is impacted, audiences, and there are all types of partnerships and collaborations that come up, but as Rachel said, there are one-offs. They can be one-offs. We did a big partnership and then you’re gone and I didn’t benefit. And the tendency is that if I’m not perceived as legitimate, you’re not helping to build me and strengthen me. You’re using me to diversify your audience to gain your advantages and then you move on, you got funding using my name, and all of these things, and then you have robbed me, okay, and in the communities of color leaders, we call it rape and run. Until you actually come in and because of your influence, you want a partner, and you want to build audiences. And because my art is not considered as legitimate, then the funder, you develop the partnership. And when it’s over, we’ve had a great time together, but I don’t get your audience information, you get mine, you get my donors. When I go back to the funder, they said, we’ve already funded the collaboration that you did. However, I may have gotten 1% return. And so I was, that is the kind of idea that when we look at building audiences, I have seen, I’ve been doing this for 35 years. And so I have watched over time, this trajectory of, we’re going to build audiences. We’re going to diversify. We’re going to become more inclusive. But usually the arts organizations of color and communities of color, you lose the trust because there is not this continuous engagement that is at the same quality level that it was when you started the conversation. And I think that’s the thing, is if you’re not willing to keep the conversation going and invest at the same level you initiated, then it’s not going to work long term. Because what I’ll say to you is, if you look at those of you who have done this work over time, have you really built audiences? Or have you just brought diversity in? You don’t have long-term audiences. And so, you know, I’ll add my last point here is that there has been a tendency in order to diversify, especially when it related back in the early 90’s is to put out free product. Okay, the students came to programs free. We did everything free and pretty much that was going into communities of color or other. Now, you have a group of adults, who trying to understand. Why should I pay for art? I’ll buy commercial product, but I should not have to pay because I’ve never had to pay. So you then you are trying to not cultivate an audience in communities that don’t understand why they should have to pay. And if you reach out to them to bring them in for free, then how are you going to cultivate, develop, and engage long-term in the way that you have the intentionality of doing. You’re really trying to produce a donor, a long-term patron, and all of those things that we will all want to do. So with that, I think the summary is your first conversation, the authenticity, has to be the same level that you want when you end the conversation.

Theresa Ruth Howard: So There’s, that was, thank you. But there’s a couple things that I don’t even know which one to go to first because we keep using the word authenticity. And I wonder if we could because, you know, sometimes you start saying, words make you numb out on them. I think it’s also intention, right? Your actual intention, right? Yes, you want to be authentic in doing it, like truthful and honest and earnest and all of that. But it’s your actual intention because what, you lift it up with the idea that we bring in like, say the one-off programming and we see or the partnership and then we see the audience change for that one thing. But they don’t come back, right? Because your intention was not actually to engage them in a longer relationship. It was really just sort of like, you know, an hour. It’s like, take this in, great, and you think you’ve done something. So in order to retain, right? Like, the partnerships are not necessarily a bad thing, right? It’s the, what happens after like, maybe there’s like, what is the long-term strategy to retain the people that you’ve connected with? Not only is it the strategy. It’s the intent when you design it in the beginning because what if you don’t have the intentionality and the strategy and the beginning, then it tends to get lost. Once the event is over, their productions over, I have watched entities do large-scale activities and never reach out to an audience of 2,000 people of color to invite you to come back. We did that one thing. And you didn’t even because why, it was not in the budget. So you’ve got to plan completely. Rachel, you know, that’s right.

Rachel Moore: This goes back to what I said at the beginning that your audiences are a physical manifestation of the values and culture of your institution. And if you have not changed your culture, if you truly don’t embrace the values of inclusion, you’re going to be doing all this one off, superficial, non-productive stuff that might be exciting for 15 minutes, but you don’t fundamentally change over time. And this is about the long game. This is not about, you know, a one off here and one off there. And so that’s why, you know, the hard work is changing, you know, everything you do. And as Theresa knows, one of my favorite things, is that a budget is a moral document, right? And I really believe that because if you look back at it, and you say, are we living our values in the choices we make with the limited resources we have. And sometimes that’s really hard and sometimes it’s not super clear, but you need to constantly ask yourself, is the budget living our values, our operations living our values, our marketing, our hiring practices, and that stuff’s hard, but it’s the only way you’re going to win the long game. It’s the only way you’re going to be around and truly, because I think that the arts are valuable because they make people’s lives better. And if you’re not making people’s lives better, than what’s the point? And how can you, if you’re only addressing a small portion of the people that you have in your community?

Theresa Ruth Howard: And going back to intention. I remember when I first started my work with ballet companies around that conversation of increasing diversity. And there were two trains of thought that were running. And it was, how do we stay relevant? And then how can we diversify? And for me it was like, oh, you’re using blackness and brownness to stay relevant because now we have the browning of the planet and we see with these numbers are going. And so my question is, is relevance or relevancy, a reason? Is that the intention, right? I think that that could be like a blossoming sort of thought, because I feel at times the idea of if we create, if we bring these people, these marginalized people in and put them on the stage, then that will attract other people like them, which sometimes is true, but you’re not, is that the reason, right? Or is it because the work is a certain thing or they bring a real value, right, into the art form. I think those are very different, right? Resolve is the same. They’re in the space. But I feel that audiences are smart enough. Communities are smart enough to be able to discern the difference.

Rachel Moore: Absolutely, you can spot a phony at 50 feet. Absolutely. If you’re not living your values on that stage, which is, we value how these multiple voices can deepen and strengthen the work that we’re creating. If you don’t actually believe that, I think people see it eventually. You might be able to get away with in the short term, but I just don’t see it in the long term and I also think you do a disservice to the arts. You know, if you’re just so transactional. It’s so superficial. That just hurts me to the core.

Theresa Ruth Howard: I mean, it’s also, I think we are seeing it also when we look at at, you know, this one off programming or these initiative programming, right? Where we go in like, oh, we’re having women choreographers or choreographers of color or what have you. You speak a little bit about the consistency that’s needed, right, to be witnessed in the programming for the long haul. Not for, you know, even one season, but actually like the arc of your programming. Zenetta, do you have thoughts on that in terms of what Dallas Black is doing or has done for her?

Zenetta Drew: For our programming, literally we don’t necessarily focus on relevancy as importance of the work and what it communicates and the artistic team really looks at the most excellent works that we believe will engage all audiences. And so, our programming will have an array of choreographers with different backgrounds, different things on one program. So if you show up at Dallas Black Dance Theater and there are five works on the program, there’s going to be one that connects. There’s going to be one that connects. And so even though we are an organization that uses black in the name, the work that we do is not consistently from the African American experience. This spring, we are bringing in Macedonian artists. We actually worked collaboratively 3 years ago with musicians and the partnership really came out of the fact that the area of Macedonia where they reside, they have the same type of historical segregation that we had in the 60’s. And their artists came here to really study how American artists who were Black, who had been part of segregation, had been able to turn around and be productively engaged in the artistic community at this point in time. And so there’s a rationale behind the inclusive work that we do that has a message that is part of us. In our mission it says we were founded to bridge cultures. That’s one of the statements in the mission statement. So in bridging cultures, there is no exclusion as to which culture, there’s just wherever there is a connection. And every year, the thematic work that we do, connects many cultures over this season’s programming. And I think that’s the idea that we want to convey that more than dance, we are presenting African-American dancers on stage who can do everything from ballet to tap to jazz and then turn around and do an African program at the highest level of quality. And with that, the audience is no, I’m going to see something I’m going to love.

Theresa Ruth Howard: Rachel, we spoke before about, like who’s at the table? Who’s in the room when we’re talking about putting programming together. How have you found that conversation of like the team that you assemble, the eyes and the perspectives that are a part of that decision-making process and how that kind of translates to creating relatable programming or a diverse audience?

Rachel Moore: Well, I think since we program using a philosophy of, you know, engagement and inclusion, that everything, every question that we ask is, are we living our values in our programming? And at the table, since if we’re no longer super one person up here and everybody else is down here, we’re more here. We actually have broad conversations with people from all sorts of different backgrounds, social strata. And then we have lots of community partners that we’re having conversations with. And I think that it’s that distribution of power, that it’s not one person making the decision, but rather having lots of points of entry and, you know, and disagreements, you know, about what will work, what won’t work. What’s good? What’s not good? Are we really reaching, you know, the people of LA county? And so I think that you need to have that group, feel like they have, they’re empowered to have a voice in this conversations and that you also need to have that group be from places, lots of different voices. Not just a single in a little living in a little bubble all by themselves, even if it’s a little group who’s in a little bubble, but, you know, and I think that being able at these conversations to have enough trust to have people dissent is also really important. I think that it can be courageous. But if you actually build trust, and the power dynamics are such they shut everybody else up. Because they have a whole diverse room and they’re all too scared to talk. Doesn’t it solve the problem, right? You need to be able to feel like you have the trust and ability to disagree productively, respectfully and move and feel like you have the efficacy to move the needle. Otherwise, once again, it’s, you know, one person making all the decisions and I don’t think that’s how you, certainly as a public institution, how you can respond to the needs, wants, desires, and touching the hearts of people all across LA county.

Theresa Ruth Howard: You know, as often happens when we open up these conversations, like, it sounds like a very simple question. Like, how do I diversify my audience? Right? And yet, we always end up right back, where we start, which is like, really having to dig in and do the work. The issue isn’t the audience. Like, the question is like well, why aren’t they coming? Right? It’s always like something’s wrong with them because they don’t want to engage with us. Again, that lofty idea that everyone, if you’re sophisticated enough, that you would want what we’re presenting. But it often goes right back to step one, which is looking at yourself, your organization, your core values, your organizational philosophy, which is not the easiest thing to do. Like, it’s you’re starting at the raw. It’s always like you’re starting at the wrong end.

Rachel Moore: The audience is the output. You know, this is simply a product of who you are and and I do not want to trivialize how hard it is to every day say, am I living my values? That is, you can have wonderful values, but operationalizing them, living them, it takes a lot of time and work in intentionality and that’s hard when you’re in the middle of COVID and you’re trying to meet payroll and all that stuff, right? I do not want to trivialize that this is easy. It’s not. It’s hard.

Theresa Ruth Howard: It’s endurance as well. Right? Like you cannot let up because the minute that you do, it can easily roll back.

Rachel Moore: Well, and I think that that’s part of the culture of an institution,that you should, I can tell you that my team is quite capable of telling me when I’m not living my values. And I’m happy for that because we need to call each other on what we’re doing because unintentionally, you’re slammed, you do something thoughtlessly and to have a culture where you can be called on that allows you to course correct and is ultimately better for the institution. But that is a culture that takes time to build. And I always love the phrase moving at the speed of trust. So we cannot, you know, this is not 12 months from now we’re going to have a brand new culture. Building trust and moving the needle takes time and as you said endurance. So I think that it’s hard, hard work. Completely, I think, transformative and beautiful and exciting work, but you have to be mindful every moment.

Theresa Ruth Howard: But it is work, right? At the end of the day.

Rachel Moore: It is work, but you know, you know to do to rely on the old tropes, that’s lazy. And I don’t think that is worthy of the audience.

Theresa Ruth Howard: It’s well, you know, it’s really interesting and Rachel we were there together, right? We were at the Positioning Ballet Conference. And I’m listening to these ballet directors, you know, imaginations of how do we wrap our head around diversity. And it dawned on me. I still have been set out. I go, you know, it’s really funny that Arthur Mitchell did this in the 60’s. Like inclusion. The idea of creating a school based on what we now consider to be outreach, right? Making it low-cost, opening the door, right? It’s interesting that oftentimes white organizations don’t look towards non-white organizations for the answers when actually they’ve drawn up the blueprints, right, but again, that value system, that legitimacy divide.

Rachel Moore: Well, and the entitlement divide.

Theresa Ruth Howard: There you go.

Rachel Moore: But I would also say, Alvin Ailey, also, you know, incredibly inclusive. Visionary, cutting-edge, remarkable, right? Yes.

Theresa Ruth Howard: I mean, this is the thing that I, that’s why I wanted the two of you in this space, right? Because I feel like Zenetta, what if you were to give a quick masterclass, right, in what it is by historically black organizations, like the five women, Dallas Black like, you know, Philadanko, you know, DC-DC, Ailey, DTH, all of these are dance organizations that were really created as spaces of blackness, but never felt that that their mission would be diminished by creating inclusion. Like, can you speak about that? Because I think that that is really a key that I would really love to have articulated and shared out.

Zenetta Drew: And so what I want to also add is Lulu Washington, yeah, that’s to get the five, but I do think that, you know, when you look at the five women who founded those companies, they were able to really look at the fact that social justice had not occurred because Black students, Black audiences could not attend by law many of the performing arts venues and genres. And so when they formed Black dance companies, that was because they saw that they could have an opportunity and an outlet for African-American students and performers to display talent. And so as you look at that, all of us, and the reason you could be inclusive, we’re back to that initial premise. They have been excluded. And because they had been excluded, they understood what that felt like, they understood the limitations. So if you’re going to ask someone to include you, do you turn around and do the same thing? No.

Theresa Ruth Howard: But I also like to bring to bring Alvin Ailey up. I think it’s really interesting that it’s, I just, it’s a different lens, right? Like, I think it’s interesting that he sees Chaya Montezuma and he’s like, yes, I can imagine you in a Black Baptist Church. Sure. Come on. Grab a stool, right? Like without because it was really art centered. Right? Like he’s like, if you can hit the step then we’ll we want you here. And I think of, this is a very different value system that specifically because I’ll speak from my experience. Black dance organizations and arts organizations. They really, we talk about centering the art. It really is art centered and the human doing the art. It doesn’t matter what that is. That’s because we respect that. We honor that.

Zenetta Drew: You said something that really triggered something that Ann Williams, the founder of Dallas Black Dance Theater said very early on. Back in the early nineties, we perform Porgy and Bess and we cast Bess with a white female with blonde hair. We got lots of ugly remarks from opera patrons and other folks about why would you cast a white female in that role? And I was new to the organization and trying to respond and she said something that stuck with me. And she said the color of the eye delivering the dance nor the color of the eye seeing the dance matters. It’s just the absolute beauty of the dance that is being seen. And so that’s back to Alvin Ailey. It doesn’t matter who’s on stage. It doesn’t matter who’s watching. It matters that it’s most beautiful, what is occurring. And that’s what art does, art connects us as humans. It changes us as humans. Forget the exterior, forget the cultural differences and backgrounds. It’s really about seeing something beautiful and connecting with the spirit of humanity. And when you do that, it doesn’t matter who’s delivering it.

Theresa Ruth Howard: Do you think that organizations can lead with expansive and inclusive programming? Like when I say lead, lead the shift. Because I think that we talked a little bit about funders and we’ve talked about the structure that supports the art in this country. And often that goes to the legitimacy divide, it goes to, you know, who’s get who the critics are supporting, you know, and then the critics support that person and that person gets booked and becomes the IT thing so it’s all sort of like a system. Do you think that organizations being courageous in, personally courageous, like in saying like, we’re going to do something different that we believe in philosophically. Do you think that could be a possibility to beginning to like, create that shift, like breaking down the system a little bit and opening eyes to say that there is actually a different way that we can do this and be successful or is that being a little too altruistic?

Zenetta Drew: Actually I’d like to just throw out an example that we had in the mid-90’s when we actually were able to have a larger white audience than we had African American and we started to get pushback from the community. And so, you know, it’s the same thing right now is what do you have to do in order to get funders? Because funders were saying we’re giving you funding for Black audiences. And yet, when I show up at your performances, that’s not who’s there. And so in the reverse roll, what we said is this is who we are. This is our mission. We’re going to push forward. And what has happened we have retained the support, we have grown the support and we’ve created a model that other people can look at and say, you know, you really have to stick to and be committed to where you say you’re going, not the first time that you get some pushback, because we all have unconscious biases. And so even as an African-American organization, we had many community members who were very upset about the casting of dancers because we were losing quote, our identity, but I think that when you do, what Rachel says, and you’re very intentional and you’ve planned and you’re strategic, then you go forward in the path and we are creating a new ecology for the arts. If we’re going to survive, if you’ve seen the data on audiences, we cannot keep going back and forth to each other’s audiences and not growing new entrants into the audiences and ticket buyer and patrons. We can’t do that because all we’re doing is going back and forth and robbing each other without finding new ways to bring new perspectives and new attendees into the fold.

Theresa Ruth Howard: Rachel, your thoughts on that? Do you think that organizations breaking the mold, can that actually create or be the catalyst for some of the shift that needs to happen in other areas?

Rachel Moore: Yes, I think that there is a leadership role for larger institutions, especially around the area of individual donors, individual philanthropy, you know, you’re sort of building the plane while you’re flying it as you’re making this change, but I think that by having a board that looks different to having different conversations with major donors about the importance of this work. Once again, the long game, it’s not going to happen overnight, but having people better understand and you know, the larger institutions have access to larger donors and generally more traditional donors. And you know, I think that the opportunity to educate and incentivize and get them excited about new ways of doing things. And we’ve certainly seen it at the Music Center. And I have to say I’m so pleased that when we started to talk about free and low-cost programming and our role as a civic entity that, you know, we are helping to make our community better and people get excited about that. And people who don’t, who get nervous. Oh, I’m not an expert in ballet, or I’m not an expert in music. It’s like it doesn’t matter. Do you want to make your community better? This is how you can do it. And people feel like they’re not, you know, not smart enough or not refined enough and they get excited. And then you broaden the pool of potential donors because it’s not this little elite group at the top that has very specific views. You broaden your vision and mission and get people excited about all the things you can do by making the

Theresa Ruth Howard: Ladies, believe it or not, we are basically out of time. What have we learned here? That maybe the question itself is starting in the wrong place and maybe the idea that if you are actually doing your work internally, I mean that internally personally and as an organization, then that will be, your audiences will reflect the work that you’ve been doing internally that it leads out that is palpable and that will be your response. It’s probably not the answer that people might want.

Rachel Moore: No, I’m sure it’s not.

Theresa Ruth Howard: If you want the truth, then that’s probably it, right? Ladies, I am so grateful and thankful for you and all that you’ve shared and and I’m so glad that you are doing the work that you’re doing in the spaces that you’re doing it.

Rachel Moore: Well, thank you. Thank you, Zenetta.

Zenetta Drew: Thank you.

Theresa Ruth Howard: Thank you for joining us.

About Our Guests
Rachel S. Moore
Rachel S. Moore
President & CEO, The Music Center

Rachel S. Moore is president and CEO of The Music Center in Los Angeles. Previously, she served as American Ballet Theatre’s CEO since 2011 and as its executive director since 2004; she also danced with ABT as a member of its corps de ballet from 1984–1988. She was named CEO of the Year by the Los Angeles Business Journal in 2019 and is the author of The Artist’s Compass: The Complete Guide to Building a Life and a Living in the Performing Arts.

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Theresa Ruth Howard
Theresa Ruth Howard
Diversity Strategist and Consultant

Theresa Ruth Howard is a diversity strategist and consultant assisting arts organizations to better understand, design, and implement Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programs and initiatives. She works with artistic and executive directors, school directors, and board members of ballet and opera organizations internationally on DEI efforts and shifting the culture of both classical art forms. Ms. Howard is also a journalist, former dancer, and the founder and curator of Memoirs of Blacks in Ballet, a digital platform that preserves, presents, and promotes the contributions and stories of Black artists in the field of ballet.

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Zenetta Drew
Zenetta Drew
Executive Director, Dallas Black Dance Theatre

Zenetta Drew is the Executive Director of Dallas Black Dance Theatre. She is a graduate of The National Arts Strategies-Chief Executive Program and is currently Vice-Chair of the Dallas Arts District, a Board member with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and held a position of Adjunct Professor for three years in SMU’s M.A./M.B.A. Arts Management Program, where she taught Strategic Planning in the Arts.

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