Thursday, February 4, 2010

Integration Now. Integration Forever.

So. Now that I got that off my chest.

RVCBard reacts here. Tony Adams here. From the comments below, Scott chimes in, in part:
So here's my question: what is best for the art? Integration or separation? Wilson, who was a Garvey-ite, thought separation -- "The Ground on Which I Stand" calls for more funding for African-American theatres. Others -- you, it seems -- are for integration. So: if black theatres were funded at the same level as the major white theatres, would that be a good thing or a bad thing? Or is this a both thing: we want well-funded African-American theatres AND we want to work in well-funded White theatres. Right now, it seems like an ethnic version of "Whack a Mole"...
For me, personally, Scott is absolutely right: I'm an integrationist. I think our art, our country and our world would be best served by having a vibrant theatre that is really neither black nor white (nor Latino nor Asian), but a combination of all. That's the dream, right? To more specifically answer Scott's query: I want to see a world where there are black theatres, white theatres, Latin theatres, all existing along with multicultural theatres and institutions, and the door are truly open to those with the skills and talents. Our current world isn't all that far away from that, I don't think. But we do have some pernicious, lingering remnants of the former world, and we still have to contend with a society that hasn't even really come to terms with its own race issues. (Or sexism issues, or sexuality issues, or really any issues of any kind that aren't Us Weekly).

And, believe you me, I know that probably won't happen in my lifetime, but I have to keep working for it. Then again, I honestly thought that the first black president probably wouldn't happen in the first part of my life (and I thought he'd be a Republican, so what do I know?).

Okay, on the question of how, a couple of things:

- Yes, it will take some segregation to get us there. Ultimately, we need black administrators, black funders, black fundraisers in larger numbers than we have. Like it or not, those are the things that drive our industry. To see change in the work, we have to change how it gets made and paid for. Since white institutions are notoriously hard to get a foothold in, we're going to need more, stronger and bigger black institutions.

- It will take courage from white administrators. Period. Major League Baseball didn't have a rule or a condition that all players be white. Jackie Robinson didn't have to sue or have a law passed so he could play for the Dodgers. He needed a courageous white man, who held all the power, to open a door. And then he needed a ton of courage to walk through and survive it. We're going to need both kinds of people.

When people talk about standards and requirements and all the like, I think, honestly, about myself. People get jobs in theatre all the time without having the right CV or resume or experience. Because we're so catch-as-catch-can, often the person who shows up gets the gig. And I'm no exception. I got my first theatre gig because Chris Smith at E.S.T. took a chance. Well, actually, because he asked for a volunteer to produce a Fringe show and I didn't know what I was getting into. But once I line-produced the show, he looked at me and thought, "Let's give this kid a chance." And changed my life. I didn't realize at the time how rare I would be, how rare that experience was, and how much it could have cost him. Or how much it could have cost Curt Dempster when he gave me a promotion, three years later. I didn't have the background. They could have passed over me without an explanation. But they didn't. And because they didn't, I now have the experience and I've built on it. It's a slow process, but it works.

There are some smart, passionate, talented black folk out there in this world, eager to bust in the door. If all of us open those doors,'ll see some shit. And that will be good for us all.


Scott Walters said...

But what about George Wolfe and Michael Kaiser, two African-American arts administrators in, arguably, the most prestigious institutions in America. Did that change anything?

99 said...

In a word, yes. In the same way that Jesse Jackson losing the Democratic nomination for president, year after year, led to Barack Obama getting elected. I never said it was an instant thing and hoping for an instant fix is part of what keeps the system afloat. It's a long slog of tiny steps.

Just to be sure: you're not talking about Michael Kaiser at the Kennedy Center, are you? I figured you'd mention Kenny Leon at the Alliance.

Scott Walters said...

Yes, I was speaking of him, and it is my bad: I thought he was African-American! Big ole yikes for me. OK, Kenny Leon.

99 said...

I did think about those guys and didn't get to them in the actual writing. Again, it's not an overnight thing. I don't expect our next president to be black...but I do think that the next time a black person runs, they'll have a lot more credibility. And a larger base.

And, hey, we all make mistakes...

Scott Walters said...

I think I had that impression about Kaiser because of his controversial statement about white institutions not needing to be diverse. He spoke as someone who had been involved with African-American organizations, and I just didn't think a white person would propose such an idea! *L* Anyway, as one of my students says: Embarrassed.

Yes, it is a process, not an overnight.

Art said...


I have been following Scott's blog since its beginning, and, (I'm sure he'll correct if I am wrong,) I think you might be dodging the question here, 99. Or you may be very clear.

From what I understand, Scott, you have always been trying to explain that in the realm of public policy and funding it IS a zero sum game, no?

In other words, to put a twist on this:

Should funds and grants be channeled towards larger, more established cultural institutions to help them integrate, or should they go to communities to start their own institutions?

Scott Walters said...

I have argued that, Art, and it is a good question you pose. We usually get around that by saying it SHOULDN'T BE a zero sum game, which makes it so we don't have to make choices. But let's accept for the moment that it IS zero-sum: you have to choose between integrating big white institutions or funding African-American institutions more fully. Your choice?

Scott Walters said...

I know this is a Sophie's Choice, by the way.

Tony Adams said...

Kaiser worked with Alvin Ailey Dance, so maybe that's where you thought that?

Scott, my choice would be pretty easy, to fund inclusive institutions and culturally specific institutions. Period.

But giving most organizations funding to do a black play a year in February is a feeble, farcical idea of diversity. (But I'm not a funder.)

Funders have been attempting to fund integration and works by artists of color for at least twenty years at major institutions, probably longer. Hasn't worked all that well.

I was looking at something in relation to one of Adam Thurman's post and I remembered Bob Jones v. United States. I wonder if one possible answer may found there.

If institutions refuse to change, should their tax-exemption be revisited? The same way it would if they neglect to turn in their 990's? Having to pay taxes would be a pretty powerful motivator for change.

Giving more money to get companies to not do what you're giving them money to do is a pretty stupid fiscal decision.

99 said...

Tony's pretty much right on.

I don't see it as a Sophie's Choice; I see it as a false one. Fund inclusive organizations, whatever the size.

The zero-sum game is simply waiting for the big institutions to change course, of their own volition.

I hadn't ventured into the mechanics of it all, but thanks for bringing it there.

Scott Walters said...

So 99: if you had a theatre that was racially exclusive -- committed only to producing plays by African-Americans or Latinos, say -- I am assuming those WOULDN'T be considered "inclusive," right?

99 said...

When I wrote it, I thought it about and I thought, me, right here, right now, I'm more interested in integration, so, not exactly. It's not just about the work on stage. It's also about the staff and the artists. What if I had a theatre that was committed to doing contemporary classics, all by white authors, but with black casts, directors and a majority black staff? Is that culturally specific? Specific to what culture? Looking only at the work is only looking at part of the story.

Anonymous said...

Man, the last two posts have had some of the most interesting comments. I'm thinking about hanging that b*tch slap of Thomas Garvey on my wall.

To the question at hand. I believe that the best way to have a diverse arts world is to have culturally specific institutions and then forge meaningful partnerships between themselves and majority white groups.

Of course this assumes that groups on both sides of the ledger want meaningful partnerships, but I think that's a fair assumption.

- Adam

99 said...

That's definitely a way to get there.

While I do love me some Scott, it does sometimes bug me that he lays down some pressure to choose one way or the other. We can kick around ideas, thoughts, tactics or whatever, but, at the end of the day, I (or you or Scott or whoever) HAS to agree that this one way is the best way with no downside or hard choice to make. I don't think it needs to be like that. Scott wants more community-based theatres. I want more integrated theatres. And, Adam, you want a more vibrant theatre world of partnerships. All of that is good. Can't we pull for all of that, or find the funding/organizational ideas that work to move us towards all of it?

Scott Walters said...

I can certainly be on board with the "let's-do-it-all" approach. I do think that there is finite funding, which means opportunity costs -- if we choose X, then we don't have the money for Y. I'm not great with money, but I do know that. Right now, the funding is going in a certain direction -- for instance, there ain't much of it going to arts organizations in small communities -- so if I want a bigger slice of the pie, I need to take it off of somebody else's plate. And the only way that is going to happen is if I can make some funders see that my organization will spend that money on better things that some other organization. So it is about values: this is more important than that. If you want to wait until the amount of money increases substantially before we do anything having to do with the issue you raise, then it's all good; if you want something sooner than that, you need to make choices. I know -- I'm harsh.

99 said...

You're not harsh, not at all. And, yes, of course, funding is finite, but there are all manners of funding, funding sources that haven't been tapped, entire communities that aren't funding the arts. Not all groups will share our (or your) priorities. If we're all going to the same three foundations and the same government entity with our hands out, of course there will be jostling. That's part of what keeps us down. I don't have a funding initiative to pursue. I honestly don't think that these issues are addressed best through grants and funding. There are other ways of achieving my goals. There are other ways of achieving Adam's goals. Or, if we do want to pool our resources and work together, there are components that we all share and ways to collaborate. What I'm rejecting is the idea that only one initiative gets to go at a time and we all have to sign onto that as The Way To Save Theatre, as opposed to saying to each other, Go on, you do your thing, I'll do mine and we'll meet at the crossroads.