December 22, 2023


This report updates Jacob’s Pillow’s communities and stakeholders on progress we have made and further work we need to do in support of our commitment to Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access (IDEA).

Since we last posted here in December 2022, the Pillow has continued to evolve dynamically in keeping with our five-year strategic plan. An important priority of that plan is strengthening our IDEA work across the organization, as we build capacity to better serve artists, audiences, and staff; erect the re-imagined Doris Duke Theatre; and create the plan and infrastructure for our digital crossroads.

Of special focus in 2023 was working to enhance a sense of belonging for year-round and seasonal staff, artists, and audiences, particularly those engaging with the Pillow for the first time.

Important Highlights from 2023


  • More than 50% of companies that we presented during the 2023 Festival in the Ted Shawn Theatre and on the outdoor Henry J. Leir Stage were led by female-identifying artists, and close to 60% were led by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) artists
  • We hosted two disability integrated dance companies at the 2023 Festival: AXIS Dance Company and Resident Island Dance Theatre
  • We produced Hip Hop Across the Pillow as a week-long anchor of Festival 2023 that featured Rennie Harris Puremovement, and commissioned works by Rockafella and Kwikstep, d. Sabela grimes and Ladies of Hip-Hop, and other artists
  • We piloted a collaborative curation model for the on-campus exhibitions “Welcoming the World,” “Fantasy Meets Reality: The Far East Tour, 1925-1926,” and “Envisioning a Theater,” and created an online edition of the exhibition Fantasy Meets Reality: The Far East Tour, 1925-1926 to enable visitors offsite and around the world to delve into our history
  • Over 65% of the 2023 episodes in our monthly “PillowVoices: Dance Through Time” podcast featured BIPOC artists, and over 90% featured women
  • 100% of the new playlists published on our Jacob’s Pillow Dance Interactive website in 2023 spotlighted BIPOC and women artists

Campus Accessibility

  • We completed a campus-wide audit of the physical accessibility of our buildings, pathways, and grounds, and identified priorities for action
  • We named our first ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) Coordinator and created a new staff committee on Accessibility, Safety, and Security
  • We added ramps to the outdoor Leir Stage to improve the performance experience for disability integrated dance companies, increased wayfinding signage across campus, and improved golf cart access for visitors, including a new drop-off area at the outdoor Henry J. Leir Stage
  • We improved communication protocols between our House Management and Programming staff to better handle the accessibility needs of artists and patrons
  • We provided English captioning for all videos playing on screens in our exhibitions

Organizational Development

  • Nearly 70% of artist faculty and 56% of students at The School identified as BIPOC artists in 2023
  • We hosted the second year of the Barbara and Amos Hostetter Internship Program, which supports 5 young people from under-represented backgrounds with work stipends, room and board, and travel support as part of their acceptance into our summer internship program. Candidates were selected from a highly competitive pool of 233 applicants, and self-identified as interested in receiving this support as part of their application.
  • We established the new position of Director of Strategic Initiatives, People, and Culture, whose responsibilities include nurturing an inclusive organizational culture and promoting staff wellness and work-life balance
  • We shortlisted diverse candidates for all open positions, with the majority of finalist groups for all positions including BIPOC candidates and/or other groups under-represented on Pillow staff
  • We improved welcome and orientation programs for staff and artists to provide unconscious bias/cultural competency training and, for the first time, provided this training via video to volunteers and vendors (such as dining staff and drivers)
  • We increased the number of BIPOC vendors we work with and developed screening mechanisms to assess the practices of our vendors as they relate to equity and inclusion
  • We created affinity groups for LGBTQA+ and BIPOC staff
  • We conducted a comparative staff survey, which showed that, since 2019:
    • Employees’ sense that the Pillow is authentic in its IDEA work has increased considerably
    • The feeling of community among seasonal staff has become stronger and more diverse
    • We are approaching parity between the self-assessed experiences of BIPOC and non-BIPOC staff as relates to feeling valued as an employee, professional support, and their assessment of the organization’s authentic engagement with IDEA work
    • We are updating administrative forms and our Staff Handbook with more inclusive and equitable language, and revising internal policies based on staff surveys and best practices

Board Engagement and Initiatives

  • The Board’s IDEA Sub-Committee of the Executive Committee is responsible for the oversight of our strategic IDEA priorities and initiatives, ensuring that we continue to make progress that is measurable and true to the Pillow’s mission and values. This sub-committee has also been working to better understand and support the specific initiatives being formulated by our Staff’s IDEA Steering Committee.
  • We also continue to prioritize increasing diversity on the board: with more than 50 percent of our trustees self-identifying as female, 19 percent as LGBTQIA+ and 19 percent as BIPOC.

Priorities for the Year Ahead

While we believe Jacob’s Pillow has made meaningful progress, we know there is much more to do. High priorities for our IDEA work in 2024 include the following:

  • Examine more deeply how our history is represented on our website and in publications, with plans to engage diverse scholars and curators to shed light on and expand representation, engagement, and understanding of the multitude of stories contained within Jacob’s Pillow’s history
  • Continue our work on re-evaluating the displayed art and imagery that staff and artists see around campus
  • Continue to recruit and hire candidates for staff and consultant positions who are people with backgrounds and qualifications that are under-represented at Jacob’s Pillow
  • Provide greater focus on addressing microaggressions among staff and between staff and patrons, including mis-gendering people
  • Complete the audit of community members’ experience of the campus by Engaged Communities Consulting, and create an action plan based on the audit findings
  • Make additional improvements to physical accessibility, including more ramps and pathways at the Leir Stage, better entrances and pathways to studios, and permanent solutions for staging and dressing rooms for the Leir Stage
  • Create an accessibility “know before you go” video for artists and patrons
  • Maintain and explore accessibility upgrades to our website and improvements to campus maps

Jacob’s Pillow is committed to growing our organization in ways that make it possible for all to feel a sense of welcome and belonging. As we continue to evolve and to bring new people onto our staff and Board, we recognize that we will discover additional areas that need our work and attention. Ours is a journey taking place at a time of great change, uncertainty, and divisiveness in our country, and we understand that, as we strive to do our best, we will also make mistakes along the way. Learning from those mistakes is essential to our ongoing growth.

We are firmly committed to this path. We seek to build an equitable and relevant organization. We look forward to staying in touch with our community and to reporting both our progress and our challenges.

If you have questions or have feedback to share with us, we encourage you to write to us at, this email address is monitored closely by Pillow staff members who will be able to respond in a timely manner.

Christopher Jones
Chair, Board of Trustees


Pamela Tatge
Executive & Artistic Director



NAACP-Berkshire County Branch
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

Ohketeau Cultural Center
Providing a safe, rewarding, and enriching experience for the Indigenous community of the region.

Berkshire Resources for Integration of Diverse Groups through Education

The International Association of Blacks in Dance

We are writing to update the communities we serve on the progress we have made in our commitment to Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access (IDEA). Since we last posted here in July of 2021, our organization has evolved on a number of fronts. Our 90th Anniversary Festival featured the re-opening of a renovated Ted Shawn Theatre with a new orchestra pit and a new stage house that includes an expanded stage, enhanced technology, and accessibility features. We have created a five-year year strategic plan anchored by plans to build a re-imagined Doris Duke Theatre. And through it all, we have continued to meet both successes and challenges as we work to make Jacob’s Pillow a place where all people feel a sense of welcome, engagement, and belonging.

Advancing Accessibility

We have initiated important changes after an independent External Program Review (noted in our July 2021 statement) concluded that more was needed to address the artistic and professional needs of artists, staff, and audiences with disabilities. Highlights of our progress include:

  • We are engaging artists with disabilities in an ongoing manner in many facets of  Pillow programming, including dance films, the Pillow Lab, and performances. At our 90th Anniversary Gala, Alice Sheppard and Laurel Lawson of Kinetic Light became the first disabled artists to perform in the newly accessible Ted Shawn Theatre.
  • We have made the outdoor Henry J. Leir Stage more accessible to artists and audiences: the performance space’s seating area was re-graded, and an accessible drop-off location and paved pathways were added to enable visitors to more easily reach their seats.
  • We have made it standard practice to add image “alt text” to images on our website and on social media, to better support those using screen readers.
  • Closed captioning is now standard practice on all of our Inside the Pillow Lab films.
  • Our six-week Dance for Social Justice community engagement program, led by artists Mar Parilla and Dey Hernandez, engaged community members ages 3-70+ through movement and conversation to explore the question, “How do we work together towards liberation?” Spanish translation of all text materials and interpretation for each workshop ensured effective collaboration and thought-sharing, building on practices begun in 2018.
  • Using a grant from the Ford Foundation, the Pillow engaged Roger Ideishi, Hannah Goodwin, and Lisa Sonneborn to conduct an accessibility audit of the organization. Although the team’s final report has not been received as of this writing, early findings recommend the following:
    • That we create an overall vision and plan for digital accessibility.
    • That we host trainings for all staff who work with artists and patrons with disabilities.
    • That we designate an Accessibility Coordinator to receive feedback and implement change.
    • That we provide more greeters to welcome and orient visitors to campus.
    • That we improve advance communication to audiences on what their experience at the Pillow will be when they arrive.

We look forward to addressing these recommendations in the coming year.

Reckoning with Our History

Portraits: The portraits of our founder, Ted Shawn, and his wife Ruth St. Denis hung on either side of the Ted Shawn Theatre stage for decades. These 1925 portraits by artist Albert Herter depict Shawn in a pose from the “Hopi Indian Eagle Dance” section of his 1923 work Feather of the Dawn and St. Denis portraying a Buddhist priestess, Kuan Yin. Although we have no information at Jacob’s Pillow about whether the subjects of Shawn’s and St. Denis’s research consented to have their work incorporated into their performances, we do know that these dances were made possible through extensive primary research by Shawn and St. Denis. In their time, Shawn and St. Denis were recognized as some of the first American artists to draw attention to non-Western dance forms in this country and around the world by creating original works that were informed by those traditions. Although Shawn was an opponent of the U.S. government’s criminalization, suppression, and erasure of Native ritual practice, and later presented Indigenous and non-Western artists at Jacob’s Pillow extensively, the paintings of the organization’s founder and his partner in Hopi and East Asian dress have offended many viewers for whom the image of privileged white artists appropriating the dress and dances of cultures not their own is a source of harm.

After receiving this feedback and hosting listening sessions with members of our Pillow community that included artists, alumni, patrons and staff, and following an introspective exhibition in collaboration with Williams College in 2018 and engagement programs that continued on the Pillow campus in 2019, we made the decision to relocate the portraits in 2021 into the Archives’ new Special Collections Room, where they could be contextualized in a place designed for cultural engagement and dialogue about who we were, who we hope to become, and where we are going. For further information, see this essay on Jacob’s Pillow Dance Interactive.

Pillow History: In the summer of 2022, we received strong feedback from our intern cohort and seasonal staff about our orientation program and signage around campus. They argued that these materials over-emphasized the work of Shawn and St. Denis without critically flagging the founder’s culturally appropriative practices. A series of listening sessions produced a History Working Group of staff members charged with making recommendations on how the Pillow should move forward in sharing a history that more fully reflects the diverse community of artists who have contributed to Jacob’s Pillow. We are now creating a plan of short- and long-term goals based on these recommendations.

Indigenous History and Engagement: The Pillow continues to develop its relationships with Indigenous peoples of this region, building on the groundwork laid during the summer of 2019’s Land on Which We Dance Festival, in which the Pillow committed to a practice of land acknowledgement and to featuring Indigenous artists in every Festival moving forward.

  • In 2021, the Pillow contributed a portion of the net proceeds of our annual gala to support the educational programs of the Ohketeau Cultural Center in Ashfield, MA, an Indigenous-led center that supports the Indigenous peoples in the region. This contribution was repeated in 2022.
  • After the Doris Duke Theatre was lost to a fire in 2020, the Pillow began to interview designers in 2021 to re-imagine a new theater. The organization required each architectural team to include an Indigenous artist to inform the design.
  • In both 2021 and 2022, the Pillow hosted performances of Eastern Woodland Dances. Co-curated by Larry Spotted Crow Mann (Nipmuc) and Annawon Weeden (Wampanoag, Narragansett, Pequot), the presentations marked the addition of a dedicated program of regional Indigenous dancing traditions to our international festival for the first time.
  • In 2022, the Pillow commissioned Andre Strongbearheart Gaines, Jr. to create a traditional Nipmuc homesite, including a mishoon-burning installation at our main entrance that was activated at multiple events during the 90th Anniversary Festival. The homesite has now been permanently relocated to Jacob’s Garden where it continues to be accessible to the public.

90th Anniversary Programming

For our 90th anniversary in 2022, we made an intentional decision to celebrate BIPOC and female voices. As a result:

  • The majority of Pillow Lab residency artists this past season were BIPOC and female-identifying artists.
  • More than two-thirds of companies appearing in the Ted Shawn Theatre and on the Henry J. Leir Stage were BIPOC-led, and half were led by female-identifying artists.
  • One third of the site-based works were BIPOC-led, and the majority were led by female-identifying artists.

As we continue to amplify voices in the future, we honor the platform that we have to support legacy and emerging companies and individuals, with values that embrace the rich spectrum of artists and dance makers from all backgrounds and gender identities.

Building BIPOC Audiences

We continue to invest in our goal of increasing attendance by BIPOC audiences, a concern also raised by BIPOC artists who have variously presented or stayed in residency at the Pillow. Our most successful efforts have been through our Community Engagement Department that, over the past six years, has sought to create reciprocal relationships with stakeholder groups in Pittsfield, the city with the highest percentage of people of color in the Berkshires. Our regional partners include the NAACP, Manos Unidas, Latinas 413, Berkshire Black Economic Council, Berkshire Immigrant Center, and Blackshires. However, we have yet to consistently draw larger BIPOC audiences
from Boston and New York metropolitan areas. A position in the Marketing Department has recently been restructured to provide more staff support in this effort.

Board Initiatives

The Board of Trustees continues to prioritize advancing Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access across all the pillars of the Pillow’s mission: the Presentation, Creation, Education, Preservation and Engagement of and with Dance.

Since our last report, we have moved forward with the following initiatives:

  • We tasked each Committee of the Board to outline plans to advance IDEA in the organization in 2022. Those goals were shared at the December 2021 Board meeting and a progress report was delivered at the December 2022 Board meeting.
  • We commissioned Sasaki and Associates to create an updated campus plan, which included improved recommendations for accessibility to all of our facilities.
  • We hired the female-led architecture firm Mecanoo and Indigenous artist Jeffrey Gibson as a consultant to design the new Doris Duke Theatre.
  • Voluntary Board training was conducted in April of 2022 by Keryl McCord of Equity Quotient.
  • We continued our focus on increasing diversity on the board, with over 50% of our Trustees self-identifying as female, 19% LGBTQIA, and 19% BIPOC.

Resources and Staffing

The Pillow continues to work to expand resources allocated to IDEA. The majority of 2021-2022 artist fees for Pillow Lab and Festival artists were expended to support BIPOC artists and companies. Additionally:

  • We continue ongoing cultural competency training for all staff as well as specialized workshops. A survey of seasonal staff and interns and exit interviews in the summer of 2022 revealed concerns about workload/capacity, compensation levels, and the inability of some staff to maintain work/life balance during the busy weeks of the Festival. Leadership is examining the Festival structure and density in 2023, and increasing compensation for seasonal staff where possible.
  • In acknowledgement that equity begins with how we treat our staff, the findings of a salary market analysis conducted in 2022 is being phased in, with salaries requiring an adjustment to be addressed incrementally between 2023 and 2025. Moving forward, all positions will be organized by grade, and salary ranges will be published to improve transparency.
  • We created The Barbara and Amos Hostetter Internship Program in 2022 to address the Pillow’s desire to increase the diversity of its intern program by encouraging applicants from a broader range of backgrounds and abilities. The Hostetter Internship Program is designed to assist the development of diverse leadership in cultural institutions and to expand opportunities for early career individuals who self-identify as Black, Indigenous, Asian, or other People of Color. Historically, many Pillow interns have returned as members of the staff, and it is therefore our hope that, by developing our intern cohort with this program, we will assist in diversifying our staff and the staff of other arts organizations. The Pillow awarded eight Hostetter Internships in 2022. Thanks in part to this new program, 33% of interns identified as BIPOC, which represents an 18% increase over the prior year, while 19% of year-round staff and 21% of seasonal staff identified as BIPOC, a 4% increase over 2021 (Source: Jacob’s Pillow Human Resources).

Overall, Jacob’s Pillow is committed to growing our organization in ways that make it possible for all to feel a sense of welcome and belonging. As we continue to evolve and to bring new people onto our staff and Board, we recognize that we will discover additional areas that need our work and attention. Ours is a journey taking place at a time of great change, uncertainty, and divisiveness in our country, and we understand that, as we strive to do our best, we will also make mistakes along the way. Learning from those mistakes is essential to our ongoing growth.

We are firmly committed to this path. We seek to build an equitable and relevant organization. We look forward to staying in touch with our community and to reporting both our progress and our challenges.

If you have questions or have feedback to share with us, we encourage you to write to us at, this email address is monitored closely by Pillow staff members who will be able to respond in a timely manner.

Evolving our organization requires care, resilience, trust, resources, and a significant investment of time. As Jacob’s Pillow emerges from the pandemic shutdown of 2020 and plans for the future, we recognize that diversity, equity, inclusion, and access are central to our art form and our future, and that making meaningful progress is a long and challenging road. In a world that has been catalyzed by a global pandemic and an overdue racial reckoning, we embrace the opportunity to remake our organization in new ways, and to transform systems and modes of working that are both deeply entrenched and in need of change.

Independent External Program Review for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access (IDEA)

We knew that we needed outside eyes to make recommendations on how to do our work with intention and authenticity. At the start of 2021, Renae Williams Niles facilitated an External Review of Jacob’s Pillow programming, decision-making, and culture by five Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) artists and cultural practitioners: d. Sabela grimes, Theresa Ruth Howard, Christopher K. Morgan, Gesel R. Mason, and Alice Sheppard. All reviewers have worked at the Pillow in some capacity and the facilitator and reviewers were compensated for their work.

To begin, each department at the Pillow conducted a self-study, sharing with the reviewers where they felt they had made progress and outlined the areas that needed improvement or systemic change. The reviewers read these materials, along with others, conducted interviews with leadership and key staff, and spent approximately 25 hours discussing and evaluating their findings collectively. Although each reviewer had a prior connection to Jacob’s Pillow, all involved understood that the results would be limited by the fact that the review took place over Zoom and could not be conducted on campus.

“There is a difference between being invited and feeling welcomed. There is a difference between being asked and being heard. I wonder about the stories of staff, artists, and community members that go unseen, unspoken or unacknowledged.”
— External Reviewer

Among their findings, the reviewers shared their perspective that, like many institutions, the Pillow is rooted in white supremacist culture, capitalism, and hierarchy. It has begun a path of self-examination and has taken action, but needs to invest in deeper reflection to truly impact the core of the organization. They suggested that we analyze the assumed perception of the “Pillow experience” and questioned whether or not our assumptions about that experience holds true for BIPOC, queer, or disabled people and other marginalized groups. They urged us to not confuse leadership in the field with exceptionalism. They believe the Pillow has the chance to lead by supporting the broadest possible diversity of artists at all points in their careers and in all genres. Further, they noted that the Pillow has done some work in facilities, but overall has not done enough to address the artistic and professional needs of disabled artists, staff, and audiences and needs a more formal plan.

The review was shared with the staff and Board, and we discussed how addressing all that the report brought up will take time to allow for reflection and analysis, and that real change will require a re-thinking of systems and hierarchies. Issues raised in the review, in addition to multiple other external and internal perspectives, are being taken into account as the board and staff draft the Pillow’s strategic plan for 2022-2027.

Highlights of Programming since January 2021

We made the commitment to further amplify the work and stories of BIPOC artists this year, and this was manifested in the following ways:

  • 83% of Pillow Lab bubble residencies to create new work were led by BIPOC artists.
  • 80% of new Playlists on Jacob’s Pillow Dance Interactive and PillowVoices Podcasts, as well as 50% of new Essays, have focused on the work of BIPOC artists.
  • 40 multigenerational community members participated in mar parilla’s Dance for Social Change online workshops. We engaged new people by providing Spanish translation for our workshops for the first time.

Advancing Accessibility

Understanding our shortcomings in providing for the needs of artists, staff, and audiences with disabilities, the Pillow has taken the following actions in the past six months in preparation for this year’s festival and the future:

  • Year-round staff received specialized training in how to think about accessibility, understanding language, terms and the range of disabilities both visible and invisible that exist. Nine staff members then participated in a deeper training.
  • A plan for physical, programmatic, and virtual accessibility for Festival 2021 was created with accessibility information now listed on every event page.
  • The Henry J. Leir Stage, our primary outdoor performance venue for the summer, received a major renovation that included the addition of accessible pathways and seating.
  • The renovated Shawn will be accessible to disabled artists who will have access to the stage and dressing rooms for the first time; and we will greatly expand accessible seating for audience members.
  • We conducted a listening session with choreographers, dancers, and technicians with disabilities to inform the design of the new theatre that will replace the Doris Duke Theatre lost in a fire last November.

Planning for Festival 2021

For the first time, we opened up the curatorial process: Pamela Tatge has planned Festival 2021 in collaboration with two Associate Curators, Melanie George and Ali Rosa-Salas. This team made the decision to delve into the multiple histories that exist on the land where Jacob’s Pillow is located. The legacy of the Pillow’s founder, Ted Shawn, and what led him to create what has become the country’s longest-running dance Festival will continue to be contextualized. Our history as a site along the Underground Railroad and our responsibility to amplify the fundamental role Black artists have had in the evolution of dance is also being honored. Simultaneously, the art of Indigenous peoples on whose land we dance—the Agawam, Mohican, Nipmuc, and Pocumtuc—will also be celebrated. 60% of the artists and companies being presented this summer are BIPOC.

We will host a celebration this summer when we rename our Welcome Center “The Warren Davis Welcome Center” in honor of the African-American craftsman and businessman who selected and hand-hewed the signature trusses in the Ted Shawn Theatre.

Board Initiatives

Each committee of the Board is creating a plan to prioritize IDEA in their work, and these actions will be folded into a larger plan to be reviewed and approved by the Board in December of 2021. In addition:

  • The Strategic Planning Committee took a workshop, Scaffolding Change, led by Kelvin Dinkins, Jr., to understand how IDEA thinking provides the foundation for future planning.
  • A Trustee made the decision to cede the naming opportunity afforded by her gift to our capital campaign and instead to honor Warren Davis (see note above).

Resource Allocation

The Pillow is working to examine how resources are allocated at Jacob’s Pillow to prioritize IDEA. In addition to the majority of artist fees for Pillow Lab and Festival artists in 2021 being expended to support BIPOC artists and companies, highlights of this work include:

  • The Pillow’s investment committee is evaluating how to include socially-responsible investments in our portfolio strategy.
  • In acknowledgement that attention to equity begins with how we treat our staff, a salary study is being conducted to evaluate internal and external equity to inform salaries for staff in 2022.
  • Resources are being devoted to continued training and professional development of staff in IDEA practices. This includes providing virtual training for seasonal staff members, faculty, and scholars who arrive after Festival orientation.
  • We initiated an expanded relationship with the Ohketeau Cultural Center, located fifty miles away in Ashfield, MA and a home for the Nipmuc Nation and other Indigenous peoples in our region. We allocated a percentage of the proceeds of our virtual gala in support of their educational programs.

As we welcome artists and audiences back to the Pillow’s grounds this week, we have thought carefully about how we can grow our organization over time to be a place where everyone feels welcome and belongs. We will make progress and mistakes along the way, and we will learn from both. We are committed to this journey and look forward to staying in touch with our community on both our progress and our challenges.

As the Chair of the Board, and Executive & Artistic Director of Jacob’s Pillow, we want to reflect on the work Jacob’s Pillow has done, and continues doing, to unseat racism and bias at our organization. We see this important process as core to our organizational values and beliefs.


On June 5th this year, in the aftermath of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many others, we released a statement in recognition of the Black Lives Matter movement (available at the bottom of this page). We made a set of specific commitments at that time, among them the pledge that we would provide our Pillow community with regular updates about what we are doing to put our words into continued, sustained action.




Our June 5th statement was built on many years of work on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access (IDEA) at Jacob’s Pillow. Since our first Festival in 1942, the Pillow has celebrated the work of artists of color from many diverse backgrounds and cultures. In the past two years, 32% of the companies that have had residencies here or been presented on one of our three stages have been led by artists with African, Asian, Indigenous, and Latinx backgrounds. However, that diversity is not yet reflected in the composition of our staff, Board, and audience.


Since 2017, we have been on a sustained and deliberate journey to shift our culture and systems. Aided by Gwendolyn VanSant, Founder and CEO of Multicultural BRIDGE in neighboring Lee, MA, our staff and Board have engaged in cultural competency training sessions. This training is now a permanent part of our orientation for new staff and interns. We believe that real change begins with each individual in an organization understanding their own histories and biases.


That year, the Pillow created the IDEA task force, a staff-led group organized to conduct an ongoing, internal audit of the Pillow’s equity work. The IDEA task force has since conducted surveys, presented findings to the Board, shaped strategies for training, communications, hiring, and staff retention, and led all-staff meetings devoted to dialogue about inclusion, diversity, equity, and access.


Responding to a Bias Incident and Our History


This work became all the more personal and urgent after a particularly eye-opening incident at our gala in 2019. We began to speak out publicly about racism and unconscious bias in our midst, and committed ourselves to transforming our organizational culture. In an op-ed in The Berkshire Eagle, our Executive & Artistic Director Pamela Tatge called upon other cultural organizations in the region, our audiences, and others to join us in this work. That summer, we mounted an exhibition and hosted a series of talks that examined equitable ways to contend with our institution’s own history, one marked by issues of cultural appropriation. We invited Indigenous elders and representatives of the original inhabitants of the land on which we dance to advise us. Now, every Jacob’s Pillow program begins with a land acknowledgement, noting that Jacob’s Pillow rests on the traditional lands of the Mohican, Nipmuc, Pocumtuc and Agawam peoples.


Working in Community


We also value our commitment to participating as active citizens in Berkshire County; conversations with our neighbors and community members are central to that work.


In February 2020, the Pillow’s full-time staff members along with people representing 17 community partner organizations participated in a two-day Undoing Racism training program, designed and facilitated by the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond (PISAB). Together, we reflected on and discussed the foundations of racism in this country, the systems of power that sustain it, and ways we can each act—individually and together—to change these systems.


As an institution that seeks to unite people and communities by celebrating cultural diversity in dance, Jacob’s Pillow has an ongoing responsibility to challenge white supremacy and to disrupt systems of bias and oppression. For the Pillow, this includes bringing under-recognized artists and stories to our stages, including Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), people with disabilities, and LGBTQIA+ artists, as well as increasing support to women choreographers and leaders of companies, and ensuring that people of color who have historically had limited or restricted access have robust opportunities to present, study, and develop work.


This responsibility also means identifying and working to remove social, socio-economic, and cultural barriers to participation, engagement, and understanding. Some of these barriers are tangible, such as the cost of a ticket, access to transportation, and access to our physical spaces, while some are more nuanced, such as embedded norms and customs that seem instinctual to people in power but are alienating to marginalized groups.


Our Actions and Ongoing Work


We have taken the following steps to advance our IDEA work since June:


  • Holding bi-weekly meetings with the full-time staff in July and August, facilitated by BRIDGE, to put the commitments we made on June 5th into operation, and to integrate IDEA into the daily work of the organization.
  • Scheduling a resiliency week for staff to do independent research, reflect on values, and identify what each of us will do to move IDEA work forward.
  • Making IDEA work the responsibility of every staff member, with staff/departments reporting on their progress at bi-weekly staff meetings.
  • Increasing BIPOC membership on our Board of Trustees from 15% to 21% (7 members, up from 4); increasing BIPOC membership on the Board’s Executive Committee from 0% to 20%
  • Creating an IDEA subcommittee of the Board’s Executive Committee that has charged each committee of the Board to set measurable goals for each of the four components of IDEA by September 2021, with those deliverables being brought to the full Board in December.
  • Engaging two BIPOC Associate Curators to participate in programming decisions at the Pillow with the intention of widening the pool of artists considered for residencies and performances, and assisting in challenging unconscious bias and systemic racism in our curatorial practices.
  • Hiring a panel of external consultants to facilitate and oversee a review of our institutional practices, to help us develop plans to advance IDEA in all five pillars of our mission: creation, presentation, preservation, education and engagement. The review begins in January 2021 and will be completed in March.


We recognize that this work requires care, resilience, trust, resources, and a significant investment of time. Like dance itself, the steps we must learn are simultaneously challenging and rewarding, painful, and exhilarating. We are all works in progress, and while we will make mistakes, we hope that learning and recovering from those mistakes will catalyze change. Partnering with artists and community members, we can feel our culture begin to shift.


We plan to provide regular updates of our work to unseat racism and bias at Jacob’s Pillow, reporting on our progress as well as our challenges. If you have questions, or have feedback to share with us, we encourage you to write to us at; this email is monitored closely by Pillow staff members and you will receive a response.

The Jacob’s Pillow family is in pain and outrage over the killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Nina Pop, James Scurlock, and the many others killed before them by racist violence.


We at Jacob’s Pillow affirm that Black Lives Matter and join with millions of others to affirmatively state that there is no place in our society for racism, bias, or police brutality. As an institution that seeks to unite people and communities by celebrating and advancing the cultural diversity of our country, we have a heightened responsibility to challenge white supremacy and disrupt systems of bias and oppression.


To that end, we commit ourselves to confronting the reality of racism in our country and pledge to expand our previous efforts to confront implicit biases, to practice deep listening, and to hold ourselves accountable to explicit standards of racial equity.


This will require us to make time in our organizational planning for both reflection and action and, by the end of the year, report out on progress in the following areas:


  • Accelerating a resource-backed plan for recruiting and retaining a more inclusive staff and Board.
  • Convening and compensating a group of Black and Brown artists and cultural practitioners to assess the Pillow’s curatorial, education, preservation, and community engagement programs in terms of racial equity.
  • Creating a framework to comprehensively evaluate how our resources are spent and whom those resources benefit.
  • Redoubling our efforts to partner with Black and Brown communities in Berkshire County, including the NAACP-Berkshire County Branch and BRIDGE.
  • Sharing resources and creating intentional, accessible ways for our audiences to experience performance, to dialogue with artists, and to participate in conversations that will advance our mutual understanding about racial inequality, in hopes that all who work at and engage with the Pillow are accountable for creating a shared climate of belonging.
  • Continuing to invest in the creation and presentation of new works by Black and Brown artists, including commissions to create virtual works between now and the end of the year; offering the Pillow as a site of retreat; and convening artists and presenters committed to art-based social change to forge a common agenda for action.


We know a statement is not enough. We have work to do, and we urge our Pillow community to join us in advancing racial justice and societal change. We invite you to give us your feedback on how Jacob’s Pillow might best continue to evolve as an organization that is accountable to its goals and constituents as we all work to learn and grow.