July 9, 2021
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.
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.
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).
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.
If you have questions or have feedback to share with us, we encourage you to write to us at [email protected]; this email is monitored closely by Pillow staff members and you will receive a response.
Chair, Board of Trustees
Executive & Artistic Director
Berkshire Resources for Integration of Diverse Groups through Education
NAACP-Berkshire County Branch
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
National Bail Fund Network
via the Community Justice Exchange
Black Lives Matter
The official #BlackLivesMatter global network
The International Association of Blacks in Dance
The Dance Union
Black-run podcast creating change in the dance world
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 [email protected]; 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.