December 17, 2020
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.
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
Read our June 5 statement
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.