Stop. And Listen.

June 5, 2020
Jill Robinson by Jill Robinson

T his week has been among the most intense I’ve experienced in my professional and personal life. And based on the conversations we had at this week’s Executive Recovery Summit, I am not alone.

Ten executives, despite the urgency of responding to and supporting their communities, were still able to attend our Summit on Wednesday. They spanned the arts spectrum, from large opera company to summer theatre festival to symphony orchestra and university presenting series. Each had their story of personal reaction to the horrific death of George Floyd and resulting unfolding events; each told the story of their community reaction and realities.

And each story was different.

This week at TRG we adjusted the plan for TRG 30, created TRG 45, and invited American audience development consultant Donna Walker-Kuhne and Roy Alexander Weise, celebrated English theatre director and Artistic Director of the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, to talk about their observations and their experiences. They also described what they saw in arts organizations’ reactions to this “twin pandemic of racism,” as Donna described it. They told their stories.

I’m struck this week about this: we’re all in crisis, running harder and faster than ever. And this week made us stop. To listen, learn, dialogue, and care for each other. Now more than ever, we need to care for each other.

This week also made me stop. Acknowledging and honoring that action, sometimes revolution, is critical to make change happen, I found myself needing to stop and breathe and listen. That time—that breath—enabled me to find my center, reflect, listen to our TRG team and clients, and then create our testament to this time, our stated reflection and desire. It is this:

More than a week ago, we at TRG Arts witnessed along with the rest of the world the death of George Floyd at the hands of a police force called to serve and protect. Mr. Floyd’s death was the latest in a long public history of this type of racial injustice, and we share in the anger and grief. What happened is beyond not right.

At TRG, we reject racism and discrimination. Period. Beyond that, we believe that diversity of background, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender and more is fuel for innovation, results, and quality of experience in work, play and life. We also believe that big, complex topics like racism and diversity require listening, in-depth conversation from many points of view, study and ultimately, action. We welcome and are committed to facilitating all of these things.

And: we recognize we must do more of this hard work ourselves. Not only within our company, but also with our clients and on behalf of the arts and cultural field we serve. This work is motivating to us because it matters. We will hold ourselves accountable to this, and will solicit regular feedback about our progress.

Arts and culture has rarely had a stronger “why” than now. Donna Walker-Kuhne said it beautifully when she said:

“I firmly believe that the arts are the only pure vehicle we have in today’s society that crosses cultural and ethnic barriers and allows people to transcend their differences.”

We believe this, too. And we also believe that positive evolution sometimes comes through revolutionary thought and action. Our global sector needs this evolution now more than ever as we work to demonstrate the positive impact of arts and culture in our communities and on behalf of the people that live within them.

I titled this blog “Stop. And listen.” Those are actions in and of themselves, but they’re not enough. At TRG Arts, we have built practices and disciplines around listening to people and data, facilitating in-depth conversation, and helping our clients take action that gets results. But we need different action now. During our TRG 30 session with Donna and Roy, a participant asked, “How can we move forward well and authentically without being ‘tokenistic’ or just jumping on the bandwagon of the moment?”

Donna and Roy’s responses were specific and actionable, and while I’m paraphrasing, these key points from their discussion have stuck with me and will find their way into our plans:

  • Use your social media and online platforms to underscore your support of justice.
  • Advocate to your funders and elected officials to stand for equitable funding.
  • Create racially welcoming spaces beyond Martin Luther King weekend and Black History Month. Make that welcoming part of your organization’s every day.
  • Invest in small businesses that are owned by people of color and with backgrounds different than yours.
  • Put yourself in a space where you are NOT the majority and experience the power of that perspective.
  • Finances and budgets tell the story. Invest in developing the connections and audiences you seek.
  • And finally, Roy said, powerfully, “Don’t expect a medal. People will not praise you and that’s ok. This work is about making sure that everyone’s quality of life is as equal as it can possibly be.”

I welcome this revolution, this challenge and opportunity. It is time. It is beyond time. Let’s get to work.