Leadership / 11.26.19
DCPA Leaders Champion Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
The Denver Center for the Performing Arts (DCPA) is an organization in Colorado’s largest city that provides a showcase for live theatre. Not only is it known as a nurturing ground for new plays, it’s also long been a preferred stop on the Broadway touring circuit. In addition, it has emerged as a leading example of the importance of diversity and inclusion at every level of an arts organization.
Four years ago, the DCPA formally embraced the advancement of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) as a core value. Since then, it has taken part in an EDI cohort led by the Theatre Communications Group, diversified its board of trustees and presented productions that better reflect the seven-county Denver Metro community.
And, recently, there was the hiring of Lydia Garcia as DCPA’s first-ever Executive Director of Equity and Organization Culture. Suzanne Yoe, DCPA’s Director of Communications & Cultural Affairs, remarks, “In order to elevate this commitment and create lasting cultural change, the next logical step was to align our efforts under the leadership of an experienced professional. We created the role of Executive Director of Equity and Organization Culture and hired Lydia in July 2019.”
When evaluating candidates and ultimately choosing Garcia, DCPA leaders considered several factors. The ideal hire had to have experience advancing an organizational culture in the direction of equity and inclusion. Related experience in the performing arts was a plus. They also had to have significant competency in and a passion for EDI and social justice issues. In addition, the eventual hire had to have a proven ability to develop strong, respectful relationships, as well as to inspire confidence and build trust. Finally, they had to have the ability to create and implement tools to enable team leaders to integrate equity and inclusion.
Garcia checked all the boxes. She had been a core facilitator for artEquity, an organization dedicated to supporting equity-based arts initiatives. She worked with the DCPA as a training consultant starting in 2017. “Additionally, she is a highly sought-after theatre professional with an MFA in dramaturgy and dramatic criticism from the Yale School of Drama,” Yoe says. “Pairing her expertise in EDI with her in-depth knowledge of theatre and our industry, Lydia was the clear choice.”
EDI has been lacking in the theatre and performing arts world for some time, especially in decision-making roles. Unfortunately, theatre, like other civic and cultural institutions, does not exist in a vacuum outside of its society. “It is shaped by the same social biases and prejudices that we see reflected in political, economic, sociocultural and technological spaces,” Garcia says, “which have resulted in the exclusion of people who identify as women, people of color, LGBTQ+, disabled or poor, among others. We are grappling with the traditions of the art forms we have inherited and asking critical cultural questions: What is a leader supposed to look and act like? Whose stories are worth telling? What perspectives merit inclusion? Who is absent, and what meaning do we make of their absence? How did we get here? As a powerful maker and reflector of cultural norms, the theatre has an essential voice to contribute to the conversation.
“While there has been greater awareness of equity and inclusion work within the American theatre in recent years,” she says, “we should not assume that the movement for better visibility and just representation is a recent phenomenon. Far from it! There is a rich, centuries-long tradition of advocacy and activism by artists fighting for the right to bring their full humanity to their craft and performance. As the United States grows more diverse demographically, and marginalized communities fight for the right to be treated as fully human, the current generation of artists and advocates is proudly carrying that work forward at all levels of our field and organizations.”
This is especially true in Yoe and Garcia’s home market. Denver continues to be recognized as one of the best places to live in the United States. As such, the city has been attracting increasingly diverse residents and tourists. “In order to attract the best talent, create theatre that resonates with our current patrons, and discover new ways to engage new audiences, we must embrace our neighbors while casting a wider net,” Yoe says. “According to DCPA Chairman Martin Semple, ‘As our community has grown and our industry has changed, it is imperative that we reflect the increasing diversity of our region not just through our performances, but also throughout our hallways, rehearsal studios and production shops.’ Lydia’s expertise will help us ensure that our workplace is inclusive; our hiring practices are equitable; and that we remain a leader of equity, diversity and inclusion into the foreseeable future.”
Garcia joins the organization at a time when it has recently hired two individuals to newly created positions: Laura Morales as Director of Community Engagement and Patrick Berger as Audience Development Manager. Together, this trio will work closely to identify opportunities both within the organization and throughout the seven-county Denver Metro area.
Other exciting internal changes have been implemented. “Working with our cross-departmental Peer Advocacy Coalition for EDI (PACE), we have recently offered training for our frontline staff, so they are better equipped to respond to customer interactions,” Yoe says. “The next step in our effort to advance equity, diversity and inclusion is to integrate recommendations into our five-year strategic plan, which is currently in development.”
To this end, Garcia, Morales, and Berger are conducting listening sessions, holding town hall-style meetings, and talking with both current and potential partners. “The input they receive will, in turn, inform their recommendations and, ultimately, help shape the future of our organization,” Yoe says.
When asked what advice she would share with other arts organizations and venue operators eager to follow DCPA’s lead, Garcia was quick to answer. “The work of creating an affirming, inclusive environment does not begin when a person whose identity is different from yours arrives. If you have done nothing to prepare ahead, in that moment, you are already behind. As the whisper in Field of Dreams says: ‘If you build it, they will come.’ If you are white, what work have you done to learn about the persistent and ongoing impacts of racism on people of color? Do you have a practice of sharing gender pronouns in self-introductions? Are your venues fully accessible for people with disabilities? Do you provide access to safe, all-gender-inclusive restrooms? Would you know how to recognize and interrupt microaggressions?’”
She concludes, “Members of historically marginalized and targeted communities know where it is safe for them to exist. If we have not done the work to address and change the often unintentional ways, we exclude others, we are not creating the conditions by which a diverse workforce can thrive. We must go beyond making people feel welcome. We must ensure that everyone knows they belong.”
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Tags: Theater , Diversity , Inclusion