Leadership / 06.16.21
Revisiting DCPA in a Post-Pandemic, More Socially Aware World
In November 2019, Access published an article on the Denver Center for the Performing Arts’ (DCPA’s) emergence as a leading example of the importance of diversity and inclusion at every level of an arts organization. Several years earlier, the DCPA formally embraced the advancement of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) as a core value. It subsequently took 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. Perhaps most importantly, Lydia Garcia was hired as DCPA’s first-ever Executive Director of Equity and Organization Culture.
A lot has happened since we ran that feature story, and everything that has happened in American society and around the globe during this past year and a half have certainly fortified EDI as a core value for Garcia and her colleagues. “The events of the last year have confirmed that the DCPA’s commitment to advancing its equity, inclusion and belonging work — not just in words, but in deeds — was prescient and timely,” Garcia says. “The social uprisings in response to George Floyd’s murder, and the corresponding collective action in the American theatre, have given our internal work a renewed energy and dedication to staying the course. The necessity of the work could not be clearer!”
Before the COVID-19 crisis, DCPA was already examining models of self-assessment and collaborative solution-finding that might bring together the center’s grassroots equity and inclusion advocacy with its complex business structures. According to Garcia, “the pandemic has afforded us an opportunity to test drive cross-department, cross-hierarchical project teams to examine broad swaths of the organization, including artistic practices, working conditions, audience experience and exclusionary norms, recruitment and retention, and the skills necessary for sustaining cultures of belonging and respect. As these processes continue to become part of the ‘DCPA Way,’ I look forward to seeing how they continue to shape our public-facing work.”
Garcia adds that having a diverse board of trustees has been essential in keeping DCPA on track and moving forward even when the venue was dark. She urges other theaters and performing arts centers to follow suit, especially those looking to keep up with the changing times.
“Having a diverse and engaged board of trustees is absolutely critical to the success of equity and inclusion work at the DCPA,” she says. “As a governing body, the board is entrusted with the care and protection of our most cherished values and principles. To represent an organization that is committed to equity, inclusion and belonging such as the DCPA, a board of trustees should not only reflect those values in its own composition and practices, but also challenge itself to grow and learn alongside the staff it aspires to lead.”
The board has certainly helped Garcia in what has been the most trying period of her career. What has been her biggest challenge? “As a theatre artist and administrator dedicated to the joy and well-being of the people who make up the beating heart of the DCPA,” she says, “I have found it particularly difficult to be apart from so many of them during the pandemic shutdown. I have especially missed the collective wisdom of the dedicated group of DCPA team members who have been activating the organization’s equity and inclusion work for many years. We have much to catch up on!”
She adds, “I am overjoyed to see a culture of self-reflection and ongoing education taking root and expanding at the DCPA. I hope I have created more brave spaces for my colleagues to engage in hard but vital conversations.”
And Garcia is indeed heartened to see other venues around the country following DCPA’s lead in ways both big and small to embrace and enact lasting cultural change. For those still in the early stages but willing to take the big steps after the initial small steps, she offers words of encouragement. “Be patient, persistent and prepared,” she says. “The collection of beliefs that comprise theatre culture and norms was built over generations, absorbing our society’s shortcomings and aspirations. Authentic change invites us to examine ourselves with clarity and compassion. Profound change reminds us not to judge whether another person’s experience is real or true, but to ask how our experiences can be so different, as Liz Medicine Crow so wisely put it. Lasting change challenges us to commit to ending the cycles of marginalization and domination here and now.”
Prior to joining DCPA, Garcia had the challenging job of core facilitator for artEquity, an organization dedicated to supporting equity-based arts initiatives. She has been working with the DCPA as a training consultant starting in 2017. She earned a Master of Fine Arts in dramaturgy and dramatic criticism from the Yale School of Drama.
Looking ahead, she and DCPA are very much looking forward to welcoming back team members and audiences after more than a year apart. Garcia says she is especially eager to see what next steps she and all her colleagues can collectively identify in the evolution of the center’s culture of inclusion and belonging.
She concludes, “I, like many of my peers and colleagues, am feeling cautiously optimistic as our stages start coming back to life. Although we are still navigating the many unknowns of our current pandemic reality, the impulse to gather and share stories remains as strong as it ever was. I know that we will find our way back to each other somehow.”
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Tags: Leadership , Diversity , Inclusion