I was honored to be a part of the virtual ODEI DEI Summit. My biggest takeaway was the feeling of unity in the performing arts world during a time of social distance. The summit affirmed my belief that the arts are a necessary part of society to heal, instill hope, and bring communities across differences together.
Although there are no “silver lining” per say of the pandemic, I will say that it has brought the performing arts specifically dance into an entire new social media platform age. Never before has there been so much access online to dance classes, panel talks, and free access to information about dance online. That being said not everyone has access to the internet or a computer/laptop in their home.
I believe ways to elevate voices specifically of marginalized people of color would be to continue the ongoing push to share the narratives of people of color on the stage. For example Hamilton was a clear blockbuster success. But what many people did not realize is that the story being told of an American immigrant was not only revolutionary on a Broadway stage, but the fact that so many of the performing artists on stage were immigrants themselves, or are 2nd, 3rd generation and deeply connected to the story of Hamilton on a personal level. It is not just the art itself we must elevate but the artists who are making that art. I think it is a question of, How do we get people a seat at the table? And once they are there, How do we support those people of color and ensure their inclusion, life long career, and legacy?
Johanna Kepler founded the interview series project Power of the Performing Arts: Uniting Artists While Apart on March 9th 2020. Her goal is to make a platform in which artists can continue to share their stories, create community through technology, and raise awareness on how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting performing artists in the US and around the world. Currently over 200 artists are involved in this interview series. Johanna has interviewed performing artists, directors, choreographers and producers from on and off Broadway, regional theaters across the country, as well as major dance companies such as Martha Graham Dance Company, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, New York City Ballet, Gibney Dance, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Dance Theater of Harlem, freelance artists and more.
All of the interviews will also be translated into Spanish to reach a wider audience and include a larger demographic whose primary language may not be English. As a Latina and immigrant herself Johanna’s main focus in community engagement is the idea of access. Who do you reach? Who do you let reach you?
Website Link: https://www.thepoweroftheperformingarts.com
It was such an honor to be a panelist for the 2020 DEI Summit at the University of Michigan. Each panelist had an amazing contribution to the conversation and I was in awe of the remarkable work that each panelist is currently doing. The largest takeaway that I walked away with from the summit was the momentum and the energy to keep going. Some days are impossible but I realized that so many people are in the same fight. Sure the reasons, causes, and movements may differ; but we are all fighting social and racial injustices. I left the Summit feeling ready to continue this work in a good way.
One thing that I’d like to share is a word in our beautiful Anishinaabemowin language. The word is A’yungwaamizin and I’ve been taught that this word means to go forward and be careful, but it also means to go forward and be determined. Be determined in your path. I would like to share those words with anyone who is picking up social justice work. Some days are hard, even impossible, but go forward carefully and be determined in this work.
Each time I walk on stage, I am reminded that, that too, is ceremony. It is ceremony to me because it is a place to share, to laugh, to cry, to teach. It is ceremony because I get to be exactly who I am but also I get to take on the role of my character and be exactly who that character is intended to be. Often times they are one in the same. I say that because the Anishinaabe Theatre Exchange uses theatre to address issues that affect Native communities. Many of those issues have affected me personally in a variety of different ways. When we are doing a theatre piece on these issues, it is a way for me to personally heal and share those stories to the audience about things that I have myself went through. I prepare for those roles by remembering who I am and where I come from. I prepare by connecting with my sisters and brothers who share the stage with me. I prepare by prayer. I prepare by letting myself feel all of the feelings that my character feels. Above all else, I prepare by a quick pep talk in the bathroom and calling my spirit to be present, intentional, and brave.
The issues that we share are so real to me, my family, and my community. I have cried just reading what some of the characters have gone through. I have cried just reading my lines because it wasn’t just the character who experienced that loss and trauma, it was also me as Colleen who also experienced that loss and trauma. I connect to my character because she is me and I am her.
The Anishinaabe Theatre Exchange has a webpage that you can visit to check out the pieces we have performed, to see some of the actors/actresses, and to see upcoming events!
You can follow the Sault Tribe Language & Culture Department and find past programming like Anishinaabemowin videos, teachings, and current programming at:
Dr. Cogburn shares her responses in this video. Here is the text transcript of her video. Questions and answers in this video include: What were your takeaways from the virtual DEI Summit conversation? Is there anything you didn’t get a chance to say that you want to mention here? Are there any hopes to expand the 1000 Cut Journey to include other narratives (Ex: Black women) as well? Are there any resources you want to share with our audience?
Artists are the perfect group of stakeholders to change the bias in people’s hearts and minds.
Albert Murray is one of the great cultural philosophers of the 20th Century. His writing is illuminating.
The Amistad Research Center in New Orleans at Tulane.