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In Response: Unconcious Bias

Scrolling through Facebook, I came across an article published in American Theatre Magazine “Age & Gender Equity in the Arts to Hold Symposium in Portland”. So many things excited me about just the title. I grew up in Portland, OR and I miss the town everyday. Portland is often hailed as a progressive city, and to some extent it is. I can count on both hands the number of people I knew who identified as “conservative”. I felt like I lived in a little liberal bubble, which is one of the reasons I chose to move away for college. Of course a symposium talking about gender equity in the arts is being held in the Pacific Northwest. Regardless of locale, there is something exciting about people coming together to engage in a dialogue about diversifying the arts in relation to gender.

Jane Vogel, who founded the Age & Gender Equity in the Arts (AGE), defines unconscious bias as “the difference between what we intend to do, and what we actually do”, saying that “[w]hat we intend to do as artists is to do work that is diverse, inclusive, and equitable. We also intend theatre to be the place where we create truth—and yet, if we look at our statistics, that is not what we do”. In the most clear and concise way possible, Vogel said what I’ve been trying  to say in relation to my current frustrations with American Theatre and BU School of Theatre. We talk so much about showing humanity and truth, but when we look at our seasons, at the classical cannon, you’ll see the same story, a very white-and male-centric view of the world. We can’t claim to be showing humanity or truth if we aren’t producing non-white stories, stories about women, and stories about other minority groups. We are just as much a part of the human experience as anyone else. But how do we do that? AGE awards companies that show commitment to equity. Commitment, not achievement. In the article, Vogel explains this saying,”[i]t is not about choosing a company that has achieved something, it is about choosing a company that is showing real commitment in moving in that direction.” I think this is simply brilliant. Its hard to change, especially when the money is in the classical cannon. Awarding based on achievement inherently limits eligible companies to those who are established and already have some power and footing. Awarding grant money based on commitment established a “pay it forward” mentality. In other words, it encourages companies to look at the long term and plan to change by providing some security, making diversity feasible.

I’d like to see more of these symposiums all over the country, in theatre communities large and small. We need to talk to each other about the best way to encourage diversity in the arts. We need more organizations like AGE, offering donation-based financial support to companies who want to change but are limited.

For more on AGE.

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