June 1, 2020 | Notes From Leadership, Race and Equity,
How A Statement Comes Together
This post was written as part of a larger series leading up to our fourth Town Hall on Wednesday, June 17th at 12 pm EDT. We encourage our audiences to read all of the posts in the series in preparation for the Town Hall. Information on the Town Hall and the remainder of the series can be found here.
Over the years, ArtsEmerson has made a series of statements from our stages, on our marquees, and in the press that express our dedication to addressing the systemic white supremacy that oppresses all Bostonians. And yet, the process of finding these words in moments of confusion, anger, and sadness never gets easier.
Behind the branding and the buildings of our institution are people trying to navigate their emotional responses, our responsibilities to each other, and the responsibility that comes with a public platform. Shared leadership is not easy. Cross-racial shared leadership is not easy. Creating a unified response from different experiences is messy and necessary work.
On Friday, David C. Howse found his voice for a powerful statement to our whole team. By Saturday morning, there was still more to be said and still more people to share it with. He shared a draft of a note he was preparing to send to his white friends. David Dower took the action step embedded in that note and began reaching out to his network of black friends and colleagues. By the afternoon, it was clear there was still the step of addressing our audience.
Below you’ll find the correspondence between Executive Director David C. Howse and Artistic Director David Dower as they find a way towards a response from ArtsEmerson that feels urgent and already too late. We share this because we know we are not alone in the struggle to find the words. We are not unique in our stumbling to know when to listen and when to lead. We’re leaning on each other and working our way through. You can view the final statement here.
David Howse – May 31, 1:03pm
Do you have Ryan’s cell phone? I am eager to say something…
Did you want to say something, or is it better for me to send a tweaked version that I sent to the staff.
David Dower – May 31, 8:40pm
I think this is better coming from you- a cross between what you wrote to the staff and what you wrote to your white friends.
I have another question/idea: What about a conversation with you, Daniel, Brian, Keith, Will, maybe others to talk about the range of responses with our artists?
Howse – May 31, 10:55pm
I can’t…not right now.
Our response is slow, I wish I had pushed to get it out on Friday. It feels cliché now.
Let’s see what tomorrow brings.
Dower – June 1, 5:15am
I completely understand.
I also agree that the message now risks being cliché and ineffective as a true communication of what we mean— and what you need to say.
I am available to talk today, at any point. Let’s keep at this and come to the thing that
Is ours to do.
I also have a car this week. Maybe we can meet in person somewhere to do that?
Dower – June 1, 6:12am
One more question:
Is it mine to do?
I am sitting here this morning stunned and uncertain. I was thinking all weekend that my job here was to reach out and to listen — and to make and hold space for my black friends to share what they wanted, if they wanted, with me. And I was feeling like that was an active response. And I have been writing my white friends, spurred on by your note to yours, to ask them to do the same— reach out, listen, engage where invited. And that, too, has felt like doing something.
But your sense that we are slow to respond, coupled by President Pelton’s two letters, has brought me up short. I was leaving the space for you to share, for ArtsEmerson, what you needed to share as ArtsEmerson’s Executive Director, even if it was not sharing anything publicly. The worst thing from us would be something pat and toothless.
But that also keeps me from having to step out as a white person and take responsibility for our response. And maybe the most authentic thing we could do here, at this point, is to put it on me.
In any event, I owe you an apology for the naive and casual way in which I ceded the job to you without first asking what you needed from me.
I can find my voice. Would it help you if I used it for this?
I am so sorry for your struggle and this world.
Howse – June 1, 6:48am
I don’t know. I just don’t know.
I can appreciate how confusing this all is.I too am uncertain. At first I think I should be doing it, and then I am wondering why you haven’t done something. Is that fair? I don’t know.
I am frustrated with myself because I didn’t push Ryan to move faster on Friday. I shouldn’t have been so sensitive about protecting our “summer hours.”
I could have said to you, “David, do something…” but I couldn’t.
All that said. I woke up this morning feeling that the message that I sent to the staff is different from the many organizational messages that are going out, especially since we are sharing the word from the artist. Is that any less cliché? Many of the messages are “we stand with black people.” Our message says, I am the black man leading here, and I stand not “with,” but “in.” Not sure that I am making sense this morning, and maybe I am confused about that too.
Can we work with Ryan this morning to send something out?
This is exhausting, and it’s hard to keep moving, but we must. David, I see you and appreciate you.
PS. The looting is unbelievable and incredibly distracting.
Dower – June 1, 6:57am
I am walking the Neponset this morning if you want to talk it out further now.
But yes— it is totally fair. I am sorry I needed to have you ask that.
Howse – June 1, 7:07am
Enjoy the walk, let’s connect later this morning or afternoon.
Here’s what I want to ask: Can you take the first step to piece together my note to the staff and the note to my friends? If so, we can then work on it this morning together in google docs with the plan to get it out before noon. You up for that?
We had planned a blog, but perhaps what’s needed and what our patrons are likely expecting from us is an e-blast.
Dower – June 1, 7:22am
Yes, I can take that step. Oh and—
I think the blog is this series of emails— is trying to find our response together.
Howse – June 1, 7:26am
And yes to this.
Dower – June 1, 11:25am
This draft comes out very long. And it should! I wouldn’t edit out any of this.
And it’s in your voice. The I voice. Which I also feel it should. I think that’s the most direct way to say what we all mean together and how we avoid sounding clichéd.
Feel free to drop it into Google docs if you want to keep working on it.
Howse – June 1, 11:30am
That’s what I mean. Thank you for pulling this together – – no edits. Let it roll!