Wednesday morning, we launched our lineup for Fresh Meat 5. Scrolling through our lineup, I was struck by how amazing our local artists are, how proud I am to be a part of this festival, but I was struck by something else, too. Something really obvious:
This year’s festival is really fucking white. And I’m not just talking about the t-shirts.
And this matters. Representation, inclusivity, visibility, diversity, these aren’t just buzzwords. We’re putting together a festival to support local artists who tell stories, create worlds, and hold a mirror up to our own lives. And what we say in those stories, what we make in those worlds, who we see in those mirrors: they’re important. We’re not trying to shoot an ad for Swedish furniture where everyone can look the same and it’s no big deal. It matters.
Some of you have brought this to our attention (and I’m sure many more of you noticed it – it’s pretty hard to miss) and we want you to know that we hear you. We thank you. We’re listening.
So much of being a good ally is listening; so much of Not Being A Jerk is recognizing when something is amiss, and that hell – you might've had a hand in its amissness.
And we’re not going to placate you by getting defensive and cowering behind the fact that we do, in fact, have an (admittedly and pitifully small) number of artists of colour involved in the festival, myself as producer, included. I’m not going to hold up our LGBTQA+ artists, for whom we arguably offer up better representation, as bastions of visibility for all under-represented communities, without even beginning to mention the intersectional nature of the way that LGBTQA+ artists of colour might feel about the lineup.
I’m not going to hold these people up as straw men or tokens. I’m not going to do that to them, I’m not going to do that to myself, and I’m certainly not going to do that to you.
The percentage of artists of colour involved in this year’s festival is congruous with the percentage of applications we received from artists of colour: small. But that’s not a defense. It’s a problem. It speaks to a larger issue within our regional arts community: we can’t just say “we programmed fewer artists of colour because we received fewer applications from artists of colour." We have to realize that we receive fewer applications from artists of colour because these artists face systematic and institutional barriers to accessing the arts at every step of the way. Starting with high school drama class, to after-school theatre projects, to post-secondary training, to grant applications. On a larger scale with bigger festivals, regional theatres across the country, to the ever-present whiteness of Hollywood and other story-telling goliaths. And finally to festivals like ours: we can do better. We need to do better.
So with that in mind, we are renewing our resolve to conduct better outreach to under-represented communities, and building stronger relationships with artists of colour, and those from under-represented communities.
And we don’t just want to pay lip service. So we’re not going to put changing things off until next year’s festival. The kind of inclusivity and representation we want to take part in starts now: we're researching the kind of concrete steps we can take towards building a safe, and truly inclusive, space. We want actions, not empty labels. To start, we are going to take a leaf out of Equity's book: with every general call made through CAEA the company is required to state its ehtno-cultural mandate or make an ethno-cultural casting statement. Fresh Meat is researching and working on a new ethno-cultural mandate, aimed at encouraging members of under-represented communities to apply to the Festival. We are also researching ways in which we can more effectively and efficiently reach out to those communities.
We open-heartedly welcome community engagement, and want to move together towards building a safe space. If you have insight to share, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll listen and do our part to renew our zeal towards inclusivity, representation, and visibility.
Let’s all Not Be Jerks together.
With love, as always,