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Waterwell’s Commitment to Anti-Racism

Waterwell stands in resolute solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and everyone across New York City, the United States, and the world who are protesting the ongoing, state-sanctioned, anti-Black violence that led to the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade and many other Black people in the U.S. and around the world.

We recognize this is a historic peak in the ongoing fight against white supremacy, racial capitalism and anti-Black biases, ideologies, and narratives that have systematically and systemically disempowered Black people for hundreds of years. We believe this moment of collective action can and should change each one of us, our city, and our nation in historic ways. But this transformation is not inevitable nor guaranteed. We recognize the urgency and stakes of this demand for transformative change in our public safety and legal systems.

As a theater and arts education company, this urgency can and should radically affect and change us. It is cause for us to change how we create theater, how we teach, how we run a non-profit, how we partner with organizations outside the theater, how we interact with the Department of Education and funders. We will not underestimate the depth and complexity of the questions involved. We know this will require us to pursue intentional, structural shifts to dismantle racism and white supremacy within our own organization and the larger theater industry. We recognize that structural racism also affects Indigenous, Latinx, MENA, Asian, disabled, and LGBTQIA Americans, along with immigrants who have all too often been denied their human rights when interacting with our nation’s court system and enforcement agencies.

The leadership of our organization is currently shared by three white people who work closely with Waterwell’s Iranian-born Co-Founder/Board Chair. Because of this white staff leadership, we recognize that we have a particular responsibility to identify and change our institutional practices that are informed by and uphold a culture of white supremacy. Our work now is to build habits, practices, and budgets that ensure that disproportionate access to and control over resources do not remain in the hands of white people.

Waterwell is starting to more explicitly identify ways we have failed to combat white supremacy in our organization. Read the full account of Waterwell’s current internal action steps, or this snapshot:

– Interrogate our leadership structure and hiring practices;
– Steadily and transparently increase what we pay people;
– Decolonize the theater curriculum for training programs we run at NYC’s Professional Performing Arts School;
– Pay for and require anti-racist training for staff, teachers and board members;
– Lead opt-in conversations with staff, teachers, and artists to listen to their experience working at Waterwell and suggestions/needs they’d like to see addressed.

Here are some materials for education and opportunities for actions we have found useful. For the full list, click here.

– Sign up for the Black Lives Matter mailing list, and access their resources.
– Participate in New Black Mutual Aid for the theater community, created by Nzinga Williams, which “strives to create the safety net and financial support for Black Theater Professionals through a time of revolution and pandemic.” More information, on IG at @newblackmutualaid about how to receive aid and how to donate.
– Donate to support these theater companies in NYC: The Billie Holiday Theatre, The Classical Theatre of Harlem, Harlem Stage, National Black Theatre, and The Movement Theatre Company.
– Access this Scaffolded Anti-Racism Resources for White people working to become allies, created by Anna Stamborski, M. Div Candidate (2022), Nikki Zimmermann, M. Div candidate (2021), Bailie Gregory, M. Div, M.S. Ed.

As the leaders of the company, we take responsibility for the writing in this statement, including any flaws. We sincerely appreciate feedback from Black, POC, and white members of our community who read this before releasing it publicly.

This statement and conversation is the beginning, not the end, of our action. Accountability for these commitments is extremely important, and we will achieve it through evolving practices of transparent reporting, evaluation from within and without our community, and by taking responsibility for these goals as leaders (if we cannot do that, we should not have our jobs!). We will listen to your vision, ideas and feedback about how Waterwell can be most effective in the interdependent causes of justice and healing in the United States.

Signed,

Lee Sunday Evans
Artistic Director
Adam J. Frank
Managing Director
Heather Lanza
Director of Education & Artistic Director, Waterwell Drama Program