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Anti-Racism: More About Waterwell’s Internal Assessment

Waterwell believes that this painful reckoning and intense, collective focus on anti-Black violence must radicalize us as individuals and as an organization deeply enough to face hard truths about how Waterwell benefits from white supremacy. We recognize this cannot be a singular moment of reckoning, but must be a sustained dedication to use every opportunity to ensure that Waterwell realizes its potential to be an equitable, anti-racist, pro-Black theater and education company.

Because of our company’s sustained work on projects about Immigrants and immigration systems, we have a responsibility to consider how funding for art projects about this topic relate to the societal failure to protect Immigrants.

As a company dedicated to civic engagement and an ethos of Artist as Citizen, we have failed to fully live up to our values. Here are some ways we have identified that we have failed –

We have failed to hire Black staff members, executive staff, faculty, teachers and artists at the same rates we have hired White people and non-Black POC; we have failed to take radical enough steps to counteract the accumulated generational wealth that, in general, allows more White people to take part in low-paying jobs at our company and in our industry overall; we have failed to follow-through on our intended goals to revise our middle and high school theater curriculums so that all ideas based in white supremacy and misogony are eliminated; we have failed to be consistently explicit about our dedication to standards that ensure we operate as an anti-racist institution that specifically cultivates pro-Black spaces at every level of our organization.

Our immediate work takes the form of questions we are asking ourselves and identifying actions we are taking right now.

Here are some of the questions:

– Is there another leadership model for executive-level staff positions that would create more equity and more strongly align with anti-racist principles? How did each of the three White leaders get hired and were these processes fair? Is it possible for us to be an anti-racist organization led by White leaders, or does that fundamental lack of racial diversity require a leadership change?

– What are concrete ways we can influence the wider field of philanthropic giving and government allocation of funding to non-profit theater organizations in NYC to push our field to consider anti-racist principles in the distribution of critically important financial resources?

– We recognize that what our industry considers a living wage is highly suspect at best. How can we better determine what appropriate payment is for freelancers, when union-approved standard industry minimums do not reflect the scale/scope of arts jobs or relate to the cost of living in NYC? What could our company’s overall budget and structure look like if we paid teachers and artists significantly more?

Here are some of the actions we have identified we can take now:

– Renew and sharpen our dedication to a foundational concept of our company – that representation matters and must have integrity. To us, this means telling stories and creating art that reflects the full humanity, complexity, potential and flaws of every human being depicted in our professional and educational productions.

– Starting this summer, we will take an annual internal audit of the racial identities of who Waterwell hired in the prior year, what we paid them and how their pay related to the time/labor required by their job description. We will release a transparent analysis of the audits and include steps we will take to change hiring processes and wages offered for our positions in the upcoming year to address inequities reflected in the results.

– Starting this summer, we will pay interns to ensure that generational wealth does not limit the pool of people who can afford to take entry-level jobs at our company and in the industry as a whole.

– We will immediately review what inclusive representation on our board should mean for our specific community, which starts with an acknowledgment that our board is currently composed of four POC, no Black people, and nine White people. We will develop more equitable Board recruitment, which starts with an acknowledgement that the company has relied on inadequately deliberate processes in the past.

– All relationships in our company will be guided by the ethos of ‘having power with, not power over’ and we will ensure that anyone who feels this ethos has been violated has an un-intimidating way to bring their complaint to the company with confidence it will be validated and addressed without fear of retribution.

– Pay for anti-racist training for staff, teachers and board members

– Lead a series of ongoing, opt-in conversations and surveys, with our staff, teachers, students and artists to listen to their experience working in our company and any suggestions or needs they’d like to see addressed.

– For accountability, we will write an annual summary that evaluates if our anti-racist intentions align with the outcomes created by our choices. For the past year, it will include concrete actions we took, and specific, honest stories of what failed. These summaries, including results of our hiring audit, will be available on our website, recognizing that ongoing transparency is one part of building trust between the people we work with and our organization.

At the core of all these ideas about next steps is a resolute commitment to think critically about how we have been socialized – individually and collectively – to participate in and benefit from white supremacist systems without adequate critique or active, consistent resistance.

The questions and actions outlined above are influenced by ideas and tools from PISAB’s Undoing Racism training, artEquity’s Facilitation for Social Change training, and other concepts developed by anti-racism educators and thinkers who deserve credit, Ibram X. Kendi, Rachel Cargle and Layla F. Saad. Our intention is that by utilizing some of these tools and concepts, we have a better chance of being able to see past our own blind-spots and internalized biases.