Ordway family of artists, audiences, supporters, and friends, Today marks just over two weeks since the world learned of the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis. While we shared our mourning and posted some resources, we struggled to find the rest of the words. I don't promise that these will be the right ones or even close to sufficient for the moment; in fact, I know that they will not. But words matter. I speak for the Ordway staff and board when I say that Black Lives Matter. Mr. Floyd's death is a tragedy and the result of systemic racism that lives not just in the Minneapolis Police Department but throughout the systems of our community. We believe deeply in the transformative power of the arts to change lives and hearts. Over the years, the Ordway has created programs that partner with schools and artists to address these disparities. We have produced and presented programming aimed at expanding opportunities for a more diverse group of voices to have access to our stages and our audiences. We have a diversity, equity, and inclusion imperative. And yet, despite some movement forward, we still have a majority white staff, budgets that don't reflect our commitment, and leadership that is not fully representative of our community. Thank you to the many artists and leaders of color who have walked with us through some successes and tried to help us see our shortcomings. We aim to live up to the promise in your work. As the only Black person on our strategic management team, this is a challenging moment but it is not a surprise. In full transparency, I am new to this team and was added because of the recent layoffs due to COVID-19. As a Black and bi-racial artist who has worked in several arts organizations around the country, I can tell you the Ordway is not alone in their lack of preparedness for this moment. I have experienced bias, marginalization, and disrespect. I have had to be the lone voice risking my future to speak. I also know of the times that I have been too tired to speak and too tired to fight. This is when we need our white colleagues to come alongside, support our voices, and make space for this work on their teams and with their resources. So why would I write this letter on behalf of the Ordway? I am sure there will be criticism and critique, but the truth is simple. The Ordway is ill-prepared and ill-equipped for this moment. For all of the years of conversation and slow progress, it has not been enough. The work is critical and must be ongoing. I am a bit weary of reading statement after statement from white leaders talking about their privilege. Don’t get me wrong—these are important statements in an important moment and I am grateful that leaders are having the conversations that led to these declarations. Truly. This is the beginning of progress. But as a Black person who works in one of those places, I don't want my colleagues writing just another letter. I want and need real change and real commitment. I am writing this letter because I too have had enough of the platitudes from my organization. I am hopeful that all of these good intentions will turn into impact, but I can't stand by with my fingers crossed. I must speak. So hear my voice as strong and empowered and ready to help move this organization out of the conversation of scarcity and excuses and into one of inclusion and impact. The Ordway staff and board know the prominent position and privilege we carry as a non-profit arts organization in Saint Paul. We need to do better for the thousands of kids that come into our building each year. We need to do better for our audiences. We need to do better for our artists and our staff. We must make real progress on our longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusivity in all areas of our business. We do not have all of the answers today or all of our plans in place, but I ask my colleagues at the Ordway to commit to the work. That work looks like a true examination of our leadership structure by continuing efforts to diversify the board, comprehensive diversity and equity training for our leadership team and our staff, and a retention plan to keep our staff engaged and supported. It looks like revisiting our programming for the coming years to ensure that BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) are on our stages, leading our creative teams, and in our audiences. It looks like a stronger commitment to our community partners and deeper relationships to support the work on our stages and in our education programs. It looks like living up to our dreams and vision of truly being a place where everyone can help shape and take part in the work. We are looking forward and we must change. To quote Reverend Al Sharpton in his powerful speech at George Floyd’s memorial, “It is time to turn our clocks forward. Time is out for empty words and empty promises.” I plan to hold the Ordway accountable to this. Join me. Kelli Foster Warder Director of Education & Producing Associate Ordway Center for the Performing Arts

Published
June 11, 2020