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The Black and Indigenous Futures convening

On September 20-21, 2023 the Black and Indigenous Futures Convening brought together artists, scholars, educators, and practitioners to unearth history, examine fault lines, and imagine new and different futures. This gathering, produced by ArtsEmerson in partnership with HowlRound Theatre Commons, was one piece of a larger ArtsEmerson initiative that seeks to activate a liberated future in Boston and beyond through the shared experience of art and public dialogue.

Convening Goals

  • Collectively learn from our Black, Indigenous, and Afro-Indigenous colleagues (inside and outside of the arts field) about their lived professional and personal experiences;
  • Explore questions around what a Black and Indigenous co-leadership culture looks like;
  • Identify national and local opportunities and challenges of Black and Indigenous collaborative leadership and—ultimately—solidarity;
  • Investigate how ArtsEmerson in partnership with HowlRound can contribute to the arts field at large through this inquiry.
A collage of photos from the convening

Photo by Christian Ruiz.

Learn More

About ArtsEmerson's Black and Indigenous Initiative

From slavery to stolen land, African-Americans and Indigenous peoples have been harmed by settler colonialism from pre-revolutionary times to today. Their histories are unique and intertwined, with examples of distrust and violence as much as solidarity and alignment. This is as true on Massachusett land (Boston) as it is throughout the United States.

Today, there are calls for radical change in our society – from the protests following the murder of George Floyd, to the actions at Standing Rock in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline. There is wider recognition that when the most marginalized among us is free, we are all free. While systemic oppressions persist, our society is primed to imagine new, decolonized Black and Indigenous futures.

Today, ArtsEmerson leadership is Black (David Howse) and Indigenous (Ronee Penoi) – a rare occurrence in a major arts institution. We see our shared leadership as a unique opportunity to imagine a better, liberated future together for Black and Indigenous peoples – and by extension, all peoples. As is our mission, we will activate this future in our city through the shared experience of art and public dialogue. That action will take place through three primary phases:

In Spring 2023, we began encouraging inter-cultural exchange at two of our season’s productions: And So We Walked and Nehanda. These are both stories of a people: each one showing their unique approach to confronting the western colonial project, and breaking down over 150 years of intergenerational trauma.

Additionally, artists helped us to engage audiences leading up to the shows through thoughtful marketing campaigns and show art.

In September 2023, we will host a convening of artists, scholars, educators, and practitioners to join us in unearthing history, examining fault lines, and imagining new and different futures. This convening will be a great undertaking, and we are excited about the potential it holds for deep learning as individuals and in community.

Finally, as a result of this initiative, ArtsEmerson will commission Black and Indigenous artists to collaborate and pursue the stories only they can uniquely tell. All of this will inform our shared leadership of an arts institution in service to our city and its communities.

Bolstered by generous grants from The Barr Foundation, and The National Endowment for the Arts, we are venturing on an ambitious but necessary journey to deepen our understanding of the intersection between Black and Indigenous struggles, and join together in conversation and artistry to find avenues for advancing the futures of both of these populations.

“By dissecting the frontiers of Afro and Indigenous histories (past, present and future), the challenge no longer becomes how to reform a system of oppression, designed to work just as it has in keeping marginalized groups of people without power—but instead… how to shift consciousness to decolonize our own minds and reclaim what is rightfully ours: land, agency, narrative.” —Juleana Enright


Through this work, ArtsEmerson embarks on a reclamation journey for Black and Indigenous peoples.

About ArtsEmerson + HowlRound Theatre Commons

ArtsEmerson is the professional presenting and producing organization at Emerson College, based in the heart of downtown Boston. Founded in 2010—the year the U.S. Census confirmed there was no single cultural majority in Boston—we set out to foster positive change in this historically segregated city. ArtsEmerson aims to tear down traditional cultural divisions and connect people across difference. In addition to presenting work on stage and screen, ArtsEmerson seeks to advance civic discourse in our city by producing impactful opportunities for conversation and connection.

Alongside the leadership team at ArtsEmerson who are championing this gathering with input from the Black and Indigenous Initiative advisory body, this convening is a collaboration between ArtsEmerson and its sister organization in the Office of the Arts, HowlRound Theatre Commons. HowlRound is a free and open platform for theatremakers worldwide that amplifies progressive and disruptive ideas about the art form and facilitates connection between diverse practitioners. HowlRound functions as a knowledge commons, a social structure that invites open participation around shared values. HowlRound regularly produces convenings that bring folx together around critical field issues.

Black and Indigenous Initiative Advisory Group

Click here for full biographies of this group.

  • Scott Alves Barton
  • Jordia Benjamin
  • Siobhan Brown (Keesuty8ee Elm)
  • Shanya Cordis (Warrau and Lokono)
  • Elizabeth James-Perry (Aguinnah Wampanoag)
  • Kyle T. Mays (Saginaw Chippewa)
  • Mary McNeil
  • Márcia Minter
  • Daniel Minter
  • Ashley Page
  • Martha Redbone
  • Reuben Tomás Roqueñi (Yaqui/Mayo/Mexican-American)
  • Amber Starks a.k.a. Melanin Mvskoke (Black/Muscogee Creek)
  • Carlton Turner
  • Marina Tyquiengco
The advisory group sits and stands in two rows outside and smiles for the camera

The Black and Indigenous Initiative advisory group. Photo by Christian Ruiz.

Convening Organizing Committee

  • David C. Howse - Vice President for Institutional Advancement, Stephen G. Langley Chair & Vice President for the Office of the Arts, Executive Director at ArtsEmerson
  • Ronee Penoi - Director of Artistic Programming at ArtsEmerson
  • Robert Awkward - Company Manager for Office of the Arts, ArtsEmerson, HowlRound Theatre Commons and Project Manager, Black & Indigenous Initiative
  • Deen Rawlins-Harris - Convening Co-Facilitator
  • Malia'Kekia Nicolini - Convening Co-Facilitator
  • Jamie Gahlon - Director and Co-Founder of HowlRound Theatre Commons
  • Julia Schachnik - Creative Producer of HowlRound Theatre Commons
  • Alison Qu - Associate Producer of HowlRound Theatre Commons
  • Ramona Rose King - Digital Content and Communications Manager of HowlRound Theatre Commons

This convening was made possible with generous support from

Logos for the Barr Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Mellon Foundation