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Strong Foundations and Groundings & Solidarity

With Quanice Floyd of Art Administrators of Color

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Yura Sapi: Imanalla mashikuna. Imanallatak kanki. Hello friends, how are you? Welcome to another episode of the Building Our Own Tables podcast, season two. I’m your host, Yura Sapi, recording from Emberá Native lands on the Afro-Indigenous coast of Colombia in Nuquí, Chocó, in the Gulf of Tribugá. The Building Our Own Tables podcast is produced for HowlRound Theatre Commons, a free and open platform for theatremakers worldwide, and by Advancing Arts Forward, a movement to advance equity, inclusion, and justice through the arts by creating liberated spaces that uplift, heal, and encourage us to change the world.

I’m interviewing Black, Native, Asian, and other founders of color to find transformative solutions and ways of working together that are not replicating the same white-supremacy culture we wanted to get away from. With the blessing that we all have a role in the revolution, this podcast checks in and learns from Black, Native, Asian, and other people of the global majority who have created arts organizations, movements, initiatives, practices, and beyond who are changing the game, making new things happen within, and building their own tables instead of focusing on getting a seat at existing white and Eurocentric ones. We’ll be learning from incredible arts organizing visionaries on their processes, pathways to success, and challenges they’ve overcome.

In today’s episode, I’m interviewing Quanice Floyd, founder of Arts Administrators of Color Network. Founded in July of 2016, the Arts Administrators of Color Network (AAC) is an arts service network that focuses on networking and community-building through the arts. AAC are advocates and continue to fight for equity in the arts through collaboration, forums, and outlets that provide a voice for arts administrators and artists of color where there may not be one.

Since its creation in 2016, the Arts Administrators of Color Network has held over twenty-five events and served over one thousand arts leaders in DC, Maryland, and for over two hundred arts leaders nationally. The Arts Administrators of Color mission is to empower artists and arts administrators by providing tools and resources to advocate for equity, inclusion, access, and diversity in the arts.

Quanice G. Floyd is a renaissance woman who wears many capes. Born and raised in NYC, she has spent over a decade in Washington, DC where she has received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music education from Howard University and Kent State University. Her passion for arts administration led her to pursue her second master’s degree in arts management at American University and she is currently a doctoral student at Drexel University.

For the past decade, she has been a public-school music educator where she taught elementary school general music, chorus, band, and orchestra. Quanice also serves as a board member for two DC arts organizations, is an alumna of ArtEquity’s Facilitator Cohort, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s Music Educators and Arts Administrators Academy, 4.0 Schools’ Essentials Program, and the Arts Education Collaborative’s Leadership Academy. In 2018, Quanice was honored with the American Express Emerging Leader Award by Americans for the Arts.

Quanice Floyd: Awesome. Thank you so much for having me. I am Quanice. I am currently in the land of Nacotchtank, Piscataway, and Pamunkey ancestral tribes here in Washington, DC. I’m also the founder of the Arts Administrators of Color Network, which is a national organization for the global majority in the arts and culture sector, as well as the executive director of Arts Education in Maryland Schools, which is an advocacy organization.

How did I start Arts Administrators of Color Network? So back in 2016, basically, I attended an emerging arts leaders event here in DC. It was myself and one of my former classmates, Ariel Davis, and we were the only two women of color. We were the only two Black people there. We were just there. Of course we levitated to each other. During that event, we were just having really great conversations and what came out of one of those conversations was us basically saying, “Wouldn’t it be dope to create a space just for us? A ‘for us, by us’ space, we can share resources, we can community- and nation-build. And we’re just focused on us. We don’t have to focus on these structures and these institutions that aren’t necessarily built for us.”

From there, Arts Administrators of Color Network became an idea. Then, from that idea, I started the Facebook group, and then I invited all of the people of color that I knew and who worked in the arts and culture sector to the group. Then, we ended up having very localized events here in DC and in Baltimore, and they were very social, just opportunities for people to meet each other, to talk to one another, to connect, share resources, swap business cards, all of that. We were seeing that folks were coming, but they’re like fifty, sixty, eventy, eighty at a time, and we would ask them, “Hey, what would you like to see from some type of institution or organization like this? What would you like to see come out of these sessions or these social opportunities that you all have been meeting each other at?”

People said that they wanted to see mentorship, they wanted to see more professional development opportunities. They said they wanted some type of conference every year or convening, and more social opportunities.

From there, we took that and we started building Arts Administrators of Color Network, Ariel and I, and then we also recruited folks to be a part of the board. We established the board, we built the organization from the ground up: mission, vision, core values, all of that great stuff that you have to do to be a 501(c)(3). Our vision was basically the fact that we want this organization to not last. I say that in a good way. The necessary need for Arts Administrators of Color is coming out of the oppressive and racist structures within the arts and culture sector. If we can successfully push racial equity, anti-racism, any type of anti-oppressive structures… push them away, out of the arts and culture sector, and make it a truly global sector—I’m trying not to use the word inclusive because inclusive to me is a little bit problematic—but a truly global sector that represents everyone, then that means we’ve done our job. But for now, we’ve got a long way to go.

Arts Administrators of Color Network is more of a safe space for people of color because we keep getting re-harmed and retraumatized in these institutions. At some point, a lot of people are basically saying, “Why do I need to be a part of these institutions that don’t care about me? I need to just create my own.” What I’ve been seeing personally is an influx of folks from the global majority creating their own organizations. That could look like consulting firms or… I think there’s someone who does recruitment for casting. There’s folks who do executive searches now. There’s a lot of folks who do racial equity consulting in the arts and culture sector.

But people are starting to really build up their own, because they’re realizing that it’s not a safe space. The arts and culture sector is not safe. They pretend to be safe, they pretend to be extremely progressive, but all of that is performative and we see right through that. That’s where we are now, which is... To me, I feel like Arts Administrators of Color Network is the big mama. This is more of a reference to my family’s culture. But we always had our grandmother as the matriarch. My grandmother was a matriarch and grandma always protected everybody. I see AAC being the matriarch in the arts and culture sector that’s trying to protect all of the individuals who are from the global majority.

Yura Sapi: Damn, yes, just taking all of what you’re saying in, because I’ve definitely gone through that journey of being traumatized and then retraumatized from predominantly white institutions and wanting to create my own space. And thinking about how many arts administrators are freelance now, and on this podcast we talk about artists a lot. Maybe theatre artists, actors, folks who are performing in a freelance way already.

But now thinking about arts administrators, so people who actually might be more of the job force, employees that go into these predominantly white institutions… I can speak for myself in terms of, I’m teaching a class at CUNY and I got the feedback and the knowledge that this course is to prepare students to go into these larger institutions. And then most students will go into them once they graduate.

I’d love to hear more about this new way in which arts administrators are able to advocate more for themselves, through being freelance and maybe not tied to only one institution. I know that’s something for me. I decided to not only be at one place because I wanted that freedom to be able to say no, to be able to say I can’t do that, no, I’m not going to do that. And then I’m not going to rely on one income to be able to live.

Quanice: We all know that capitalism is some bullshit. I guess my first word of advice to that is: Make sure that you’re going to be okay. For me, I like to jump off the ledge. I love jumping off the ledge because I feel like I am so connected to the work that I do, but then also, I feel very connected to my ancestors and I have really strong guidance from them. So when I do jump off of the ledge, which I did in 2018— I quit my job. I just quit and I didn’t come back. And I didn’t have another job lined up. But I knew something was going to work out. It just was something that I felt. I felt like the universe was telling me, “You don’t need this anymore. You need to go do something else.”

Right? You have to have that connection, I believe. Again, capitalism… Usually when I talk to younger emerging leaders, I usually say, don’t quit your job unless you have a new job and I definitely didn’t do that. But just thinking about what you said earlier about these higher-ed institutions that are basically training folks to keep these white institutions going. It’s fascinating to me because they teach us to go into these institutions but they don’t teach us the harms that come with the institution. They don’t care about that. That’s not part of it.

Yura Sapi: I find myself teaching how to cope, how to navigate, how to manage yourself in these institutions. That’s what I can offer and share with you.

Quanice: And we need that. We need that. That’s my whole issue is with higher ed to begin with. Higher ed, they are very difficult in trying to change any type of structure. Even thinking about nonprofit leadership, arts management courses, well, you take a governance class, they want you to learn about governance. They want you to learn about Chait and all of these people who are theorists in governance. They want you to learn the foundations, the basics.

You don’t use any of that shit on a day-to-day basis when you’re at work. You don’t use that shit. What you teach is cope and coping and how to heal. That’s what people need. People need that. Because what this field will tell you over and over again is that you need to work extremely hard to the point where your health is now at risk. I feel like every time I go, it’s not funny but it’s funny, because the field itself will tell you that you’re not working hard enough. And you will keep believing you’re not working hard enough to the point where you’ll have a nervous breakdown, or you’ll have a physical issue that will happen. I’ve seen that happen to a lot of people, especially in the theatre world. I’ve seen that happen to a lot of people because they do, what is it, the twelve days, ten days, the culture of that, and the fact that it’s perpetuated at every single theatre makes that shit hard for you to fight back against.

Yura Sapi: “Why No More 10 Out Of 12s” from nomore10outof12s.com:

Ten out of twelves or twelve-hour workdays and six-day workweeks are detrimental for the following reasons:

They uphold white supremacy.

A twelve-plus hour workday, back to back on multiple days with only one day to recover is a severe impediment for anyone trying to live and make a living. It is a racist practice disproportionately impacting Black, Indigenous, and people of color who do not have the privilege of other family support (whether social, financial, or otherwise) or a built-in network, nor the benefit of being the most represented voice in the room. For Indigenous communities that are trying to rebuild their population after generations of genocide and mistreatment, the choice of picking between family, work-life balance, and career takes on an entirely different meaning. We encourage you to read more about dismantling these oppressive practices at weseeyouwat.com.

Anti-safety.

Studies have repeatedly shown that sleep deprivation and mental exhaustion can cause physical deterioration over the long-term, but even more importantly it can immediately cause people to be less aware and less adept in crucial moments. In our current theatre climate where stagecraft is increasingly complex and imposing, mistakes can cost money, time, and even people’s lives.

Continues ableism.

Extended hours create a barrier for those who struggle with disabilities, forcing them to either hide their symptoms or push themselves to keep up. Many times, these people are left with the choice to either worsen their conditions or leave the theatre behind altogether in order to survive.

Anti-caregiver.

Long work hours and six-day workweeks are particularly difficult for parents and caregivers who frequently have to choose between their dependents and their careers due to physical, financial, logistical, and relational impact. Visit paaltheatre.com for more on caregiver impact and support.

Negative effects on quality of life.

A ten-out-of-twelve day is not just a twelve-hour day for most theatre workers. For designers, technicians, stage managers, and other theatre workers, it can easily be a sixteen-hour day or longer. Most theatre workers are freelance and are not paid hourly but work until the job is “done” in some cases. The additional hours that they work reduce their wages to minimum-wage levels or worse. Furthermore, a six-day workweek creates a situation where there’s not enough time to rest and recover from those long hours, and provides less opportunities for theatre workers to build personal lives of their own. If you know someone who works in the theatre, you know someone who had to miss a wedding, a funeral, a birthday, or some important personal engagement because they had to work a six-day workweek.

In trying to uphold the spirit of “the show must go on,” theatre practitioners and professional and academic settings have repeatedly pushed themselves far beyond their physical and mental limits, jeopardizing both their health and their future.

In 2021 it’s time for a change. It’s time for no more ten out of twelves and no more six-day workweeks.

Quanice: That’s why I think it’s extremely important to be vocal. But then also, as you’re being vocal, you need to have some folks who got your back. You need to have a core group of people who’ve got your back. That could be people at your job, it could be mentors, it could be classmates. You need to make sure you have that support group. Because otherwise, especially as someone who speaks up a lot, I always get in trouble. But I make a joke out of it. I laugh. To me, it’s funny. But to someone else who speaks up, they might not necessarily take it the way that I take it. I just laugh at people. Because I think that’s… Because it’s usually like, you all are ridiculous. Do you hear yourself? Do you know how ridiculous he sounds?

But somebody might hear that and they might be gaslit by someone and the gaslighting makes them question themselves. You have to have a strong foundation and base within you. You have to have a strong self-awareness and a strong grounding. You have to be grounded. Because if you’re not grounded, they will tell you anything and everything: that you’re not shit, you won’t be shit, you will never be shit. You don’t work hard. You don’t have the skills. You don’t have the expertise. And all that is lies. That’s all gaslighting. That’s all lying. They’re lying to you.

Yura Sapi: Everything you’re saying is incredible. Yeah, I had a question about when you said “inclusive” being problematic. Can you speak more about the gaps and just saying the word “inclusive,” or “diversity, equity, inclusion” in general and how it doesn’t fit? And what “diversity, equity, inclusion” doesn’t fill?

Quanice: I stay away from DEI in general. Because when I think of DEI, that language to me is centered in whiteness.

Just an example, there was a free certificate program offered by the University of South Florida, and the certificate program was called “DEI in the Workplace.” It was six or seven modules and each module was about a different topic. As soon as you log in, first off, all you see is white men. That was an issue. But then also, the topics that they discussed was like—under DEI—felt like people were continuing to be othered. The language is like, “Well, how do you reach out to them? How do you reach out to those people?” That language to me is common in DEI. It’s always about, especially when people talk about community engagement, “Well, they don’t want to see us.”

It’s not they, it’s we. We all are in this together, and so I feel like by saying that, “diversity,” to me it means diverse from white. “Equity,” “equity” by itself doesn’t mean anything. That’s why I always say racial equity. Then “inclusion” means… To me sounds like, “Okay, white people are trying to include you or tokenize you in a space.” That’s why I try to stay away from it.

When I say “global,” “global” just feels... I feel like I’m a member of the global community. I just feel at home, being a part of the global community. I want to change the globe. My college is basically leaders for the global community. They always say that in my college, so I took that word global and I was like, “That’s what we need. We need a globalization of our culture.” Because a globalization of our culture begins to decolonize—and I’m using that in regards to colonialism—it decolonizes how we approach these conversations.

Because if we continue to put everything into the US perspective or the British perspective or the Ghanaian perspective, there’s a lot of history of colonization that’s been embedded in that. But if we look at the entire globe, of course there’s colonization that’s happening across the globe, but these cultures come together now to really understand how we all are connected. This is the opportunity for us to connect.

When I say “global,” I think of connection in community, versus “inclusive,” which I feel like is like, “Hey, come be our Black friend” or “Come be our Indigenous friend.”

Yura Sapi: The podcast is, in the “US” in terms of it coming from HowlRound and Advancing Arts Forward, which are US-based organizations. But I’m in Colombia. Many other podcasts guests are immigrants, migrants, connected to other countries in the world, recording from other countries in the world as well. Even though we’ve had all of our episodes in English, I think we have touched upon global perspectives in some cases, but still always with an American lens, I’d say.

So I’d love to hear more about your experience being so passionate about having a global conversation and change for being all over the globe, but also being in the US. Part of “America.” Because I do feel like so much of what I’m doing is trying to get resources and attention to specifically the two other countries where I hold citizenship, Colombia and Ecuador. Then I also think about what’s happening in Haiti, in Cuba, in Puerto Rico, in Colombia, in many Latin American countries and other countries around the world, and people of color, centering so much of the population. And the common thread with the US being part of the problem, basically.

Quanice: Right. I mean, the US is white supremacy. It is. Think of every single characteristic of a white-supremacy culture and that is the United States of America. I guess that’s another reason why I use “global” too, because when I think of global, I think without boundaries or without borders, as people say. But then when I think in the context of the United States, all I do is think about boxes and borders and boundaries, because that’s how the country was created. That’s what we’ve been fed since the founding of the country.

But when it comes to the US perspective, that individualism is something that is continuing to harm us. Another reason why I say “globalization” is because, again: community, connection. But that individualization is the complete opposite of that. We are innately communal people. When I say “we,” I mean folks from the global majority. If you look historically at our Indigenous roots—and we all have, I’m talking globally Indigenous bloodlines—we all have come from those communal collective backgrounds.

I was actually just reading an article earlier today from EdWeek and it was talking about how students of color are suffering from more mental health issues currently because of everything that’s happened with COVID and with the racial injustice stuff that’s happening, and the fact that most of the school guidance counselors want to give a one-size-fits-all to counseling to students of color, and that’s not how it works. This is where the racial equity and justice comes in. We’re dealing with all of these things. We’re dealing with the fact that people of color were the most affected by COVID because of policy. I’m thinking about the effects of redlining and how that affects where we live. That talks about our healthcare access and the hospitals that are in our neighborhood. The education that we get, just all of that.

But the United States is gung ho about keeping us separate. Because even when I watch the news and you’re listening to folks, and I hate to say it, but sometimes I do turn on Fox News just to hear—I get mad, but just to hear what they’re saying—and they’re literally saying like, “We want to take America back.” But back from who? Back from what? It’s always a individualistic piece that’s involved in that. That’s just to me, I don’t want folks from the global majority to fall for that. That’s something that they want us to get caught up in so that we can continue to perpetuate all of their culture.

Yura Sapi: How do we balance this, living in the reality of Fox News and the people who are saying these things and affecting policies and affecting lives? And then having these equity, diversity, inclusion certificates run by white people, giving to other white people? And balancing that with also wanting to create our own spaces, investing time in our own community, getting away from individualism, going to community again. And also, like I was saying at the beginning, wanting to make sure we have enough money to live, have enough funds to live, to be able to eat, to have that sense of security and job security. I think it’s about the leap of faith there too. And, like you were saying, having support systems that are bigger than what we might think of as just a friend, protections, ancestors, spirits, generations of people who have been surviving and surthriving to get us to where we are right now.

I feel like I see this inspirational quote on Instagram a lot. This, “I am my ancestors’ biggest dreams.” And so being able to lead in that, and at least for me, speaking for myself, being able to take this energy of all these people, all these beings that I’ve given to get me to where I am here and trust that I can do it too. And being able to say no to these toxic spaces and trusting that I’ll be able to make it happen and then I’ll have everything I need. And that I already have everything I need, too.

Quanice: Exactly. Then that also brought a thought to me. You brought up that quote of, “I am my ancestors’ biggest dreams.” But also, what type of ancestor will I be? That’s what I really think about. I think about, what happened five generations ago to get my bloodline to the point that it is today? And what am I doing to set myself up for the next five generations so that they can thrive?

I just think about people like my aunts and uncles who are all retired. The whole generation above me is retired on my mother’s side of the family, and they worked their ass off. They wanted to make sure that we had the opportunities that they didn’t have. I just think about, if I have children tomorrow and they have children and they have children and they have children, what did I do today? What was the decision that I made today that clearly affects them down the line? But I think having that strong grounding is important. That strong foundation is extremely important. Because like I said, I laugh at people when they get frustrated.

One thing that happened— I know you said you’re in Colombia, but there’s something that happened a couple of days ago with this white woman in a Victoria’s Secret store. She attacked the Black woman, she just started crying and screaming out of nowhere. We think about the weaponization of white women’s tears, one. That’s a whole conversation. But then also the fact that there’s so much at risk for us. There’s a lot of risk for us if we don’t think about the future. I was thinking particularly about that incident, because that woman, she knows that. She was literally stopping herself and starting herself crying again. She knows that. She knows the risks that we have as individuals from the global majority, whether Black or Brown. When she starts crying, she knows everybody’s going to come to her. We don’t have that option. We have to keep going. We have to keep working harder for the folks in the next generation.

But then if you don’t have that grounding to address things like that, like that woman in that video, she was like, “You’re lying. Stop it. She’s lying.” But the fact that she had all of these people against her because of that one white woman, she stood firm because she knew she wasn’t making stuff up. They were literally gaslighting her to the point where the cops didn’t even talk to her. They didn’t even question her. They didn’t even say what happened. They immediately believed the white woman.

That’s trauma in general, but I can also see that being a way that we have to make sure that we are spiritually, emotionally, physically grounded for this work if we choose to do this work. Because not everybody wants to do this work and that is a fair thing. We can’t depend on everybody to do this work because it takes too much out of people.

Then also thinking about being the most liberated you can be. Being the most free you can be. That’s what I often think about. I often think about, Do I feel constricted or do I feel free? Being free means you’re getting every single piece of me, regardless, good, bad, or ugly. I need to be able to express that because I’m a human and I need to be able to express that— I don’t want to feel like I always have to hide my true self when I go into these spaces. I think that’s what it is, with a lot of folks in our agriculture field from the global majority. They’re like, “I don’t want to hide anymore. I just want to be free. I want to be liberated. I want to do me. I want to be me and do me.” That’s why I think they create these spaces, these additional spaces, to help them understand that they really can control their own selves, versus having to go into an institution that tries to control you.

Yura Sapi: I wonder if COVID has helped encouraged this, let’s do what we want to do, be around people who we want to be around, who are actually hearing us, who we can have discussions and get to solutions with. I will say in Colombia, I know you said because I’m in Columbia, maybe it’s different. It’s not very different in terms of the anti-Blackness and racism. That still happens in a country like Colombia and many other Latin American countries that are dominated politically and powered by white people, white Colombian people.

I actually saw the post from Victoria’s Secret, the white woman in Victoria’s Secret crying from Goyo from ChocQuibTown, a Chocuano Afro-Colombian music band. It’s a global experience, Blackness, a global connection, and I know that she was talking to Black people wherever because the same thing happens. It happened to a friend, Nani Medrano, an Afro-Peruvian artist, an activist who is one of our collaborators at Balistikal, we’re doing the Rites of Passage project. She was stopped in a store at Tai Loy. She was with her son and was accused of robbery. They basically, the white blanco mestizo Peruvian people who worked at the store, had her followed home, basically, and then taken to the police station, strip searched, found nothing. And so now there’s this whole legal process that’s happening. The case has gotten national, international attention, because it really was… They were completely racially profiling and it became into this violent situation.

Yura Sapi: Nani Medrano is an Afro-Peruvian artivist, an independent artist, independent cajón musician. She raises her voice to center and honor her Afro ancestry and life experiences. She breaks the silence and the canons established by the patriarchal and cultural hegemonies creating art that mixes her ancestry with the exploration of her freedom. You can stay updated, send support, and follow Nani on Instagram at nanicurvy. You can send donations via PayPal at paypal.me/nanicurvy.

Yura Sapi: But I don’t want anybody to think that Colombia or Latin America— there’s still a lot of work to be done and that’s a whole ’nother topic too, in terms of solidarity between people of the global majority of different oppressed racial groups.

Quanice: I definitely didn’t mean that anti-Blackness is not global. It definitely is global. I was just thinking about the media of the US because I feel like the US tries to hide a lot of stuff on a global media scale. That’s what I meant more so. I didn’t mean the anti-Blackness was not global. Because I definitely know that is. That’s true. That is true.

Yura Sapi: What are some strategies and structures you’ve been able to create and work with that are not replicating the same systems of oppression that we wanted to get away from? I saw an announcement for a strategic planning process happening for AAC, so I’m curious what that’s about. I know you said the organization started in 2016. Now it’s 2021. What has changed and what are you thinking about in terms of the process for the future, and staying relevant and staying active in your mission?

Quanice: The first thing that’s changed over the past five years is that I’m not leading it anymore. With everything going on in my own professional life… I’ve been tired. I put a lot of—and Ariel and the board members all have put a lot of—blood, sweat, and tears into the organization. I’ve stepped back from being the director of it and now I really trust that I got it to the point where I can get it to. Now I feel like the vision and the identity of the organization is beyond me. What the board is currently doing is they’re trying to create the strategic plan of what the next steps of the organization are going to be, but then also hiring somebody. Because we can hire people now. We worked it out to the point where we can now hire an employee, which is exciting too. Whoever comes into that role, it’d be interesting to see their vision of the organization. I’ll still be around. But I’ll be an advisor to the board and all that, an advisor to the organization.

But you have to figure out what your own personal boundaries are. Because I felt like with everything, I have a full-time job as an executive director. I’m also running Arts Administrators of Color and that feels like another full-time job. Plus school, plus everything else on the outside, family stuff. It’s just, you get tired. I was telling you, I was tired day by day because I’m really weary. I am tired. I am tired.

Now I’m trying to figure out ways where I can better take care of myself because nobody else is going to help me take care of myself. And me taking care of myself is a part of also the care and health of the community, the greater Arts Administrators of Color community. Because if I’m not here, I think that shows, if something happens to me, that to me shows the fact that because we were hustling, hustling, hustling, something is wrong. Something happened to Quanice or something happened to someone on the board and we didn’t stop and truly take care of ourselves. We kept moving with urgency, which is another white-supremacy characteristic. We don’t need to move with urgency. We need to move with trust. If you’re always moving, moving, moving, you don’t have time to trust. You just get it done. I just think that this is an opportunity for us to really care for ourselves and care for the collective. I think the language that Arts Administrators of Color Network use was, “We are going on a pause.” It was very specific. We need to pause. You need to pause too, because we know you keep getting microaggressions and macroaggressions at your job. You need to take a pause too.

But the work that we do has grown. Honestly, the organization started as just focused on DC and Maryland and Virginia. I didn’t have a vision of it getting bigger than that. I just, I was, “We’re in the DC area, so I’m just focusing on DC area.” But then we would have events that people from outside of DC would start coming, and then we would be like, “How did you hear about us?” And they were like, “I needed to meet people like me. I just need this space.” That’s where the rapid growth started happening, about 2017, 2018, of the organization.

I feel like the 2010s have been a critical time in regards to racial justice in general. Racial justice has been going on since the beginning of this country, but the 2010s, that’s where at the very beginning of it was like— Well, Jena Six was more of like 2006, 2007. Then we had the Trayvon Martin, which was like 2013, and that’s when Black Lives Matter started coming out, by the mess where everything gained momentum.

I think because of that, people were like, “We need to find space and we need to find people to respect our space.” That’s where they were coming from other cities and just coming to Arts Administrators of Color. Then our convening was so small in the beginning. We had like eighty people in the beginning, the very first year of our convening, which I believe is 2017. In 2018, we had it in Baltimore and so it was like 125 people. In 2019, we had like 368 folks. This is where we started seeing people from out of the country coming. There was someone from Canada, there was someone from London, and I was like, “You flew out here for this?” And she was like, “Well yeah, I have family here too, but yeah.” And I said, “Okay, that’s cool. That’s cool.” The fact that you came here for this space means that the issues that we’re dealing with, like you said, are global. Right now in 2020, we had a virtual convening and we had five hundred people. We met the cap of the convening on the platform that we were on.

The fact that it keeps growing and growing just tells me that the field is getting worse and worse. When I say the field’s getting worse and worse, the pushback and the resistance is getting worse and worse. Because now people are, there are people speaking up. I know you asked the question about what should people do to speak up. But there are people speaking up now. We see these articles coming out, these interviews. I think there was a American Theatre article that just came out that interviewed Black artistic directors or executive directors and they were talking about their experiences in white institutions. We’re seeing it. We’re seeing it more public-facing now and we’re being louder about things that are happening because it’s not supposed to be happening.

But the pushback is still there. I saw it most recently with the Signature Theatre, that’s in the DC area. It’s in Virginia, but it’s like DC-area regional theatre, and there was a new artistic director announced. It was just a regular old white guy. Just young, white guy. He’s thirty-seven, so he’s young, considered young for artistic director. It was the same old, same old. But one of the things that I found extremely interesting is that Signature put their announcement about him, but in the comment section which... If you’re listening, please don’t go in the comments section. That shit is terrible. But I went into the comment section and it basically was really emphasizing the fact that like, “Congratulations, you are the right decision.” “Congratulations, you were the only decision.” That language to me is code. That’s coded language. That’s really coded language to me.

Because they’re seeing this movement of Black and Brown folks going into these positions that are C-level positions, executive directors, artistic directors, CEO positions, chief diversity officer, that’s a position now. That coded language to me said, “We don’t care about what these other people are doing. We don’t care about these racial justice movements or racial inequities that’s happening in the field. You deserve it. Nobody else deserves it.” How do you know he deserves it? Who told you he was the right choice or who told you he was the only choice? Why are you using that language? To me that language, it triggered me in a way where it was like, y’all really fighting. Y’all still really fighting this shit.

And this is why people leave. This is why people leave the field. Because people, they don’t give a fuck. They don’t care. They do not care. They’ll say shit like that right in front of you. This is Facebook. You’re putting it on a Facebook post. People can see it. We can see what you said. We know you’re talking in code. We know you’re saying that the people from the global majority aren’t good enough for this position, but this white man is. We know that. That’s what you’re saying. And you don’t care. You don’t care.

Yura Sapi: And the theatre’s response or lack of response.

Quanice: Yeah. I didn’t see response from the theatre. The lack of the response speaks volumes too. Just like you said. Just like you pointed out. When you see that... I just get this feeling of, if you don’t give a fuck, I’m not gonna give a fuck. But what I’m not going to give a fuck at is going to affect you more than it affects me. That’s how I think. And I think that’s how other folks are thinking too, trying to take themselves out of these institutions because they’re like, “If I leave, y’all ain’t going to really find nobody to replace me. Because we’re the ones with all the skills. We’re the ones holding the organizations at our back.” That’s historically and now. Historically, we’ve been carrying this country on our back and now we still carry this country on our back.

And these institutions that are not arts and culture sector, they thrive off us. Imagine if we all came together—and you talked about solidarity earlier—and just said, “We don’t give a fuck anymore.” We all came together and said that as a unit, the arts and culture field would implode. It would implode. If we said, we’re not going to deal with this bullshit anymore. We are going to only work for global majority institutions, ourselves, one another as people in the global majority—they will lose their shit. They wouldn’t know what to do at all. They wouldn’t know. I think it’s time for that.

Yura Sapi: I like that idea a lot, especially because I’ve been thinking about what is the “how.” How do we actually achieve the liberation that we’ve been knowing what it smells like or tastes like or can be. I think it is in these collective actions, these moments of being able to have solidarity, things like strikes. This is what’s happening in Columbia right now and the national strike, the para nacional. This is what people are doing.

And also, in a way, what Tara Moses was talking about from Groundwater Arts in another episode, that we’re not accepting fossil-fuel money by putting language in our contracts that says we’re not going to be paid by fossil-fuel money, so an organization can’t pay us with money that they’ve acquired from fossil fuels, donors from fossil fuel companies. So wanting to take these collective actions because these oil and gas companies directly affect Indigenous, Afro-Indigenous, communities of color and literal lives. I’m ready for all of these ways that we’re actually able to have mass collective action and being able to stand in solidarity with each other.

Quanice: Yeah. It’s time. We have to. I think that’s the only way it’s going to happen, honestly.

The government has stopped things like that previously. We know of the Black Panther Party. Black Panther Party wasn’t just Black people. It was people of all cultures, colors, and creed who believed that the police state was harmful and violent towards folks from the global majority.

We saw that when Fred Hampton spoke up about it, because he used to get poor white people as well into the conversations and standing in solidarity. When that happened, that’s when all of the infiltration COINTELPRO and all of that happened. And they killed them. We see that with the MOVE bombing in Philadelphia. They tried to kill those folks. We see that with Black Wall Street. Killed those folks. We see that with everything that’s going on with the Indigenous folks, with the movement of communities as well.

First off, the fact that the American government stopped adhering to treaties… But then also on the reservations, the conditions are terrible. To me, it’s a mass genocide. They don’t want people to come together. They don’t want people to come together. When people start coming together, that’s when problems happen. That’s the part that I think folks have not really want to get involved in. Because it’s dangerous. Nobody wants to be killed. For people to act right, I shouldn’t have to be a martyr for people to get their shit together. That shouldn’t have to happen. People should realize the fact that there are inhumane things happening and correct that. It’s like to me, the ethics of things don’t make sense. It doesn’t click.

I just, I want us to be collective. I want us to really have a united front. It’s time for us to just not... Just like they don’t care and they say things in code. We need to start figuring out how we can begin our coding, coded language and talking to one another and passing messages to one another in the 2021 version of it. They used to do that for Underground Railroad, but we need to figure out how to do that for 2021. Social media, what does that look like? How can we utilize that to our advantage? We see social media has helped propel a lot of these issues as well.

Yura Sapi: Yeah. These are technologies. Many of them made by just more white men. But these technologies, they have their limits from the creator. It’s just like this country has its limits from the founding fathers.

Quanice: Yeah. I see that with TikTok too. Because that’s like… TikTok picks and chooses the content that some of the creators of color put on there. They’ll shadowban them or ban them or take their videos down. It’s just really fascinating to me that the limitations of even the technology, they’re trying to silence us. And they do that on purpose.

Yura Sapi: To contextualize the moment we’re in right now, we’re seeing the arts world, performing arts, live arts, museums, different artistic spaces that were in public before, reopening again, maybe a little bit, maybe reopening to close again soon. We’re also seeing the broken promises or the truth of the empty promises that happened last summer, the black squares, the solidarity statements that were posted on social media after the murder of George Floyd.

And so key takeaways and advice moving to navigating these spaces. We’re saying here that this was the last chance and no more needing to center these spaces. They’ve told us time and time again, they’re showing us they can’t do it. Even if they said they wanted to do it, they’re not going to do it. We can see that with the decisions that are being made, especially in the reopenings. So, what’s the key takeaways and next immediate steps?

Quanice: For me, I’m at the point where I just tell people to go fuck themselves. Like go fuck yourself. I’m not going to deal with you. I think it’s time for that solidarity. I really do. I really do. You know what, I was listening to a conversation earlier this week, I think it was on LinkedIn, and it basically said, it said, “Unity is not solidary.” Basically, we may not agree on everything as folks from the global majority, but we are going to have a united front together. Because everybody has their own minds, we all think different, we have different beliefs, things like that. But when it comes to the global majority, there needs to be solidarity. Doesn’t have to be unity, but it could be solidarity.

Yeah, I tell people to go fuck themselves all the time, I cuss people out all the time. If you can do that, do that. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid to do it either. Just like you said, strong foundations, you need to have a strong foundation.

Then also, go for your dreams. I think that’s another piece of it. If you feel that you no longer want to be in these spaces anymore, figure out a way where you can begin planning to get out of this space. What is something that you can do to make sure that you’re not in these spaces anymore? I think that’s where Arts Administrators of Color Network comes in because now we have a network of probably about five thousand folks nationally, and some folks internationally, where you can connect with them and talk to them and build those relationships, genuine relationships with folks.

Please feel free to utilize the networks and the resources that are out there. There’s also Women of Color in the Arts, and NALAC—the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures. There’s Sphinx Organization. There’s First People’s Fund, the Asian American Arts Initiative. So it is just a lot of different organizations out there that I feel like people need to start utilizing those resources. They’re really building, community building.

Yura Sapi: Yeah, strong foundations. I love it. A net to catch you: Arts Administrators of Color.

Quanice: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. This has been a great conversation. I know both you and I are extremely tired, so I hope this was a fruitful conversation for our listeners. And if folks really, really want to fuck shit up, feel free to reach out to me because I like fucking shit up with people.

Yura Sapi: Thanks, Quanice. Definitely taking this as a call in to take some self-care. Maybe take the day off tomorrow from computer stuff at least, and it’s encouraging that for anybody who’s listening or reading the transcript, find that self-care for yourself.

This has been another episode of the Building Our Own Tables podcast. I’m your host and producer, Yura Sapi. Our editor is Daniel Umali. Original music by Blackos the Producer and Julian Var. This podcast is produced as a contribution to HowlRound Theatre Commons. You can find more episodes of this series and other HowlRound podcasts in our feed on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever you find podcasts. Be sure to search “HowlRound Theatre Commons podcasts” and subscribe to receive new episodes.

If you love this podcast, donate to support future episodes at advancingartsforward.org. You can also post a rating and write a review on those platforms to help other people find us. There is a transcript for this episode along with a lot of other progressive and disruptive content available on howlround.com. Have an exciting idea for an essay, podcast, or TV event the theatre community needs to hear? Visit HowlRound.com and submit your ideas to the commons.

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Thoughts from the curator

I hear talk about wanting for racially diverse populations to “get a seat at the table” or “bringing chairs to the table for POC,” meaning that we want our people to have a position at existing organizations and institutions with decision making power. For me, a few years ago, I decided to not focus on infiltrating existing organizations, but rather start my own. I know I’m not alone. With the blessing that we all have a role in the revolution, this podcast checks in and learns from BIPOC founders of various organizations in and related to the theatre industry changing the game, making new things happen within, and expanding beyond white and euro-centric experiences. We will learn from these incredible visionaries who have created their own tables of arts institutions, movements, collectives, initiatives, and more. We learn about their processes, pathways to success, and challenges they've overcome. This is an outside-the-classroom leadership learning from folks who are doing the things.

Building Our Own Tables

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