Posted below are the comments, in sequence, made by three local independent artists to Durham City Council on the crisis of arts funding in the city. Thank you to Marshall Botvinick and JaMeeka Holloway for their words–you can listen to audio here (begin at Item #22). If you are an independent artist of Durham and would like to speak to the Council on this matter, please get in touch at monica at monicabyrne dot org.
1 . Monica Byrne
“Good afternoon, Members of City Council, Mr. Mayor, and all. Thank you for your attention. I understand how many issues you have to consider every day and I really appreciate being able to speak here.
“My name is Monica Byrne. I’m an independent artist and I’m here to speak on behalf of other independent artists of Durham. Since I last addressed the Council in March 2018, our community has fallen deeper into crisis. Last month, The Carrack announced it would have to close. The Carrack was a cornerstone of the community, providing affordable exhibition and performance space, especially to Black, brown, queer, and disabled artists from Durham. Now that it’s closing, there are only a handful of affordable spaces left in downtown.
“When I’ve spoken to city officials about stepping in, I get the response, “Why should the city be involved in choosing which kind of art to support?” The answer is, the city already overwhelmingly chooses what kind of art to support. The city chooses to fund corporate art and very expensive buildings. On its own, I actually have no objection to this. Both are important to a diverse arts ecosystem. For example, I’m glad the city stepped in to save the Carolina Theatre, despite gross financial mismanagement by its staff, because the city knew that the theater was crucial to Durham’s cultural life.
“But I do have a major objection if that’s the only kind of venue, and the only kind of art, that the city deems worth saving. Why the big institutions and not the Carracks? Why is there a full-time paid staff at DPAC, booking the racist misogynist Jordan Peterson, while the owners of The Fruit and Mettlesome and the Living Arts Collective forgo a salary to keep their spaces open to women and people of color? In other words, whose art is the city choosing to preserve, and whose art is it choosing to let die out? To us, the answer is very clear. The artists who made Durham a desirable place to live are now the ones left behind.
“In the past year and a half, I and other artists have brought many proposals to the city…and then never hear back. Honestly, we don’t know what to do. I understand that no one is acting in bad faith; but at the same time, I need to emphasize that, after the closing of the Carrack, we don’t feel we can wait. We also feel we independent artists have no one to properly advocate for us in city government, so we have to advocate for ourselves. To this end, we are organizing to speak at every Work Session until we feel our proposals are being heard and acted upon. I have concrete proposals I’ll outline at future Work Sessions; but for now, I’d like to welcome the first of my fellow artists to speak, who is Marshall Botvinick.
“Good afternoon. My name is Marshall Botvinick, and I am a theatre maker living in Durham. I am here today for one reason. I believe the City of Durham can and should do more to support artists that live in this city. When compared to other cities across the Southeast, Durham falls noticeably short in the support it provides to artists. Rather than being a city that artists are inspired to relocate to, Durham is fast becoming a city that artists feel compelled to leave because there simply are not enough municipal and institutional resources available.
“I don’t think I was truly aware of how dire the situation is until I moved to Winston-Salem. During the three years I lived in Winston, I saw firsthand what a robust investment in the arts can produce. Home to the National Black Theatre Festival, an opera company, a symphony, a ballet company, two major art museums, a large craftsmen guild, a film festival, and a LORT theatre company, Winston Salem is a model for what’s possible when a city and its arts council invest in its arts organizations.
“Durham, on the other hand, is a model of what happens when arts council operational expenses take precedence over direct support of artists. If you look at the Arts Council’s 2016 tax filing, you’ll see that they gave a total of $189,539 in grants to organizations and individuals while salaries totaled almost $700,000 and other expenses equaled a little more than 1.2 million dollars. In short, 9% of the budget was devoted to grants, 33% was devoted to salary, and 58% to other expenses. No other major county in the state has a ratio that’s even close to this.
“There are many things Durham can do to make itself more welcoming to artists, but an obvious place to start is with our arts council. The city gives the Arts Council $704,000 annually. This accounts for 35% of the Arts Council’s budget. As the Arts Council’s main funder and owner of its building, the city needs to step in and demand a budget that is more focused on supporting local art. Simply getting grant funding to 25% of the Arts Council’s annual budget by 2021 would go a long way towards improving the current situation.
“The city must also place a greater emphasis on local art in its own budget. In the current fiscal year, the city has earmarked 1.4 million dollars in tax revenue for DPAC, a building that never hosts artists who actually live in this city. But what is the city doing for its own artists? Why are we less important than DPAC? The city needs to increase its arts and culture resource allocation to either subsidize existing studio, gallery, and performance spaces or to build new studio, gallery, and performance spaces for local artists.
“Durham needs to do better. The status quo is untenable. The rising cost of space has made it almost impossible for artists to present work in this city. The city needs to recognize the extent of this problem, and it needs to take steps to remedy it. Durham shouldn’t be a place where great art is simply brought in from out of town. It should be a place where great art can be made by the people who live in and love this city. Your support and strategic planning can make that a reality. Thank you.”
3 . JaMeeka Holloway
“Last year I was offered jobs at two out of state nationally recognized theatres. During this time, with space support from the now-closed Manbites Dog Theater, my small theatre group, Black Ops had just presented the vibrant Bull City Black Theatre Fest, I covered the IndyWeek, I was so excited about the possibilities of creating and curating more in my hometown. So, I turned those two profile-raising, living-wage jobs down. I turned them down because I’ve lived away before, and no place compares to my city and the fulfillment of being able to engage this community with my art and energy. It’s a sensation that can’t be duplicated or replaced. I thought, “If I am going to offer my gifts to a place, it should be the place that shaped who I am.”
“This morning, and many before this, I kicked myself.
“It’s becoming harder and harder for me to participate in the creation of art here. With only spaces like The Fruit being affordable and having the capacity to hold the entirety of what a live theatre production could require, the challenges of producing are real. I know many artists are redefining space and are finding unconventional places to create work, however, I wonder why Independent artists are constantly being encouraged to find “creative” / “ out of the box” ways to fundraise and make money while large institutions that are often economically and socially inaccessible are given continued fiscal precedence.
“One wonders if the message being sent is that to create art and survive or be supported, you must connect yourself to some sort of institution or convention.
“Today, I want to ask how can we be more forward-thinking about our support of all artists? How can we expand our ideas around legibility and “credible” art? How can I and other independent artists who are creating dynamic and inclusive art for the whole community be prioritized by our city government?
“I don’t want to have to move away from Durham to make money as an artist. I’m a mom, and I don’t want to have to consider moving to rural Vermont, removing my child away from the vibrancy of Durham’s culture to make a living. Severe investment is needed from our local government to prevent the dilapidation of quality offerings and facilities here in Durham. Durham has positioned itself as a destination location for the arts. How can we keep it home for facilitators of this art?
I’m so pleased that American Theatre Magazine has published their September issue, dedicated entirely to #metoo stories.
Here are six brave theatre artists who came forward about abusers Gregory Boyd at Alley Theatre in Houston; Gordon Edelstein at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven; Darrell W. Cox at Profiles Theatre in Chicago; Jason McLean and Josh Peklo at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis; and Michael Halberstam at Writers Theatre in Glencoe, IL.
Here is a journalist’s story about reporting on her own harasser.
Here is a piece on how the Actor’s Equity Association can change to better protect its members.
Here are resources for survivors, including resources specific to the theatre world.
And here is the op-Ed by Editor-in-Chief Rob Weinert-Kendt, explaining how he and the TCG board came to the decision to publish this issue.
I thank him for acknowledging my role in it. It was really hard to do. (For background: here is my first blog piece about my experience of sexual harassment by Raphael Martin—then the Literary Manager at SoHo Rep, now proprietor of The Lit Shop in London—and ATM’s solicitation of the story, and then, their failure to publish it; here is their response to my blog post; and here is why I found that response so unsatisfactory.) But the work was worth doing. I truly hope TCG and ATM continues to take an active role in dismantling the structures of silence and enablement that have allowed so many abusers to abuse for so long in American theatre. We need them. We need all hands on deck to address this problem.
I’d also like to thank Diep Tran, the dedicated and brilliant journalist who saw this story through from beginning to end; my patrons on Patreon who enabled me to take a stand by paying me a salary for the work; the theatre artists who stood up with me to create a petition advocating for ATM to publish these stories; the 1,556 signatories, ranging from undergrads to MacArthur Fellows; and last but not least, again, ATM Editor-in-Chief Rob Weinert-Kendt and TCG Executive Director Teresa Eyring, for listening to our concerns and deciding to do the right thing, even though that necessitated a massive internal shift in institutional structure and funding.
I appreciate it. Survivors appreciate it. And everyone who’s had to struggle against the toxic patriarchal power structures in theatre appreciate it.
This is how we make change, and this is only the beginning.
Photo: Brownsville, United States, June 28, 2018. EPA-EFE/Larry W. Smith
In support of the protests happening this weekend, I’m making freely available my near-future science fiction story, “Blue Nowruz.” Listen to the audiobook if you can, because the story was written to be performed, not read; but the text is there too.
It was commissioned for TED 2015 by Neil Gaiman and Chris Anderson, the only prompt being: it had to occur in the next fifteen years, and it had to offer an optimistic vision of the future. So—having been pro-open borders for as long as I’ve been aware of the concept—I wrote about what a simultaneous, worldwide border protest would look like, and how it would begin to change the world.
I hope we’re getting closer to realizing that vision.
Photo: The Nature Geek.
It’s finally warming up in North Carolina, which means the carpenter bees are out and about. Dad and I waited until now to publish this poem, one of my favorites of his, and of all time. Read it aloud.
by Donald E. Byrne Jr.
A fat, black bee
whirls down from its
hole, bored in the
trim of the porch,
to bless me in
my chaise. So close
to the nape of
my neck I thrill,
so near my bare
chest I feel the
breath of its wings,
the quick bee signs
up, down, left, right,
as if to ask:
are you the one?–
up, down, left, right–
are you the one?
Are you the one,
a sweet balm, a
bee balm, the one
who called me with
you, bee, bless me;
black bee, bless me;
bless me, fat bee,
with your sun sign:
up, down, left, right,
up, down, left, right.
American Theatre Magazine wrote a response to my blog post about their enablement of sexual abuse in American theatre. I appreciate their engagement and their apology, and wrote Robert Weinert-Kendt, the editor-in-chief; and Teresa Eyring, Executive Director of TCG, to tell them so. But I felt the response left quite a lot to be desired.
Specifically, they did not list any concrete steps to address the fact that they had solicited and now know the name of serial abusers working in the field, including at their own member theaters, and are now choosing to sit on them indefinitely. Rob writes, “The magazine has never been, and has never represented itself as, an investigative news organization.” I disagree. “Investigative” is an arbitrary label, applied retroactively for convenience’s sake; they brand themselves as is “the nation’s only general-circulation magazine devoted to theatre,” which anyone—including I, as a source—could rightly interpret as including work categorized as “investigative,” especially when they’d authorized their reporter to initiate an investigation. If ATM is in fact a magazine-length glossy ad for their member theaters, they need to put that on their About page instead. If they are or want to be something else, then they have an ethical obligation to act on the information they solicited. From what I understand, they are now refusing to do so on technical and legal—in other words, financial—grounds. This, while publishing pieces like this, wherein Teresa herself writes, “The culture of silence can be profound and entrenched. And what’s required when there are reports of workplace misconduct, sexual and otherwise, is immediate action and transparency on the part of boards and leadership.”
So. Here is my question to Rob, Teresa, and the board of TCG:
Where is your immediate action?
Moreover: what made you think that real change would be safe?
What made you think that real change would not come without social, financial, and legal risk, to your institution and to yourselves?
I’m well-acquainted with these risks. I’ve taken them on several times now, and will again in the future. But it’s time for the burden of those risks to stop falling on individuals. We already did our part by coming forward. We’ve done it over and over and over. Now it’s your turn.
Your two options are to (1) authorize Ms. Tran to publish the stories, and take on the social, legal, and financial risks that comes with that; or (2) partner with a national media outlet that was built to take on such risk, such as Buzzfeed or The Washington Post. In my opinion, not doing so would represent a final and irreparable breach of trust between your organization and the entire field of practice, especially the women and people of color who are disproportionately impacted by your silence.
Now, here is my question for the leadership of all TCG member theaters:
Why so quiet?
I’ve received messages of support from exactly three Artistic Directors of TCG member theaters, out of five hundred and six. Two were already friends.
I’ll grant, it’s given me a sense of just how pervasive the culture of silence is in the field. It’s also helped me understand the role of “niceness”—or, reluctance to confront or offend—in the machinery of enablement. Niceness has been the leadership’s norm on that national nonprofit theatre scene for as long as I’ve been aware of it, but it is in fact anything but niceness. It is cowardice. Niceness means speechifying on Facebook without ever naming names. Niceness means, in Rob’s words, “urging the field as a whole (rather than any specific theaters) to do better,” so that no one ever thinks they’re part of the problem. Niceness means you never acknowledge that you or your friends may be part of the problem. Niceness means that you never have to have difficult conversations with your colleagues. Niceness means you’re terrified of not being liked, or how not being liked could affect your career. Niceness means you’d rather cover up abuse than run the risk of alienating donors. Niceness means you convince yourself that, because you’re a good person with good intentions, you can’t possibly be part of the problem. Niceness means believing that, because an institution has done some good sometimes, that outweighs the abusers who both operate from within it and benefit from its silences. Niceness means you never actually risk anything.
I’ll be as clear as I possibly can: An institution that prioritizes its own continued existence over the safety of the individuals who work there does not deserve to exist.
That applies to American Theatre Magazine. That applies to TCG. And that applies to every single theater that knowingly employs and harbors abusers, or neglects to speak out against their continued enablement, now, in the MeToo era.
Rob, Teresa, and TCG member theaters: you already know the right thing to do. You just have to be brave enough to do it.
This is a case study of how the machinery of enablement of sexual harassers and abusers works in American theatre. It involves Raphael Martin, the ex-Director of New Work at Soho Repertory Theatre in New York; and American Theater Magazine and its publisher the Theatre Communications Group (TCG).
In October 2016, I read this piece by poet Annie Finch, an account of sexual harassment in the literary world. Her descriptions reminded me of the sexual harassment I’d experienced from the then-Director of New Work at Soho Rep, Raphael Martin, in 2013; and how that harassment had negatively influenced my career trajectory, and informed my negative feelings toward Soho Rep. Inspired by Finch, I wrote a Facebook post about my experience with Martin. Many people saw it and responded, but apparently none at Soho Rep. I looked at their staff and board list, recognized the name of a Facebook friend, and sent my friend my Facebook post via private message. My friend responded immediately and, with my permission, shared my post on their personal Facebook wall, asking if anyone else had also been sexually harassed by Martin. Apparently many had—all young female theatre artists, like me—and submitted their accounts to my friend. Within a few days, Martin was fired.
At the time, I felt satisfied that Soho Rep had done the right thing. But I was a little confused that none of the leadership at Soho Rep had reached out to me, and that there was no press coverage of the incident; the firing of the Director of New Work at one of New York’s most prestigious independent theatre institutions had apparently gone unnoticed.
Since then, Martin has set up a theatrical consultancy agency in London. In other words, he was free to simply pick up and move shop, with few the wiser. This pattern is a crucial element in every culture of abuse: academia, high school sports, the Catholic priesthood, and so on. So I wrote to Sarah Benson, the Artistic Director of Soho Rep. She responded very kindly and thoughtfully, acknowledged the harm done to myself and the field, and thanked me for coming forward, then and now; but said that, as difficult as it was, the theater was not in a position to revisit the incident in a public way.
I don’t know why. And I wonder if there are reasons I can’t know why.
I wish they’d noticed that Martin seemed to pursue meetings only with young women theatre artists.I wish they’d reached out to check in with me after I came forward. I wish they’d publicly taken responsibility for Martin’s long-term employment and the extensive damage it did to the field. And most especially, I wish they—and all theatrical institutions—would look more closely at their part in the American theatrical community’s culture of scarcity, secrecy, and exclusivity, which deters so many women from coming forward.
I wish Soho Rep knew me as a playwright and not as a whistleblower.
Last fall, a friend sent me a post by a journalist at American Theater Magazine (AT), the nation’s “only general-circulation magazine devoted to theatre.” The journalist was soliciting accounts of sexual harassment in theatre. I was one of approximately a hundred people to get in touch with her, and spent a long time talking to her on the phone about my experiences, which included naming names on the record, including that of Raphael Martin. She was terrific, receptive and compassionate.
Months went by. I tweeted at AT, asking whether they were planning to publish anything from the amounts of information they’d gotten. They sent me link to a published article, here. I hadn’t heard anything about it, and it’s not hard to see why: because though it’s well-written, it says very little except that sexual harassment and abuse is an enormous problem in American theatre, with illustrations thereof, but no names or institutions attached. I didn’t blame the journalist. I gave her names—lots of us did—and she seemed to want to publish them. So I got in touch with her to ask what had happened. She said that the leadership at TCG (the publisher of AT) had overruled her, opting instead to anonymize everything because they didn’t want the legal liability, and that naming names (of people or institutions) was “not in line with their mission.”
This is how the machinery of enablement works.
And this is how it breaks: when individual victims take on the risk of speaking out.
For a variety of reasons, I do, and have before. Those reasons might merit their own blog post one day. But what I want to emphasize now is: this is not a matter of “having a chip on my shoulder.” It’s a matter of sexual harassment and abuse being a major public health and safety issue in all sectors of our society, and wanting to do something about it, especially when the leadership of arts institutions tend to do whatever it takes to preserve themselves first, at the direct cost of the health and safety of the individuals they’re supposed to serve. There is a vacuum of moral leadership in American theatre. This is especially ironic given theatrical institutions’ self-positioning as bastions of progress. Many are not. They merely replicate the same biases, abuses, and failures that exist in larger society, and then brand it as “arts advocacy” to its donors. Adding insult to injury, this “advocacy” is a means by which hundreds of people make a sound living, with health insurance and retirement benefits; meanwhile, actual theatre artists cannot make a living at all.
I wrote to the Editor-in-Chief of ATM, Rob Weinert-Kendt; and the Executive Director of TCG, Teresa Eyring. Both of them wrote me back kindly, but did not reverse their decision. I told them both I appreciated their responses, but did not agree with their decision or their reasoning. I think American Theater Magazine leadership should have empowered and supported its reporter to name the names we gave her. I think American Theater Magazine and its publisher, TCG, should seriously reexamine its mission if its mission does not include protecting the basic health and safety of theatre artists. And I think American Theater Magazine and its publisher, TCG, owe an apology to the entire theatrical community for its complicity in the machinery of enablement.
No matter what, donors to AT and TCG should start asking questions.
In my opinion, Martin needs serious psychological help, and until he receives it, he should not be in any position where he works with younger women in a theatrical or other context. If Mr. Martin would like to sue me, he’s welcome to try; I have exactly one asset—my car—and $159 to my name. Luckily for me, truth is an absolute defense in defamation cases. Nothing I’ve said in public or in private is untrue.
If any commenters are looking to engage me in “debate,” you should know that I have to approve all comments before they go live, and I’m not interested in debating. I’ve thought about publishing a post like this for months, discussed it with many people I trust, and am at peace with my decision. I will delete your comments.
If any reporters would like to get in touch with me to speak on the record about any of the above, you can contact me through my web site.
Thank you for reading.
Here are my prepared remarks for the Durham City Council public hearing on the budget, March 19th, 2018, on behalf of independent artists in Durham. Thank you, as always, to my sustainers for enabling me to do this work.
My name is Monica Byrne. Twelve years ago, I moved to Durham because of its affordability and its incredibly rich independent arts scene. Today I’m a full-time novelist, playwright, performer, and activist. Independent artists like me have played an essential role in making Durham a place where people love to live. Now, it’s becoming unaffordable for me, and for all the independent artists I know, both as a place to live and a place to make work.
Of course, that’s the case for a lot of Durham residents. I want to stress that artists are no more inherently special than any other kind of worker, but are treated as such, which means there are a few crucial points I’m asking the Council to consider when building a new budget.
(1) That in all private and public sectors, including the City of Durham, because art is treated as a hobby and not as work, artists are vastly under-compensated—to the point of no compensation at all.
(2) That compensation for artists is an intersectional economic justice issue. Art is something all people, of every age, race, gender, socioeconomic class, nationality, and ethnicity do to make meaning out of their lives. But only some kinds of art are recognized and compensated by our institutions. That art is overwhelmingly made by white men for white audiences.
(3) That the city’s arts funding, as reflected in the current budget, overwhelmingly prioritizes institutional and corporate art at the direct cost of independent artists in Durham.
(4) That the commitments to institutional and corporate art must be balanced by an equal commitment to the independent artists who make our city a place people love to live.
The good news is that it would take very little for the Council to start making meaningful change. I’m asking for three very simple things:
First, treat individual artists and small arts organizations as businesses. That is, offer them the same access to capital and low-interest loans that any other business would have.
Second, set an example by providing for compensation for all artists hired by the city, at least at a living wage. If you have questions, hire artists as consultants at a professional wage.
Third, please do not confuse funding the Durham Arts Council with funding artists. They are not the same thing. The ways in which the leadership and the board of the Durham Arts Council fail to meet the needs of independent artists in Durham would take much longer than three minutes to explain.
If you would like to talk about that more, or anything else I’ve mentioned, please get in touch, and I’d be delighted to.