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Life & Arts

'It's Vitally Important': ColdTowne Theater And Austin Creative Alliance Offer Equity, Diversity, And Inclusion Training For Austin Artists

The Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Series From ColdTowne Theater and Austin Creative Alliance
ColdTowne Theater/Austin Creative Alliance
The Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Series From ColdTowne Theater and Austin Creative Alliance

Austin Creative Alliance has been searching for a couple of years now for an affordable way to bring the very necessary and important work of equity, diversity, and inclusion training to artists,” says Jenny Lavery, ACA’s programming director. “I think the ACA team [have] all had the privilege and the opportunity to take several workshops and courses that… we’ve really gained a lot from.”

Taking those sorts of classes made Lavery believe that the lessons learned would be beneficial not just for businesses and office workers but for artists as well. “A lightbulb clicked at one point where I was like ‘man, artists are the ones that position culture, and so it’s vitally important that this work gets into the hands of artists.'”

Tauri Laws-Phillips, the co-owner of ColdTowne Theatre, started facilitating diversity, equity, and inclusion training sessions for local businesses several years ago; coming from the improv world, the ColdTowne crew tried to create sessions that are, Laws-Phillips says, “engaging and interesting and dare I say fun as opposed to sort of guilt-ridden and stodgy and dry.”

She says they’ve seen a real increase in interest for those sessions in the past year. “Last year, when Black Lives Matter became more obvious to people outside of Black people – I’m Black, for listeners, so I get to say that without fear of whether I can say it,” she says with a laugh. “Which, everybody can say it, that’s another thing. But with that we began to grow our offerings of classes around bias and social justice and diversity and equity.”

Those expanded offerings felt like a good fit for Lavery and the ACA team, who thought that having diversity training for artist led by other artists was ideal. “Most EDI consultants cost a lot of money,” Lavery says. “And, you know, artists typically don’t have that kind of money. We also wanted to find somebody who was a local Austinite and knew about the very specific things that happen here and the history that has happened hear. And the cherry on top for us was finding somebody who was also embedded in the arts and culture scene already, so they could speak to… how equity, diversity, and inclusion plays out in arts institutions.”

Laws-Phillips says that working on these issues with artists is usually a little different from working with other professionals. “I think artists are naturally more open,” she says. “So there is a deeper channel of empathy – we’re more in tune with that part of ourselves, because we’re always working through that.”

Lavery believes that getting the artistic community to understand the issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion could have an effect on the general population. “We create work, we tell stories, we’re in and around all of the places in Austin,” she says. “So I just think it’s important for us to continually have our eyes on this and be personally checking in with ourselves.”

Laws-Phillips says training like this is important but only a part of the process. “No two or three hour training is going to fix any problems on a large scale or internally,” she says. “Really I hope that what it does is begins to open the spaces you didn’t know were closed and gives you the confidence to recognize that you have work to do. So I hope that this opens people to enjoying the growth in seeking personal change and then making small and large changes to change the systems that they have a stake in. I think that’s all we can ask of people, is to be more open.”

The Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion Series from Austin Creative Alliance and ColdTowne Theater runs through June 9.

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