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In Our Own Words logoWe are a cultural institution rather than an arts organization, but I recall one incident with an arts organization partner. The partner was staging a performance in our space, and both teams were on hand to set up. A creative director of the partner organization wanted everything set to his precise expectations and he was vocally dissatisfied with the work our team was doing. The arts leader is white. Our staff members working on the project are black. Even as our team worked to be accommodating, the creative leader barked orders, yelled, appeared visibly exasperated. He also insisted on going outside the parameters we had set in advance about where the performance would take place, when setup would start, how the work was being performed. Within our team’s earshot, he referred to our team as “they” as in “they don’t get it” and “what’s the matter with them?”  

I didn’t see this unfold, but I heard about it from my team the next day. Our staff was upset and insulted, especially to be treated like that by partners in our own space. I called my counterpart at the organization — our regular contact — about the matter. He had witnessed these interactions himself and was apologetic. I told him that for the future of the partnership, his colleague could not deal directly with our team. We would only deal with members of their team with whom we had a respectful working relationship.   

I regret not talking to the creative directly (we’d never met and still have not met). I’m not confident the feedback was ever relayed, and it was clear I was not the first person to raise issues about this person’s behavior. I’ve thought since those events that I should have terminated the partnership then and there, to make sure the message was delivered, for there to be accountability. In the end, our organizations have never worked together after that. 


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