Saturday, December 10, 2016

Speak out! Call to action from The Bessies' Lucy Sexton

Lucy Sexton, Executive Director
New York Dance and Performance Awards, The Bessies
photo ©2015, Eva Yaa Asantewaa

Dear colleagues,

Lucy Sexton here, Executive Director of the NY Dance and Performance Awards, The Bessies. I am writing with the urgent plea that we join together as cultural leaders at this time and collaborate in making statements about our core beliefs, in light of the threat posed to those beliefs and practices by the incoming government administration.

I was moved by this article by the journalist Sarah Kendzior who has studied authoritarian governments and asks her readers to “Write down what you value; what standards you hold for yourself and for others.  Write a list of things you would never do. Because it is possible that in the next year, you will do them.”

I think it is time for all major cultural organizations in our city to make a public statement stating their values. This can be lifted directly from your mission statement and the verbiage you use when submitting grants. Something clearly stating your organization’s commitment to diversity, to freedom of expression and freedom of religion, to LGBT and women’s rights, more as you see fit. In this way we can say to the world that we will continue to stand for these truly American ideals; and we can remember to hold ourselves to these standards when the going gets tough.

I refer you to these articles on self censorship of a Trump-criticizing art exhibit* and on the withdrawal of foundation grants to a university after an anti-Trump rally.** We all know that difficult decisions about what to present and how to maintain funding will loom in the years ahead. Let us commit ourselves now to doing all in our power to resist the pressure to censor Muslim voices, immigrant stories, radical feminist work, openly pro-LGBT narratives, and so much more. It will be tough. The great work begins.

My goal is simply to do a press release drawing attention to the statements once a critical number of organizations have either submitted a statement or posted one on their own sites. The words are yours. Please let me know if you would like to participate in any way. Perhaps you have already released such a statement to your community. Just let me know where to find it.

I will also need help in reaching out to smaller and larger cultural organizations that I am not in touch with. Please feel free to recommend other institutions or groups you think should be included. If there is someone else at your organization that I should be in touch with, let me know. Please call or email with thoughts and questions and suggestions.

Thank you for your participation and support,

Lucy Sexton

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