Is Your Organization Ready for Full-Scale Change? Check Your Readiness Now.

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Last month, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation invited me to an energizing event about the civic role of the arts in Manchester England. Speaker after speaker shared powerful projects that deepened inclusivity and relevance. Then, one of those speakers--Matt Fenton of Contact Theater--made a crucial observation. "You can’t just mythologize projects," Matt warned. "Structural inequality only changes when you address and change the structures behind the projects.”

At OF/BY/FOR ALL, our goal is to help institutions change the structures behind the projects. The Change Network provides tools, coaching, and accountability for systemic, inclusive change. Institutional change is complex. It doesn't happen through individual projects alone. Sometimes, an organization can take on a single visionary project, but after that project is over, the vision fades. Like a rubber band, the organization “snaps back” to its traditional way of working. In the OF/BY/FOR ALL Change Network, we’re trying to equip teams to go further: to change mindsets, policies, and ways of working for the long-term.

Having led full-scale change at the MAH in Santa Cruz, I know it takes years of changes to policy and perspectives--and many leaps of faith along the way. But what does it look like at the onset? What indicators signal that an institution is ready to change?

Today, we're releasing the OF/BY/FOR ALL Change Network readiness check. It's a 3-minute quiz you can use to get a sense of how ready for change your organization is (and whether you are ready to consider joining the Change Network).

This readiness check is grounded in research on the effectiveness of the OF/BY/FOR ALL Change Network. We've asked Slover Linett Audience Research to help us evaluate the effectiveness of the Change Network as we pilot and grow. We’re now in our second wave of Change Network piloting, working with 38 diverse organizations in 9 countries. One thing we’re researching is what factors lead to a team being successful--or struggling--in the Change Network.

What makes an organization ready for institutional change?

Based on our observations and Slover Linett’s research, we’ve identified six key indicators that an organization is ready to make systemic change:

  1. Institutional change is driven by urgency. The organization needs a “why” that feels critical right now. A sense of urgency and clarity about why this change matters. You may not know how to proceed, but you know that you must.

  2. Institutional change can’t happen alone. You need a team of individuals from across the organization--from different departments, positions, and levels--who are committed to change.

  3. Institutional change requires leadership. You need a brave individual (maybe you?) who is ready to be the team’s champion. The champion coordinates the work, holds space for change, and fights resistance along the way.

  4. Institutional change requires support from the top. The top executive and the board must endorse, or ideally, directly participate in the work of the team.

  5. Institutional change takes time. The team needs to be able to commit time to this change alongside their “regular” work. This is a capacity-building effort. It takes time and space for people to practice new ways of working with community.

  6. Institutional change takes money. The team needs to commit funds--both to participate in an organizational development program (like the OF/BY/FOR ALL Change Network) and to initiate new work with their community. This money often comes from a change-motivated leader, trustee, or an activist outside funder.

You can make some change without all these things. Sometimes you have all six within your own department, but not on the scale of the entire institution. Sometimes you have three or four of these but not all six. We encourage you to get moving--and changing--regardless of how many boxes you can check.

But if you want to change your whole institution, or if you feel stuck and siloed in your efforts, consider which of these six may be missing. It may be more valuable to your change efforts to do the internal work to build readiness rather than doing yet another wonderful project that will get ignored or sidelined. That’s why we encourage anyone interested in the Change Network to first do the internal work to build the team, the resources, and the will to participate. You will go further, and make more permanent changes, if you have all six.

We created this readiness check to help you evaluate your position and to help us build a prioritized waitlist for the Change Network program. We’re planning to open up a limited Third Wave this fall. When we do, we will offer Third Wave spots to organizations that are ready to make deep, lasting change with our support. Are you ready?

Putting on a Black Play Doesn't Break Down Barriers: How Trinity Rep Creates Community Dialogue

From October 2018-March 2019, 21 diverse organizations participated in the First Wave pilot of the OF/BY/FOR ALL Change Network. We’re sharing stories from their journeys to become of, by, and for the communities that matter most to them. These stories were written by Titania Veda in partnership with the First Wave teams.

“Art, at its core, is not a commodity”

“I grew up in a family that only saw art as a luxury item. When we had a bit of money, we went bowling or to a fast food restaurant. Art was for the "other." I always viewed my role as an art maker as a job that was expendable. I understood my place as an art maker from a place of commodity versus from a place of service,” said Joe Wilson Jr.

Today, Joe Wilson Jr. lives and works in full service to the arts. Joe is Trinity Repertory Theater’s Coordinator of Activism Through Performance. Joe has been a member of the resident acting company since 2005, a school liaison, and a community connector in Providence, Rhode Island. Performing, serving on various boards, and teaching regularly at schools, Joe is one of Trinity Rep’s most recognized faces onstage and off.

“Art, at its core, is not a commodity. It is a response to the world around us and our desire to seek truth and justice, and celebrate our common humanity,” said Joe.

Joe Wilson Jr. in Oklahoma!    (Photo: Mark Turek)

Joe Wilson Jr. in Oklahoma! (Photo: Mark Turek)

“Putting on a black play doesn't break down barriers”

Trinity Rep has tried many approaches over the years to involve and reflect their diverse community in Providence. They were early adopters of color-blind casting, which sometimes proved problematic. Trinity Rep also focuses on diverse programming, such as bilingual plays and sensory-friendly shows. But Trinity Rep remains largely supported and enjoyed by older, white audience members.

“Putting on a black play doesn't break down barriers for people who have historically felt un-welcomed in institutions we assume are welcoming communal spaces. Even a great production like Black Odyssey doesn't guarantee folks will have the capacity, the will, or the inspiration to pick up a phone and buy a ticket," said Joe.

Cloteal L Horne, Joe Wilson Jr., and the company of black odyssey.    (Photo: Mark Turek)

Cloteal L Horne, Joe Wilson Jr., and the company of black odyssey. (Photo: Mark Turek)

Indeed, the situation Joe faced in his youth remains prevalent with families today. Theatre, like other art forms, continues to be seen as a luxury item. When it comes to being inclusive to various communities, there are socio-economic factors to consider according to Theresa Moore, a Trinity Rep board member. 

“People have obligation or needs, which means a choice between $40 for a ticket versus something else your family might need. If you’re going to spend that money on a ticket, you want to spend it on programing that's representative of your culture and community. To see things that are of, by, and for your community,” said Theresa. 

“An opportunity for our community to have a conversation”

In 2015, Rebecca Noon, Artistic Associate for Community, presented Joe with the opportunity to participate in a residency called Every 28 Hours, a theatrical response to the killing of Michael Brown and related events in Ferguson, Missouri. The play was brought back to Providence and grew into Trinity Rep’s America Too project, an annual event created of, by, and for the community in response to local issues. 

For example, in 2017, Rhode Island Latino Arts (RILA) and Trinity Rep co-hosted a reading of Just Like Us, a play based on the real story of DREAMers that shows the human cost of ending the DACA program. 

Just Like Us (2017) - Joe Wilson, Jr. and participants.    (Photo: Mark Turek)

Just Like Us (2017) - Joe Wilson, Jr. and participants. (Photo: Mark Turek)

“America Too is an opportunity for our community to have a conversation about the arts. The challenge with Trinity Rep is that it’s still perceived as inaccessible. There’s still a disconnect with the outreach. It’s not about sending an email out but making inroads to have face-to-face communication and building relationships,” said April H Brown, Langston Hughes Community Poetry Reading Program Director and a 2019 America Too playwright. 

The birth of America Too and Joe’s new role were one of several strategic steps Trinity Rep made to invest in community engagement and deepen their efforts to shift the lens from transactional to transformational art. 

“The Every 28 Hours plays began the process of me thinking of my work as a writer but also of thinking of my work as a critical way we can engage communities in dialogue. It's not just about me making a play that I hope people come to see but it's about me using my work to make work of, by, and for - that can reflect our community and that can be a way that community can continue to engage in healthy dialogue,” said Joe. 

“The power that I have for positive change”

Trinity Rep aims to become more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. They also want to resonate with modern society. This required a shift in thinking about the theater’s programming and outreach, asking questions like: Is this building community? Is this furthering the agenda of community? Does this speak to my community? Does my community care about this?

“I wouldn't understand the relationship a play would have with my community unless I was out there, engaged with them,” said Joe. “Now I’m at the point in my career where I fully understand the power of how I can make other people feel, the power that I have for positive change, and the responsibility I have to promote that change and provide a space for that change.”

Rehearsal for  black odyssey  (2019) - Co-Directors Jude Sandy and Joe Wilson, Jr.    (Photo: Maxwell Snyder)

Rehearsal for black odyssey (2019) - Co-Directors Jude Sandy and Joe Wilson, Jr. (Photo: Maxwell Snyder)