Trustees of Dartmouth College

Repairing Nations/Rebranding Ourselves: Rewriting the National Racial Narrative

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To learn more about – or provide significant funding to – this project, please contact Lever for Change.

Project Summary

Racism is flaring in the U.S.—robbing millions of their health, opportunity, wealth, and justice. To fully realize “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” that is a fundamental right for all and the cornerstone of this great democratic experiment, we must urgently promote interracial understanding. Persistent structural barriers suppress the voices of underrepresented communities so that authentic expression and discourse are marginalized. While narrative as cultural tool and methodology is a powerful mechanism for the exploration of diverse perspectives, and for the stimulation of public discourse, structural and financial obstacles limit access to these tools for structural change. The paradigm will shift from siloed institutions and leaders who have an historical stake in the stories of people of African descent for a national reconciliation and rebranding of the stories and depictions of people representing the African diaspora on American soil.

Problem Statement

Global audiences are missing a vital part of the story of humanity due to the misrepresentation of people of African descent. As a dominating force in global markets, the U.S. representation of Black people and culture through strategic dehumanization, minstrelsy, stereotyping and the repetition of criminalized narratives promote and profit from a limited view of Black culture, and perpetuate demeaning views of people of African descent. In 2019—400 years since the disgraceful Trans-Atlantic slave trade began—Black American popular culture and performance circulate around the world as valued commodities that are often consumed without regard for the social, spiritual, economic, or cultural vitality of Black communities. Recognizing that we’ve been using our art to heal for generations, our project coordinates designated sites for collective healing and reconciliation through art, particularly Black theatre and performance. This project will empower Black artists to overcome the structural and economic barriers that have kept people of African descent from controlling their narrative and owning their cultural capital. An influential study conducted in 2015 by the DeVos Institute of Arts Management [#1] showed major disparities in arts funding. The median budget for the 20 largest mainstream arts organizations was 16x greater than that for the 20 largest organizations of color. These massive disparities must be addressed so that Black artists have equal access to theatre and the arts, which are strategic levers for change as powerful venues for the exploration of different points of view and the stimulation of public discourse.

Solution Overview

We will grow a vast knowledge network in six hubs across the nation through which we will implement successful economic, educational, and creative models—identified at the 2018 International Black Theatre Summit—to create a durable ecosystem that supports Black cultural productions featuring topics that create opportunities for truth and reconciliation. Each hub will support ten “spoke” nonprofits in Black communities (i.e. theatres, museums, colleges, libraries) that will support thousands more artists and leaders through training, mentorship programs, and collaborations that address individual and collective traumas produced by racism through creative redress, healing and mental-wellness awareness and social and economic empowerment training. For example, each hub community will produce creative works over five years that identify the structural problem of racism. By creating an interconnected web of programming opportunities that include the creative, social, emotional and economic barriers that perpetuate representations of Black people in the U.S. as the historically oppressed, we facilitate community engagement with theater arts that inspire change beyond aesthetic and esoteric experiences of Black representation as entertainment. We seek to create a larger process-driven problem-solving that will allow us to track shifts in individual and collective perceptions in each hub. Using surveys, oral histories, and video capture of workshops, we will create a digital archive in each site that maps the changing perspectives of artists and community members as they witness the creative productions, engage in financial and emotional health workshops and participate in the truth and reconciliation commissions.

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Project Funders

  • Dartmouth College

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