News Go behind the scenes with Omaha Performing Arts

Performing arts organizations talk inclusion, learn from each other

Posted On Oct 26, 2022, 15:21 PM by Sarah Kosch
(L to R) Aaron Gregory with panelists Coco Killingsworth, Marisol Sanchez Best, and Donna Walker-Khune

(L to R) Aaron Gregory with panelists Coco Killingsworth, Marisol Sanchez Best, and Donna Walker-Khune

Aaron Gregory, Community Engagement Specialist and IDEA committee co-chair, recently represented O-pa in the national conversation on inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility (IDEA) at the third annual Performing Arts Center Consortium (PACC) Education & Community Engagement Conference. The conference consisted of meetings, dialogues, panel discussions and enriching one-on-one conversations for attendees from across the U.S. and Canada to share and learn from each other about efforts to engage diverse communities with the performing arts.

Conference takeaways

Aaron joined panelists Coco Killingsworth (Brooklyn Academy of Music), Marisol Sanchez Best (Seattle Theater Group) and Donna Walker-Khune (New Jersey Performing Arts Center) for a candid conversation on successes and challenges around IDEA. They discussed efforts to make spaces more inclusive and built their networks beyond the conference for learning and resources.

“I made new bonds with Community Engagement members at other arts organizations and gained a new mentor!” said Aaron.

During the panel, he focused on O-pa’s recent successes with IDEA in the workplace—implementing equitable pay raises on par with national averages and adding Juneteenth and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service to O-pa’s work holidays so employees can engage with service, reflection and advancing their cultural knowledge of the Black experience.

Some of the challenges the panelists discussed include allowing space for discomfort when entering a community different than your own and balancing a sense of urgency with the reality that change is based on courageous conversations and building long-term relationships – something that can’t be rushed. When organizations fully support IDEA, “employees of color feel valued and heard and supported by a team to make effective change,” said Aaron. “I have a safe place where I can continue to do the work.”

O-pa’s IDEA Committee

O-pa’s IDEA efforts are led by Bianca Harley, Vice President of Human Capital and Inclusion, and a group of staff members in the IDEA committee. The committee’s purpose is to ensure inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility are continually part of O-pa’s focus both internally and externally. The committee works closely with HR to ensure IDEA is a core value in both theory and practice throughout the entire organization by offering learning opportunities and professional development for staff members. Recent endeavors include a staff book club, documentary screenings and an anti-racism workshop led by the band Las Cafeteras in conjunction with the Voices AMPLIFIED! series. They also collaborate with O-pa’s staff-led accessibility committee to ensure the venues, website and programming allow everyone to experience them without barriers.

“We’re making sure people are diving in deeper and continuously learning about IDEA initiatives throughout the country and the world,” said Taylor Wyatt, Education Manager and co-chair of the IDEA committee.

Externally, the committee focuses on O-pa’s Community Engagement efforts: how O-pa supports cultural events throughout Omaha by volunteering, sponsoring events or contributing our event and programming expertise.

“We’re working to make sure that all different communities know that we’re supporting them,” said Taylor. “We’re asking how can we as the largest arts institution in Nebraska support them?”

Both Aaron and Taylor highlighted the importance of having leadership support of IDEA work and how that has helped O-pa’s initiatives gain traction.

Looking to the future, the IDEA committee is working on refocusing its efforts and making sure O-pa staff continue on the same page. They also hope to create more resources for the community including a calendar of events so anyone looking to support local organizations and cultural events can easily find a way to get involved.