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Reaching Racial Equity In The Performing Arts: Musicians, Actors Meet In Broward To Share Ideas

Panelists pose for a photo following the Arts for Action event as a photographer stands in the foreground holding a camera
Jenn Sierra / Broward Center For The Performing Arts
Photographer Gregory Reed snaps a picture of the panel at the end of the evening. From left to right: Kev Marcus, Wil Baptiste, moderator Neki Mohan, Syndee Winters, Darius V. Daughtry, Kelley Shanley.

A small — masked and distanced — in-person audience, as well as people on Zoom watched the event, which was the launch of the Broward Center's initiative Arts For Action: Black Voices.

This post has been updated.

Musicians and artists met inside the Broward Center For The Performing Arts Wednesday night to discuss an action plan for ending racial inequality and promoting social justice in the world of performing arts.

Wil Baptiste and Kev Marcus have been thinking of ways to make the arts more accessible to Black communities during the years they've been performing together as the musical duo, Black Violin.

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During the panel discussion, Marcus shared that in between his childhood performances in school and Black Violin taking to the stage, it had been years since his mother visited the Broward Center. He spoke about what his vision of what art for all looks like:

"When I think of like, a really like socio-economically diverse place in South Florida —everybody — rich, poor, Black, white, purple, everybody right? I think of Sawgrass [Mills] Mall," he said. "I would love to walk into a theater here and just look around and look like Sawgrass Mall — and then I look on the stage and it looks like Sawgrass Mall."

His violin partner, Baptiste, recounted what happens when he takes walks wherever Black Violin travels on tour:

"Sometimes I'll run into random peopl. and the person may say to me, 'Hey man I saw you on the flier, you them guys are y'all playing at the theater over there? Ah, man that's cool — I've never been there,'" Baptiste said. "That hurt me."

Baptiste said part of the solution, is performing arts centers need to be better about reaching out to Black communities.

"There's this gap there but we just gotta keep pushing, you gotta be intentional, and we'll get there," he said.

Darius V. Daughtry is a Broward County artist with many titles: poet, playwright, director, educator and leader of the nonprofit, Art Prevails Project. He also touched on what racial equity in the arts looks like to him.

"It isn't just a one off," he said. "It isn't just 'Here's one show in our season during February that highlights a thing, or during Pride Month that highlights a thing. [Racial equity] looks like these institutions, their seasons are diverse and what they offer throughout the year — the people that are on the stages — are diverse throughout the year. The people that are making decisions inside the institutions are diverse throughout the year."

He said this last year and a half of cries for creating social justice in different societal systems, has been tiring.

"I've been going to the beach a lot. I've not been a beach person, but I've spent a lot of time at the beach to reflect, to be one with nature, to connect in a way that I haven't before," Daughtry said. "That's why I've gotten a lot of great writing and expression just out there in solitude, just to get away from the noise, the maddening media blitz that is constant. So that's how I've taken care of myself. To just kind of be OK, and understand that I can't do everything, but I got to do what I what I have to do."

Broadway actress Syndee Winters, from "The Lion King" and "Hamilton," was also on the panel. She said what she hopes Wednesday's conversation leads to, is the next conversation about action steps.

"I want the powers-that-be who are here tonight to go, 'Oh you know, that makes sense. Let's have conversation about when we can change this,'" she said.

That's the Broward Center for the Performing Arts' goal — to have this first conversation in a series about racial equity inform the next event in the Arts For Action: Black Voices program.

"We wanted to very deliberately find a way that was appropriate for an arts organization to engage in this discussion," said Kelley Shanley, president and CEO of the Broward Center For The Performing Arts. "The most important thing we're hearing from folks in this movement is people need to listen. And what we know — is that the arts have that kind of power."

Caitie Muñoz, formerly Switalski, leads the WLRN Newsroom as Director of Daily News & Original Live Programming. Previously she reported on news and stories concerning quality of life in Broward County and its municipalities for WLRN News.
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