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BWW Interview: What's Next for Broadway Advocacy Coalition? Checking In with the Arts Advocacy Org

Hear from BAC leadership- Britton Smith, Dria Brown and Susan Sturm.

BWW Interview: What's Next for Broadway Advocacy Coalition? Checking In with the Arts Advocacy Org

This past year has been a time of change for theatre, and one of the organizations leading the charge has been the Broadway Advocacy Coalition- founded by a group of Broadway artists in 2016.

BAC is an arts-based advocacy organization dedicated to creating equitable spaces and building the capacity of individuals and organizations to dismantle racism. Their recent work includes gathering a virtual crowd of over 11,000 participants for the three-day forum Broadway for Black Lives Matter, launching the Cody Renard Richard Scholarship program and the Artivism Fellowship program, along with the inaugural Broadway Vs and continuing their partnership with Columbia Law School through their full semester course, The Theater of Change: Reimagining Justice Through Abolition.

Below, we're checking in with BAC President/Co-Founder Britton Smith, Chief of Staff Dria Brown and Policy and Research Director Susan Sturm to reflect on the events of the past year and find out what's next.

Can you speak a bit to some of the incredible work that BAC has done this year and the response that you received from the community?

Britton Smith: During a global pandemic, we were able to use our storytelling to highlight issues surrounding race in the theater industry with public Forums, Days of healing and building a methodology for how the first day of rehearsal can incorporate working values that enable everyone's fullest participation and safety. While centering black voices we launched a fellowship and a scholarship to amplify and support the leadership of those directly affected by issues of racism. We additionally partnered with 24hr plays and RAPP to mobilize the inhumane conditions that incarcerated individuals were experiencing as a result of COVID-19.

What are you proudest of in what BAC accomplished with its 3-day forums?

BS: I'm most proud of the process of building the forum with our BAC team. Our team is incredibly brave and committed to building a space that both challenges and encourages a new reality. This comes from everyone showing up as their full selves. I'm proud of our organization for seeing this as an important pillar in change work and enabling the team to build effectively.

And congrats on the launch of the new scholarship and fellowship programs! What was the response like from your first batch of recipients?

Dria Brown: Nothing short of amazing! We welcomed in our cohort in December and have been in community with each other bi-monthly since then. Building community, a place where we all could feel seen, held, and affirmed, was/is our priority. There is nothing more exciting than a room full of black womxn; it feels like home.

Where are you in the process of their mentorships? Have seminars begun?

DB: Over the course of the six months, we are committed to connecting our fellows to inspiring black womxn in the arts and policy fields. We introduced the cohort to members to the Nominating Committee as our first Guest Artist session. Sharing space with the women who had a hand in building this fellowship was an essential first step to take. We wouldn't have the amazing talent we do without the help of Liza Jessie Peterson, Amber Iman, Andy Jean, Zakiyah Ansari, and Imani Mfalfe. We'll share space with the Joy Jackson Initiative, The Conciliation Project, Urban Word, and the Alliance for Quality Education.

Can you update us the latest on the Artivism Fellows?

DB: We've learned from the fellows a deep desire to learn from experts in these fields and allow themselves to be creatively inspired by their experiences. As it currently stands, the fellows are very focused on the creative process of building their pieces. These next few months, we will be guiding them into a more policy-focused thesis, so their performances/ presentations/ experiences become active vehicles of change that can go beyond the fellowship when it concludes.

I'm sure working with multidisciplinary artists is beyond inspiring- what has been the best part of uplifting and inspiring this group of artists?

DB: The best part of uplifting and inspiring these women is that it falls right back on me. This is a regenerative process and has been filled with incredible joy. To be able to honor the work of Black womxn as a Black womxn feels revolutionary. These ten fellows are paving the way towards a better future.

Can you tell us a bit about what is going on with BAC's partnership with Columbia Law School and more specifically, the Theatre For Change course that just started?

Susan Sturm: This year's Theater of Change course takes the partnership with Columbia Law School to a new level. The course brings together law students, people directly impacted by incarceration, Broadway artists, and stage and theater management students from Columbia's School of the Arts to learn how to use storytelling where it can really change policies.

This year's focus is on Reimagining Justice Through Abolition. We have identified 6 project areas, which include Restorative Justice and Diversion, Sentencing and Parole Reform, Safety and Discipline in Schools, Reproductive Justice and Sexual Health of communities affected by incarceration, Immigration and Family Separation, and Mental Health and Substance Support. Building on the foundation laid in the first 3 sessions, each project group will develop a performance piece and an engagement strategy that uses the performance piece as part of advocacy or policy work. Through the relationships developed and pieces created, the Theater of Change aims to have a transformative impact on the participants, the audience, and the policy arenas targeted by the projects.

Are there plans for the course to continue beyond this semester?

SS: Yes. We will be offering the course next year, and plan to expand to include other area law schools. We will also support participating individuals and organizations in incorporating the Theater of Change methods into their advocacy, artistry, and pedagogy. The method is being used in other aspects of BAC's work, including efforts to build equitable theater productions.

What are your hopes/goals for BAC in the near and distant future?

BS: I hope to build our network of donors to ensure that the resources that were shared in 2020 are consistent. We received a lot of support and as we get back to work and whatever sense of normalcy, I'm committed to staying loud so that the priority of support advocacy organizations stays in the front of peoples minds because this work is far from over and requires a staff of individuals who need proper resources and support to uplift the standard of equity forward.

SS: I hope that law students and lawyers will see artistry as a crucial component of an effective change strategy, and that directly impacted advocates and artists will achieve their rightful place at the center of decision making in the Broadway industry, the legal field, and the efforts to transform the criminal legal system.

Why do you think it's so important that the community pauses to recognize the contributions that black artists have made to Broadway and to the theatre industry as a whole?

DB: Black Artists deserve better period. If we aren't celebrating the lives of Black Artists who are currently making history, what are we doing? In celebrating the lives and legacies of all of the Black Artists who paved the way (and built New York City), it is crucial that it does not stop at mere recognition but leans into genuine and intentional.

SS: The goal is not only to recognize the contributions of Black artists to the theater industry, but to understand the centrality of artists of color to the health and impact of the theater industry. By taking the steps necessary to recognize the contributions and insure full participation of Black artists and theater makers, the industry will be doing what's needed to ensure the success and thriving of the field when the future remains uncertain. To do otherwise would be to perpetuate an unsustainable status quo.

BS: It's always important. Go to your calendars and make every month February if this is the reminder that you need.

Founded in 2016 by members of the Broadway community as a direct response to the nation's pandemic of racism and police brutality, the Broadway Advocacy Coalition is a multidisciplinary organization which unites artists, legal experts and community leaders to create lasting impact on policy issues from criminal justice reform to education equity to immigration. Via its partnership with the Center for Institutional and Social Change at Columbia Law School, BAC has collaborated with institutions across New York City, including the New York City Council, Bronx Defenders, and the Brooklyn District Attorney's office.

To learn more about their work, and to get involved, visit their website at or follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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