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Erica Daniels to Exit Victory Gardens Following Protests

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Erica Daniels, executive director of Chicago's Victory Gardens Theater, announced on Monday that she would be leaving her position at the theater a decision to board up the theater's exterior windows during demonstrations protesting the police killing of George Floyd, which sparked protests last week.

In a statement, Daniels said, "Early last week, after listening to the voices of the artists, staff and others in the artistic community who expressed disagreement and growing outrage with decisions by the Board after Chay Yew resigned, I had decided to cede the Artistic Director role...Unfortunately, the vitriol has really escalated in recent days, which included many hurtful and personal accusations and misstatements about me. I care too much about Victory Gardens and its mission to let this continue, and therefore I have decided to leave the Theater. I have always been committed to the mission and values of Victory Gardens and leave here very proud of the outstanding work that Chay and I did together."

Board Chair Steve Miller, has also announced that he will step down as chair while remaining on the board.

King said in a statement, "I regret that a more transparent process did not occur, I should have listened more to members of the community, as well as to board members who attempted to guide a more equitable and inclusive process. As the board leader, I take full responsibility for these flaws. I feel that the accusations that have been aimed at Erica are undeserved, and it saddens me that Victory Gardens is losing a person who has done so much for the theater and our entire community."

The board said that it has "pledged to conduct a more transparent and inclusive process to identify and fill both leadership positions in the near future."

Leading activist Wardell Julius Clark said of the decision, "This is very good news. It shows the power of the collective voice at this pivotal cultural moment. Protests work, raising your voice works. We look forward to the next steps of this vital institution."

Over 100 members of the Chicago theatre community gathered at the Victory Gardens Theater last week to protest the decision. Before the protest began, artists transformed the theater's boarded up windows into billboards. One photo shows a board plastered with "Say Their Names" along with the names of several Black people who have had their lives taken.

Many people felt compelled to share these words due to the theater's decision to board up, rather than open their lobbies for protesters to seek refuge, as many other theaters have done.

"I felt compelled to do this because I've worked in this theater for years and I've been taught about equality by this theater, and I've been taught about a safe space." said the scenic designer William Boles, who said he was one of the organizers. "To see a theater that I respect being silent during this time is very upsetting. There is nothing on their signage. Just empty plywood."

Many former employees and collaborators of the theater have also taken issue with the fact that Victory Gardens has chosen not to replace Artistic Director Chay Yew, who is leaving the theater at the end of June. They have instead chosen to combine the position with that of executive director Erica Daniels.

Daniels responded to the concerns in a statement to the Tribune, stating, "Rest assured, we are listening to all voices and reflecting on the concerns being raised. While we understand the desire to take swift action, we want to be deliberate in our decisions and make sure we incorporate all of the information we are receiving. That said, we will share news soon containing concrete actions to address the community's concerns, and that reflect our unwavering mission to create an inclusive theater experience."

Read the original story, and view photos, at the Chicago Tribune.


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