By Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2017 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
On December 29, Arts-Louisville published an article entitled, “Louisville Performing Arts Redeem 2016.” It was a year in review opinion written mostly be myself, with contributions from two other people who are frequent contributors to Arts-Louisville, and a few quotes from reviews from other contributing writers. As with any such attempt to summarize a busy performing arts community such as we find ourselves in, there were omissions, but the intention of such an article is not to authoritatively catalog each and every company or production that took to a stage in the previous twelve months, rather to call attention to important highlights and achievements. It is, by definition, a highly subjective undertaking and therefore will always be lacking in some respects.
However, I am guilty of one glaring and highly embarrassing deficiency in this instance, which was that the article initially made no specific mention of any of the work being done by African American theatre companies. Certainly there were actors and performers of color and varying racial identity involved in many of the productions cited: African American, Asian American, Irish and Russian-born emigres, as well as several Hispanic performers could be cited, but the exclusion of African-American theater in the year end review was, however inadvertent, inexcusable and did not accurately reflect my awareness of the work being done by theater artists, actors, writers, and directors of color in Louisville.
As Managing Editor of Arts-Louisville.com I apologize for this unfortunate and crucial oversight. The original article was amended to include two instances of excellence in African-American theater and theater education that made a particular impression on me in 2016. While this is clearly a limited representation of entities such as the African American Theatre Program at the University of Louisville, Youth Repertory Theatre Troupe of Louisville, Kentucky Black Repertory, Smoked Apple Theater Group, and Faith Works Studios, it did fit the general editorial thrust of the article.
For me personally, the reaction has proved an important lesson in how even the best intentions do not always protect us from folly. As a white man, I consider myself an ally for racial justice and equality, and have endeavored for Arts-Louisville’s mission to embrace the economic, social, and racial diversity of arts in this city. As an individual and a cultural commentator, I work to understand and hope to be educated by such a range of arts experiences. Yet there is no question that I fell prey to the trap of white privilege in this instance, and it is humbling to witness myself so easily stumble in this way.
I use the word lesson because I have confidence that Arts-Louisville will be bettered by this experience. The grind and routine of such an enterprise can make us complacent, and Janelle Renee’s powerful and eloquent reaction to the article prompted an important dialogue. We are pleased to publish her formal editorial response here. In the coming weeks, we welcome Ms. Renee onto our roster of available reviewers. It is my hope that she will help us do better by bringing her unique perspective to the table.
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of PUBLIC on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.