Enrich Evanston encourages discussion of diversity in local arts


Source: Penelope Sachs

A woman and a child attend the diversity workshop held by Enrich Evanston in October. Enrich Evanston aims to increase diversity and inclusion efforts within the Evanston arts.

Kelley Czajka, Assistant A&E Editor


Fifteen members of four Evanston arts organizations are “soul searching” in the hope of finally addressing issues with inclusivity within the city’s arts communities that have been ignored in the past.

Enrich Evanston is an informal grouping of the Actors Gymnasium, Evanston Dance Ensemble, Evanston Symphony Orchestra and the North Shore Choral Society, who have teamed up with the joint goal to increase diversity and inclusion in the arts.

Enrich Evanston chair Penelope Sachs, a viola player for the Evanston Symphony Orchestra, said all the organizations aim to reach the entire Evanston community, but they are all deeply rooted in white culture and often fail to address inclusivity issues.

“It was a difficult subject and one that we park on the side and say, ‘OK, that’s something that we have to talk about’,” Sachs said. “But it’s too difficult, so we don’t.”

A speech about racial inequity in funding for the arts, given by community organizer Angelique Power at a statewide arts conference last spring, prompted Sachs and members of the other three organizations to take action.

Power had previously started an organization called Enrich Chicago for members of larger Chicago arts organizations to discuss their shortcomings with diversity and inclusion. Sachs and other representatives adopted this concept and created Enrich Evanston, hoping their collective dialogue would increase the likelihood of addressing such issues and working toward enforcing change.

Enrich Evanston’s first year has been devoted to racial equity training in which the 15 members engage in discussions analyzing the definition and history of diversity as well as promoting better understanding of white prejudice in the arts, Sachs said.

Virginia Nugent, the executive director of Actors Gymnasium, said this prejudice must be taken down in order to make a difference.

“What’s actually required to fix the conversation is for the majority culture to let go of their own privilege and celebrate and uplift all the ethnic, cultural activity that’s already happening in our communities of color in Evanston,” Nugent said.

One measure Enrich Evanston took to broaden the discussion of diversity issues was a public diversity workshop in October, led by Dr. Gilo Kwesi Logan and Dino Robinson.

Robinson, the founder of Shorefront Legacy Center, a black history educational institution, spoke of the divided communities in Evanston and the implications this has had on unifying the local arts world.

“When you have one group that’s a primary gatekeeper, it tends to be a monolithic dialogue,” Robinson said. “So if the doors of diversity open up and really show what a rich cultural exposure can do, then it just enriches everybody’s life.”

The workshop’s main goal was to engage more of the Evanston community in this discussion, Sachs said.

“There’s plenty of other discussions that are going on in Evanston; it’s just the hot topic at the moment, which I’m really pleased about,” she said.

In order for the community initiative to work, Robinson said word-of-mouth promotion among various arts centers is crucial since many people tend to lack the incentive to engage in meaningful discussions unless they are directly invited.

“(There has) never been in a group effort like this where you have multiple arts organizations together listening to the same message and being challenged to take those questions and thought processes back to their board,” Robinson said.

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