As the executive director of ArtsEmerson, David Howse believes his mandate is connecting communities through the arts. In an interview for The Boston Globe’s Bold Types video series, he discusses how the city still has a ways to go in ensuring the arts are for all.
“We, as an arts and cultural community, have a storied history when it comes to being inclusive and welcoming to all people, and in spite of our best intentions, we haven’t gotten it right yet,” Howse says.
When ArtsEmerson, the professional presenting theater organization of Emerson College, launched a decade ago, it was created with a mission to let the city see itself reflected on stage.
“We wanted to figure out if we could actually create a space where everyone, even those who have not always traditionally felt welcome, could own these spaces and really belong here,” Howse says.
But being represented on stage is not the same as having diversity in the seats. Howse talks about the effort to create “authentic relationships” and “meaningful invitations,” with communities throughout the city.
“What we’re trying to do is undo a body of history that has disserved us. ... Our commitment is not to put one show on stage that reflects your experience but to commit to a series,” so audience members can see themselves reflected on stage.
He’s hoping that the company’s newest commission, “Detroit Red,” which portrays Malcom X’s early years in Boston, will contribute to that goal.
Howse speaks widely about his efforts to dismantle racism and unpack our biases, and he believes arts institutions offer a public forum for having those difficult conversations. In that sense, even challenging instances like when a school group recently faced racist comments at the Museum of Fine Arts are an opportunity for growth, he says.
“The incident at the MFA … was a gift, and one that we have to embrace,” he says. Such challenges force institutions to examine themselves and continue to evolve. “For me, it all goes back to our values. What are the shared values that we are agreeing to in these spaces? How do we communicate that? How do we hold ourselves accountable to them?”
Producers: Anush Elbakyan/Globe staff. Video Editor: Anush Elbakyan/Globe staff. Camera: Anush Elbakyan, Caitlin Healy, Shelby Lum/Globe staff .
Bold Types is a newsroom series presented by Koch Industries. The advertiser had no editorial role in the content production.