Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the 87-year-old regional-theater stalwart that has become a leading player in the theater industry’s push to increase diversity, equity and inclusion, has partnered with management consultancy and “tech-enabled change management platform” Reframe to incorporate data and algorithms into its DEI efforts to rethink its operations.
Over the last several years, and particularly since the uprisings for racial justice in 2020, nonprofit theater institutions and commercial organizations on Broadway and around the country have re-examined the power structures and economic forces that have engendered longstanding inequities in the industry. The majority of Broadway shows, for instance, have created ongoing positions for DEI directors, while some nonprofits including the Public Theater have worked to decentralize power by creating multiple artistic leadership positions.
A large-scale theater company in Ashland, Ore., with three stages and an operating budget of $40 million, Oregon Shakespeare Festival has become a high-profile bellwether of the theater industry’s DEI push ever since Nataki Garrett, the Black woman who is the company’s artistic director, revealed earlier this fall that she’d received death threats that prompted the hiring of a private security detail.
Recognizing that OSF’s efforts to shift its cultural dynamics are being closely watched by the theater business, the company’s leadership hopes the joint work with Reframe will serve as a model for other organizations.
“For me, one of the goals of this work is sharing it,” said Anyania Muse, OSF’s managing director of IDEA (inclusion, diversity, equity and access), people, culture and operations. “I want people to utilize us as a test case.”
According to Reframe co-founder and CEO Jeffrey L. Bowman, the consulting firm starts by assessing an organization’s “cultural maturity” and then provides tech-enabled services and software that help shift attitudes and behaviors. At the center of the strategy is a workplace community platform that’s personalized for each employee and uses the data it collects to feed an algorithm that serves up content curated for each user’s needs and growth. “Think Facebook, but for work,” Bowman said.
The initial goal with OSF is to design a new, inclusive experience for employees “from prospecting to onboarding to engaging on a regular basis,” he said. In theory, those internal cultural changes will eventually inform external shifts in how OSF interacts with its community and attracts new audiences.
The work with OSF is the second in the arts and culture sector for Reframe, which in 2019 teamed with the Arts and Science Council in Charlotte, N.C. to rethink its approach to the marketplace. Muse said she hoped Reframe’s focus on ongoing engagement will lead to shifts at OSF that, working in tandem with the company’s human resources department, will go beyond check-the-box compliance. “We want to do something that shifts the culture of this behemoth of an organization,” she said.
“We hope to be a framework for operationalizing change so it becomes sustainable and scalable,” Bowman said. “If we get this right, it could be a model for modernizing arts and culture organizations.”
OSF and Reframe launched their partnership in August. Muse said she expected that in the coming months, she and Garrett would share details of the Reframe work with colleagues in the field through their pre-existing artistic relationships and within organizations such as Theatre Communications Group.
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