By Rebecca Noon – our Artistic Associate for Community

Part of working in a non-profit theater means figuring out how to build support for your work. Often when we think of support, that translates into money, which we seek through donations, foundations, tickets, classes, corporate sponsorship, etc. However, sometimes support arrives in ways that aren’t financial. For the past few months, Trinity Rep has been engaging is one such process with an organization called OF/BY/FOR/ALL as part of their First Wave.

OF/BY/FOR/ALL began in 2011; a vision held by the incoming director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History (MAH), Nina Simon. From their website: Like so many colleagues in museums and libraries, theaters and universities, parks and churches, we struggled for funding, relevance, participation, and support. And so we started learning what mattered to our diverse community. We started opening our doors widely to new visitors, partners, and experiences. We invited in new voices, made hard decisions, experimented, and changed. The result was transformative. Within three years, attendance tripled. Three years later, it doubled again. We rebounded from years of furloughs to a strong and growing financial position. And the people walking through the MAH’s doors–as visitors, volunteers, collaborators, and donors–started reflecting the full diversity of our community. We became OF, BY, and FOR Santa Cruz County.

Last summer the MAH and OF/BY/FOR/ALL put out a call for organizations from around the world to be part of a pilot program to see how other orgs could incorporate this process into their work. Of nearly 100 proposals from around the world, Trinity Rep was selected as one of 20 organizations to be mentored in this energizing process. (You can see the full list of First Wave participants here.)

Inviting new collaborators into your work is long and full of many twists and turns. It’s also something we’ve been doing at Trinity Rep in one way or another for the past few years. In an effort to bring you, dear reader of this blog post, into the process without your eyes glazing over, I’ll just give you the most exciting bits of what OF/BY/FOR/ALL has brought thus far from my (very biased) point of view.

  1. They asked us to assemble a new kind of team. In order to apply for the First Wave we had to first put together a team representing a cross-section of Trinity Rep. Our team is Artistic Director Curt Columbus, Director of Development Jen Canole, Trustee Theresa Moore, Coordinator of Activism through Performance/Acting Company Member Joe Wilson, Jr, and me, Artistic Associate for Community. While I spend most of my days doing similar work, I never get to do it with this combination of people.
  2. We have weekly meetings and calls. I know for many people, weekly meetings don’t sound great, but what ends up in your calendar also prioritizes your time. In order to participate, we had to commit to meeting as a team once a week and then (even cooler) they put together an international phone call every week. Just the gumption it takes to figure out a common time for people in Providence, Santa Cruz, South Bend, Belfast, Albuquerque, and New Zealand is astonishing. Many times we’ll be on the video call and I’ll remember that some people are talking at 3:30 am! (And if you’re wondering, our common time is 11:30 am ET Wednesdays — we got off easy!!!!)

    A screenshot of our weekly call
  3. We’ve had to pledge a specific number, and a timeline for involving specific people. Inviting specific communities to collaborate is a huge part of my job, but through OF/BY/FOR/ALL we’re being asked to also name a number of people that we involve by March 30, 2019. Though this can seem clinical, as Nina Simon says, what gets measured gets done. I’ve seen incredible things happen because there were deadlines and numbers we had to hit, and this process is making me realize that community engagement would do well to give it a try consistently. (We are pledging to involve 25 parents, caregivers, and guardians of the young people in our YASI program)
  4. We get to define what “involvement” means. We are not yet in the stage of the process where we’ve even made this decision, so it’s hard to describe. However, at this point, we know we are inviting people into a new relationship, and our potential new partner will be part of defining that relationship. These aren’t transactions, but invitations to greater participation in each other’s lives.
  5. I finally see the clear difference between things that are OF, BY, or FOR. OF/BY/FOR/ALL differentiates between these words, which often become kind of general. Through this process, they ask us to define the involvement — is it being made OF our community (the people we want to involve are on our staff and board?), BY our community (they are collaborating with us on programs), or FOR our community (we’re making a play we hope they like). Again, we don’t know what will happen, but in our conversations, we’ve realized that we often focus on the FOR, which means we have a lot of room to become more OF and BY.
  6. We get to meet up as a global cohort in Santa Cruz in January. I don’t think this one needs any more explanation.

So stay tuned, friends! Much will come of this, I’m sure. And if you’re someone who runs an org and you’re wondering how to get more involved, the news gets even better. OF/BY/FOR/ALL is officially becoming its own org, separate from the MAH in 2019, which I’m sure means it will have an even greater capacity to work with even more organizations. Over here at Trinity Rep we totally recommend it!