We have reevaluated our EDI efforts from the past five years in the areas of Theatre Programming, Museum and Education Programming, Production, Audience Outreach and Development, Board of Trustees Representation, Recruitment and Hiring, Internal Communications, Individual Personal Development.
June 2017 – Present
International Coalition of Sites of Conscience is the only global network of historic sites, museums and memory initiatives that connects past struggles to today’s movements for human rights.
Organization-wide training sessions on activating the power of a historic site and a place of memory to engage the public with a deeper understanding of the past and inspire action to shape a just future.
Creating a comprehensive Interpretative Plan that will provide guidance for all in-person and online interpretation and exhibition development
Training all visitor-facing museum and historic site staff, including many NPS rangers, in specific techniques for engaging visitors in dialogue about “hard history”
Articulating Ford’s Theatre Society’s “foundational” truths about our history that the institution will not debate and that provide a backbone for front-line interpretation. (For examples, see Education below)
January 2020 – Present
The Empathetic Museum (EM). A collaborative of museum consultants dedicated to creating more empathetic cultural institutions, with an initial focus on internal culture. Our work includes training to create a clear vision of Ford’s role as a public institution within our community that considers our audiences, visitors, stake holders, staffing, artistic programming, productions, museum exhibitions, emergency responses, education, communications and social media presence. The initial training was expanded to lay the foundation for an anti-racist organization. As a result of the training, the staff has:
Formulated a set of organizational values (see values above)
Created Ford’s Anti-Racism Committee (ARC)
ARC’s mission is to advocate a cultural change within the Ford’s structure by proposing anti-racist policies and programming to build a more equitable organization for all who engage with the site.
ARC convenes a weekly, virtual coffee chat. The chat is a staff-driven safe space for all employees to share, discuss and process any number of topics affecting the Ford’s community.
April 2021 – Present
Ascension Worldwide (AW). A minority-owned consulting firm committed to helping clients achieve workplace inclusion, employee diversity and innovative growth opportunities.
AW is completing a comprehensive organization-wide assessment on past and current EDI work and practices by surveying, holding focus groups and holding interviews across our organization.
In preparation for our return to producing live theatre, the artistic/production department completed a four-day training that included sessions on recognizing unconscious bias, microaggressions and resolving conflicts.
The rest of the staff will be completing similar training in the coming months.
Ford’s hired Erica Lauren Ortiz as Director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. This senior leadership position is tasked with leading all of Ford’s EDI efforts, optimizing organizational culture, aligning Ford’s diversity and inclusion goals with the work we present as a cultural institution and helping our team respond to ongoing external cultural changes or policies. Learn more.
Ford's hired Leah Yoon Frelinghuysen as Director of External Communications and Marketing. She will manage and evolve the institution’s comprehensive marketing, communication and digital content strategy and audience development promotional activities, and oversee the box office and visitor services teams for the institution. Learn more.
Sheldon Epps joined as Senior Artistic Advisor. Epps stepped into the new role as the theatre reevaluated its 2020-2021 season amid the national reckoning for racial justice and the impacts of COVID-19 on live performances. Epps also leads The Ford's Theatre Legacy Commissions initiative with Director of Artistic Programming José Carrasquillo and The Lincoln Legacy Commissions Advisor Sydne Mahone. Learn more about Sheldon (PDF).
Ford’s Theatre has broadened efforts to diversify its board to better reflect the community we serve. Sixty-seven percent of new Trustees in 2021 identify as BIPOC, with 30 percent of the current full board identifying as BIPOC.
Ford’s Theatre is committed to diversifying all aspects of its programming.
- Artistic staff is engaged ongoing dialogue with BIPOC colleagues and artists across the country, including the Black Artist Coalition (BAC), a group of Black theatre-makers in the D.C. area.
- Ford’s has renewed its focus on BIPOC and women playwrights to expand the stories and themes we produce and celebrate.
- All theatrical projects are evaluated with an eye toward radical inclusion.
- Sheldon Epps joined the Ford’s Theatre artistic team as Senior Artistic Advisor in August 2020.
- Ford’s has an all BIPOC casting team.
- The artistic programming team is majority BIPOC.
- BIPOC actors have represented more than 50 percent of all hired actors during the past three theatrical seasons.
- The Ford's Theatre Legacy Commissions will engage an unprecedented number of BIPOC playwrights to write new theatrical works intent on expanding our understanding of the complex issues surrounding the United States’ racial history and give voice to previously unknown BIPOC figures and/or stories. The Inaugural group of five playwrights was announced in May of 2021.
- Our virtual and podcast Cabinet Conversations series is an artistic directive that streams interviews with scholars, artists and national leaders as they think aloud about the future of the arts, civics and history.
Weekly meetings with production and artistic staff are held to assess, evaluate and adapt our policies to ensure inclusive and anti-racism practices.
EDI and anti-racism training is standard practice for the entire production staff—all hired artists, backstage personnel, front of house staff, daytime visit volunteers and ushers.
For the 2021-2022 season, Ford’s has implemented:
- Comprehensive production schedules for each show.
- Five-day rehearsal weeks.
- No more “10-out-of-12" hour technical rehearsals.
- Culturally appropriate dramaturgs and consultants as necessitated by each production.
- All artists are compensated for any production-related work outside of rehearsals and performances.
Ford’s has developed a set of audience Rules of Engagement to welcome our visitors and encourage them to experience Ford’s on their terms.
Museum Exhibition and Education Program
Ford's Theatre aims to make lasting and impactful change that prioritizes and highlights inclusivity in our storytelling and in our organization as a whole.
Starting in 2017, Ford’s embarked upon a comprehensive reimagining of our Interpretive Plan, including a series of foundational truths, or historical statements that the institution will not debate, with the support of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience and HG&Co.’s Kate Haley Goldman. Those are:
- The Civil War and John Wilkes Booth’s assassination of Abraham Lincoln were motivated by the desire to perpetuate an economic, political and social system of white racial superiority, of which slavery was an integral part.
- Political violence happened at Ford’s Theatre. Such acts are serious and have long-ranging implications for all aspects of society.
- Lincoln was an extraordinary leader, and, like all of us, was a fallible, complex human being, whose legacy continues to evolve.
Implementing the foundational truths and the Interpretive Plan has led Ford's to make changes to our practice, including:
- Shaping our educational programming to focus on thinking critically about memory and memorialization.
- Intentionally including African-American voices and other voices of people of color in the historical narratives on our website and in all our educational initiatives.
- Adding silhouettes of people of color to expand the range of default silhouettes used in first-person accounts on the website.
- Future plans to reimagine the museum exhibit experience in ways that immerse visitors in Civil War-era Washington, so that the diverse stories of those Lincoln encountered are told with care and given the space they deserve.
- Including staff in a week-long training about teaching race with the National Museum of African American History and Culture, followed by a months-long facilitator training with Challenging Racism, a non-profit based in Arlington, VA. These trainings led to partnerships with Challenging Racism and the Center for Inspired Teaching as additional ways to strengthen our teacher workshops and resource materials and to develop new strategies for centering student voice in our oratory programs.
Expansion of existing accessibility options throughout the pandemic have included:
- Improved digital offerings for those requiring audio and visual accommodations.
- Descriptive tours of the site to visitor s who request this accommodation without advance notice.
- Alternative text for all images on our website to make the content fully accessible for those who use screen readers.
- Live automated captioning.
- Captioning on all videos on our social media and YouTube channels.
- Large-print, braille and Spanish-language translations of select materials are available.
Audience development and ticket access initiatives for students and underserved communities.
- Ford’s continues its commitment to offer more than 1,700 free performance tickets to our mainstage productions during the 2021-22 season. More than 6,000 tickets have been given away since the start of the Free First Preview initiative, which seeks to remove price barriers and build audiences in a more inclusive way.
For more information on Ford’s Theatre accessibility options including Sensory-Friendly events and performances throughout the year please visit: https://www.fords.org/visit/accessibility/.
Ford’s supports and advocates inclusive staff hiring practices at every level of our organization. This includes standardized EDI language in all posted job openings as well as a commitment to reaching BIPOC candidates through targeted recruitment practices, as well as re-examining job qualifications to be as inclusive as possible.
Active participation by staff members in both local and national groups providing both EDI, as well as specifically anti-racism training and guidance have included:
- Ten Chimneys: With a progressive mission to serve the arts, the group has convened regional theatres from across the country
- TheatreWashington: In partnership with Abolishing Racism and Oppression in the Workplace (AROW) – Community of Practice training
- Leadership Greater Washington Anti-Racist Leadership series
- LatinX Theatre Commons in partnership with Emerson College and HowlRound: Unpacking our Identities Through Unconscious Bias
- Association of Fundraising Professionals IDEA training
Ford’s has an explicit open-door policy so that everyone on staff may communicate with members of the senior staff and leadership team to offer ideas and feedback. This open communication provides channels to report instances of racism, discrimination, sexual harassment and inappropriate or harmful behavior. Ford’s Theatre Society has a stated non-retaliatory policy across every department as well as a sexual harassment policy in place.