I hope this email finds you safe and in good health. As 2021 comes to an end, I find myself reflecting on what I’ve learned while living through a global catastrophe that affects us all. In the beginning of the pandemic, Kyoung’s Pacific Beat held space with Cara Page, an architect of the healing justice movement, to name what we’re experiencing – public trauma – and identify the organizing principles that could help our community support each other in a moment like this.
“To care” seemed obvious, but not something I had put much thought into. In a world dominated by capitalism and competition, to care for oneself and one’s best interest felt like the default choice to make. But in the wake of a global pandemic and system shutdowns, to care for one another challenged us to humanize the systems and institutions we had taken for granted – whether these were a theater, a school, a hospital, and even simpler spaces like a coffee shop and public square.
Social infrastructures can no longer be taken for granted. Belonging to a local community of artists, theater-makers, and progressive activists who no longer had a space to gather, I was challenged to think how our theater company could become a shared space to practice community care, all while dealing with the challenges of living in quarantine and maintaining social distance in order to responsibly prevent the ongoing spread of COVID-19.
Our theater company is embedded in a community in which our art is a vehicle for our foundational desire to bring community together. Whether it is to raise awareness on issues that require more visibility or to bring together thought-leaders to advocate for new change, our peacemaking and theater-making mission mandates that our work be done through gathering and public discourse.
The digital space became our shared space. We conducted rehearsals and presented live performances via Zoom. The digital space became meeting rooms for our community partners and a space for us to provide political education to our community. The digital space allowed us to organize en masse across geographic distances and build relationships with more organizations than we have ever worked with before. The digital space introduced us to new artists, collaborators, community partners, and audiences and we maintained the accessibility to this space by making it free.
Due to the ongoing anti-Black and anti-Asian violence affecting our community and the highly charged political environment we’re living in, fueled by white nationalism and domestic terrorism, this pandemic is affecting our company’s community in devastating ways. Maintaining a free digital space for our art and community was a strategic choice we’re committed to maintaining.
Though the digital space is being privatized and shaped by algorithms, the freedom to not monetize and instead subsidize the digital space allowed us to remain connected to our community and thrive.
Community care means people committing to leverage their privilege to be there for one another. Unlike self-care, community care asks us to take the initiative to show and give compassion to each other, even if someone isn’t doing that for himself or herself. Community care consists of interpersonal acts of kindness and compassion like reaching out to a friend to see how they are, sending gratitude messages to co-workers, or even large scale acts like protesting to better the lives of others. Community care can also take a more structured form, like community-based nonprofits, communal homes, or support groups.
Our work with Cara Page introduced us to the training and tools from BEAM (Black Emotional and Mental Wellbeing) to develop community care strategies and community care platforms for our company, which we’ve been carefully developing since March 2020. We held space via Zoom to provide listening sessions and toolkits for collective care for our artists and peers. We worked with the Indie Theater Fund to provide mutual aid to freelance, LGBQT+, low-income artists and addressed the needs of arts organizations of color by facilitating the Mosaic Network and Fund’s Learning Exchanges at the New York Community Trust since last summer.
We held “Another Healing,” a BIPOC-only space for performing arts professionals through the Association of Performing Arts Professionals since the summer of 2020. We partnered with GAPIMNY, Asians4Abolition, The Blasian March and The Exponential Festival to provide community care to our larger community, including political education, free online healing session in partnership with the Indie Theater Fund, and over 120+ free, pre-packaged food and personal hygiene products to our local community.
And although the pandemic has challenged our organization to re-define what it means to be a theater company, we celebrated Kyoung’s Pacific Beat’s 10 year anniversary after accomplishing strategic milestones for our organization’s development: we became a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, grew our budget 400%, completed the development of our new work-in-progress NERO to celebrate the UN International Day of Peace, and held our first gathering of community stakeholders, through an anniversary celebration that brought together our artists, community partners, audiences, donors, and funders in the shared, digital space we have built.
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When COVID led to NYC’s theater shutdown, it brought back memories of news from South Korea when it was affected by SARS (2010) and MERS (2015). It was not uncommon to hear mistrusting citizens running away from the government as it enforced contact tracing. Sick South Koreans would run away from major cities to their regional hometowns, thereby increasing the spread of disease. COVID also triggered memories of the stigma and fear I’ve experienced as a gay man in relation to HIV/AIDS – the difficulty of living with constant awareness of a disease and the discrimination that comes with it when your identity becomes associated with an illness. And I remembered the economic disparities that prevented my friends from accessing proper healthcare in Chile all because private pharmaceutical companies prevented international organizations from providing free HIV/AIDS prevention medication in Chile.
Given these histories, it is not possible for me to imagine a “return to normal.” In fact, in the midst of the #BlackLivesMatter protest, the ongoing protests in Chile, and the emergent, labor-driven protests and campaigns to change the way the theater and presenting arts field compensates artists and arts workers in America, a “return to normal” is equated with a political indifference or worse, the maintenance of a status quo when most theater practitioners were told that in the times of COVID, our work is not essential.
To re-define our work in the times of COVID means that it is necessary to re-assess the values of why we make our work, and align the why with the how we make it and for whom.
Since the beginning, our peacemaking mission has been driven by the core values of breaking boundaries through our work, to center artistic rigor, and align ourselves with the work in our community in order to promote non-violent, social change. In conversation with our peers belonging to the global majority, we’ve also articulated for us the need to value authenticity, trust, accountability, empathy, joy and decolonization as values that will continue to drive our work forwards.
Our newly established Board of Directors also established a set of community agreements that shape our governance. These community agreements were created to establish a culture of boundaries, safety and consent in the work that we do, at a time in which disaster capitalism has – and will continue – to search for profit and efficiency and a time in which the world is literally ill.
Our community is you. With 10 years under our belt, it has become easier for us to identify who it is we make our work for. In the past ten years, we’ve served over 260 artists and we’ve shared our work with over 3,800 live and virtual audience members. We’ve centered the voices of queer, immigrant artists and communities of color and our most recent demographics tell us we’re:
- 34% (queer) Asian Pacific Islander
- 33% BIPOC (18% BIPOC artists and arts leaders, 8% BIPOC LGBQT+, 7% non-artist BIPOC)
- 22% white allies (11% white artists and arts leaders, 7% white allies, 3% white LGBQT+)
- 11% art funders
We’re building relationships of reciprocity and mutuality with our community, not just to practice community care, but to reshape and rebuild what it means for us to be a community brought together through theater.
During the celebration of our 10 year anniversary, an event called, “Community Cares: All Together Now,” our community of stakeholders came together to identify the priorities for our next year. Our work and organizing will center the following:
- Solidarity Movement building Between People of the Global Majority: This year, we’ve addressed anti-Black and anti-Asian violence and larger structures of American Imperialism and domestic violence through political education sessions developed at a grass-roots level. Next year, we’ll dig deeper into this work through our cultural organizing and see how much of it can scale up to a broader audience nation-wide.
- White Allyship in Arts and Politics: We addressed white supremacy through a series of events through our new work-in-progress NERO and centered the voices of people of color doing work on the ground. To advance our work and change systems, we’ll dedicate our efforts to identify and collaborate with white allies who are aligned with us in creating institutional change. Our community is exhausted from doing the work – we will need our white allies to support our organizing to carry on.
- BIPOC Queer Chosen Families: What we’ve learned from our mutual aid work is that the people that most need our help are mothers and elders/senior citizens of color. Engaging inter-generationally will be necessary for us, so we’ll be working with our queer chosen families to help us bridge generational divides.
- Health and Faith-Based Human Services: The most significant challenge of the pandemic is our inability to provide direct human services. Next year, we’ll continue addressing our communities’ need for essential needs, such as food and housing, while also increasing our capacity to support frontline workers including artists and activists, who require rest and healing during this time.
- Arts Education: The most common question we are asked is, “How do you create peace?” It is time for us to share our model and practices to further our own mission of creating a culture of peace and non-violence. We know this isn’t the work we can do on our own – we all can play a part in creating peace.
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On a personal note, the incredible opportunities I’ve had to continue to work in such a devastating time is humbling. My mother reminds me to be grateful and remain kind. I often remind myself how much this time of social isolation has allowed me to do inner healing work to find new grounding in my body. For these reasons, I’m grateful and thrilled to share with you a thank you message from our company members on behalf of our new 501(c)3 organization.
Kyoung H. Park