LETTER FROM THE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR AUGUST 24, 2020
A Letter from Sarah Bellamy, Penumbra in the press & more
Greetings Dear Community,
Perhaps because we’re coming up on such a momentous election, I’ve been thinking about progress a lot lately. Progress is a mercurial idea, especially when disparity is so vast. It can be easy to forget what previous generations were actually up against as we evaluate the efficacy of their efforts today. Deep fatigue makes us less attentive to regression. In times when the body politic is so anxious and uncertain, notions of progress can be weaponized against some of our most pure-hearted efforts.
This has been a spiritually exhausting time.
The heaviness that we feel is not just about what’s occurring today. History is not behind us-it is present and alive right now. The aspirations and the violence of our beginnings are present in the aspirations and violence of where we are today. Unless we want to keep reliving our past, we have to imagine new pathways and fashion new ways of relating to one another.
Progress isn’t about perfection. We’ve got to live into what we’re learning by doing it before it’s complete; we have to get acclimated to trusting our constant becoming. We have to give ourselves grace, especially in the black community-so many of us have been trained to “be twice as good, but expect half as much.” I worry that we limit our sense of what’s possible because we’ve become too acclimated to the injustice of what is. And sometimes we confuse perfection and excellence.
As our efforts to realize more abundance and equity for our communities take root, perhaps we can surrender the perfectionism that comes with striving for excellence and anticipating injustice. Perhaps we can be more vulnerable and take bigger risks that might lead to even bigger solutions. Of course there will be those waiting to point fingers, to admonish “failure” instead of recognizing the generosity of black leaders learning in public. We can give them grace, too, if we wish. Those critics, particularly those outside of our community, simply cannot know how important it has been for black folks to demonstrate excellence in every aspect of our lives. Excellence has been a survival skill. They haven’t had to know that.
At Penumbra many years ago, while speaking to a group of artists and patrons August Wilson said, “you can only imagine what you know to be possible.” He said that the establishment of Penumbra had opened up profound possibility and he was right.
Today Penumbra is imagining what we black people organically know to be possible in our bones, in our ancestry, in the powerful resiliency that keeps us elastic, innovative, and alive. We are finding our way back to sources of knowledge that have been deliberately interrupted through theft, incarceration, colonialism, and separation from our places of origin. We are leaning deeply into our intuitive knowing, soldering delicate connections laced throughout our wide and generative diaspora like veins. Where we have been broken, we will heal stronger. The more of us at the sewing table, the bigger the quilt we’ll be able to wrap around our beloved community.
Over the next 12-18 months Penumbra will be working with community partners to deepen and develop strategies around nurturance and empowerment. We’ll be learning from community members about what resources are needed and where. We’ll be working in coalition with efforts already underway and finding ways to connect with leaders ahead of us in this work. We’ll disperse and rotate the labor, so that in our collective efforts toward healing and justice no one is overburdened and so that we can find moments to rest and repair our nervous systems, our minds, and hearts, and souls.
This work doesn’t have to cost us so much, even if not doing it does. That’s the balance we’re after. And like everything it will require constant learning, course correction, humility, humor, and courage.
Today we embrace possibility, the uncertainty that comes with it, and the abundance at our feet. This restorative becoming is a measure of our progress. Join us in the recovery. We’re finding our ways home.
With abiding love,
“How are we going to take the songs of all of this wonderful flock here and weave them together to create this great orchestra that will sing the song of healing? ”
—Seitu Ken Jones