A message from SCD's Executive Director, Julia Mayer

Dear Chicago Dance Family,

My first six months at See Chicago Dance have flown by! I’m eager to share news about some of the work we’ve been doing that may not be visible to you, plus announce a few changes and new opportunities.

Since I arrived at SCD last August, I have met with many of you in small group conversations and larger group gatherings. (Between September 2020 and last week, we held five Listening Sessions and four Community Convenings.) My ongoing project has been to listen to you; to determine what SCD can do to meet the needs and aspirations of—as our vision statement says—“an ever-growing inclusive community.” How, at this time in history, can See Chicago Dance be relevant to the challenges of dance artists and organizations? How can we best be of service?

Throughout the fall and winter, conversations about how to de-center whiteness in our organization and the ecosystem in which we work have been ongoing with SCD’s diverse staff and board. In December 2020, SCD joined Enrich Chicago as a new organizational partner. We have earmarked funds in our 2021 budget for anti-racism training for our board and staff. I have been challenging myself and my staff to use the word community mindfully, because while it can express an openness and inclusivity, it can also signal exclusivity. Community is a word I love, yet I know it can be treacherous. SCD can say it is the service organization for the dance community in Chicago, but I know there are folks who don’t feel they are part of that community.

Recently, I have added audience to the list of signifiers that we don’t want to take for granted. We can no longer make assumptions about who audience is. We should be more aware of the unconscious bias that the word signals, given the history of the organization I represent and the history of dance in the U.S. that prioritizes Euro-American forms and marginalizes others. Audience is not monolithic.

In 2005-06, this organization began as a marketing initiative. We grew out of a detailed analysis of the resources available (or not) to local dancers and dance organizations supported by the Chicago Community Trust. This led to the creation of two new organizations: the Chicago Dancemakers Forum and Audience Architects, the original name of See Chicago Dance.

As dance criticism in the city’s papers of record was waning in the late 2000s, my predecessor saw an opportunity to keep the public aware and engaged by providing previews and reviews of dance performances on our website. 

As See Chicago Dance has expanded its reach and mission in the last few years, our relationship with our community is changing. We have continued to provide essential marketing assistance and promotional opportunities alongside newer roles as advocate, curator, thought partner, connector, peer. We share our platform (with “Our Readers Write” features) and provide opportunities for emerging writers to learn and practice the evolving craft of dance journalism. Last summer, our critical dance writing fellowship convened writers from three continents and resulted in SCD diversifying and more than doubling the number of writers contributing to our platform since this time last year.

I am committed to widening our circle. To that end, we are making some changes to our journalism program (our most visible and wide-reaching platform).

  • In 2021, we will expand “Our Readers Write.” Long-time SCD.com writer Jordan Kunkel will select and edit the work of 10 paid writers, who are not regular contributors to SCD.com. These essays will embrace a range of styles and approaches to dance writing and will not be restricted to traditional reviews or previews.
  • Our newest program, Screendance Club, will be moderated by SCD writer-at-large Gregory King with contributions from Tristan BrunsD’onminique Boyd and others.
  • Once we have these changes in place, we will expand our community of writers even further by welcoming pitches for paid writing from freelance writers and critics.
  • Since last year, our senior editor Lauren Warnecke has greatly reduced the amount of writing she does for SCD and has been focused on identifying and mentoring potential editors, as well as recruiting new writers. We strongly believe that SCD needs an editorial team rather than a single person at the helm of our journalism program and we are taking steps to transition toward this format.
  • Effective immediately, all writing on the platform will have an editor, including the occasional columns written by Lauren.

We are also making changes to our governance and committee structure. In development are two new committees that will be open to participation by community members. We will invite dancemakers, practitioners, and presenters to share their insights with us and advise on critical programming opportunities and community issues.

Finally, I will note that we are always looking for dedicated, passionate board members. Given our current business model, board service requires an annual donation, so I know it’s not for everyone. If you are interested in knowing more, please reach out to me at julia@seechicagodance.com.

In future updates, I look forward to updating you on these committees and the anti-racism work that our new Institutional Transformation Team will be undertaking.
In closing, I’ll share that I was inspired, in part, to take the position of Executive Director by SCD’s Vision Statement--To fearlessly inspire an ever-growing inclusive community to share in and spread the power of dance in Chicago. Of course, we are human and on any given day, we can’t always manage to inspire. But we can work to be fearless in all we do—to fearlessly be of service to; to fearlessly bear witness to; and to fiercely advocate for this ever-growing inclusive community.