Staying Curious with Karen Baxter
Tuesday, June 29, 2021
Tuesday, June 29, 2021
Welcoming Karen Baxter, new online Cultural Equity in the Arts instructor.
AES is pleased to announce that Karen Baxter has joined our online faculty and will be teaching Cultural Equity in the Arts starting this fall. In the Cultural Equity in the Arts course, students will explore the history of inequity in the arts, how "the arts" came to be defined through a Western European lens, how cultural funding affects opportunity, how systemic issues have obstructed building both a diverse staff and board, and how to make positive and constructive change. Cultural Equity in the Arts can be taken “a la carte,” or as part of our degree and certificate programs.
Karen Allen Baxter has had an illustrious career in Arts Management and the arts. She has held producing, management, and teaching positions in the performing arts and academia, most notably serving for thirty-two years as Senior Managing Director for the Department of Africana Studies/Rites and Reason Theatre, at Brown University, one of the longest-running continuously producing Black theaters in the United States. She retired in 2020.
Baxter does not define herself as an artist, although many believe arts management is itself an art form, noting her path to Arts Management came through a process of elimination and a desire to serve the field. “I'm in my right place,” she shared.
Baxter spoke of her plans for the course which will include a brief case study as well as conducting independent research using current articles about cultural equity in the arts to bring varied points of views into the classroom. She is hoping to build a curriculum that is of the moment and explores multiple viewpoints.
When asked about implementing further changes towards equity Baxter said, “I'm hoping that our readings, writings and discussions will allow the students to take some of it in, and keep it with them and continue to think about it. If they can, I hope they will implement some of the things that they hadn't thought about before or had been thinking about but didn't quite know the way.”
Baxter has a responsive teaching style, noting that “Usually what excites me about teaching are the students.” She aims to continue what she has always tried to do in her professional life and teaching: “to search for the right questions to ask myself and to ask my students.” Baxter also hopes to “try to make the world a better place,” confessing that it “sounds hokey but it's true. I really do.”
Baxter noted that such work is hard, and as a leader, if somebody's behavior, ideas or ideology threatens the larger class or concept being taught she knows that she has to hold space that can feel uncomfortable. She said that does not “necessarily get rid of somebody else's ideas that go against the whole, but points them out and puts them in check sometimes.”
Her pedagogical approach will include occasional Zoom meetings “so that we could see each other and have real time conversation.” Her desire for live discussion stems from her experience as an online student. She hopes that hearing each other's voices, “literally and figuratively,” will provide something “as close to tactile as we can get and take advantage of the technology.”
“I think it's important that you get to know some of your classmates, so you know as you move out in the world that you can call on people,” Baxter stated, highlighting the networking possibilities of online learning. She emphasized, “The alliance of working with people that you know is always a good thing...”
She also praised remote learning's continued evolution sharing with excitement, “I think we've just touched on the beginning of it.”
“It’s definitely here to stay. And it definitely meets some of the problems of equity, and inclusion.”
As Senior Managing Director of the Department of Africana Studies/Rites and Reason Theatre, at Brown University, Baxter produced and oversaw development and research of all theatrical productions, symposia and programs at the Department of Africana Studies. Wearing her arts management hat, she oversaw and managed their finances, sought funding, conducted public relations and marketing, supervised staff, and developed and oversaw other projects.
When asked about her goals for this new chapter in her life, Baxter joked that “I think one of my goals is not to have any goals.”
Despite her proclamation to rest (a bit) after a long career, Baxter does have some projects in addition to teaching with AES. She is chair of the nonprofit, Southside Cultural Center of Rhode Island. Baxter confessed to having “taken on a little bit more than I had planned,” since the organization is undergoing revitalization and renovation of its large historic space. “It's been a lot, but it's been good,” she shared, highlighting the “really good people on the board” and her pride in working with them in a leadership capacity.
On June 21, 2021, the trustees of Trinity Repertory Company voted unanimously to elect Baxter to the Board of Trustees. When trying to recall if she has ever been on the board of a predominantly white organization, Baxter remarked that “I think I've been a panelist and things like that but not on the government. Maybe it doesn't matter that much, but that will definitely be a big change. There will be a lot to learn. That's what I look forward to; being able to learn.” She also spoke to the influence of the heightened demand for diversity in Boards in arts organizations, disclosing that despite knowing she is an appropriate choice, “I know, one of the reasons that Trinity is asking me to be on the Board is because they need some people of color on it.” Baxter also critiqued Trinity Rep’s $10,000 annual individual Board giving asserting that the $10,000 “keeps 99% of the people of color in Rhode Island and Southeast New England, out.” Clearly these issues will be raised in her class.
When asked about other retirement plans she said, “I am always excited to work with certain artists or work with new artists, and to create projects and programs where I can stand in the back of the theater and be proud.”
The Arts Extension Service is pleased to welcome Karen Allen Baxter to the faculty and look forward to the journey that she and her students will take this Fall ‘21 as they stay curious and ask big questions.
Register for Cultural Equity in the Arts today!