Like many of you, I have spent much of the last year—if not longer—feeling that something is broken in our world. But I take solace in the work of our artists, both student and professional, who help me see every day that the tools to build back better than before are within our grasp.
At the Goodman, we have long held that our primary mission must be in service of Chicago, in all of its evolving needs and complexities. In many ways, the beginning of this commitment coincided with my arrival at the theater in 1986. At that time, a visionary group of artists, staff, board and funders launched the School Matinee Series, a program designed to welcome thousands of Chicago Public School students into the cultural conversation with study guides for them, training for their teachers and free access to the plays on our stages.
With this program, we cemented the notion that it was not enough to simply program world-class art in our seasons. Instead, we must use our art to move towards a better city and a better world. This has been an ongoing project in my time here.
Over the years, this work has taken on many forms. Our Education and Engagement programs have since blossomed to encompass more than a dozen initiatives which serve 6,000 Chicagoans each year, completely free of charge. We have established partnerships with local theater companies, schools, activist groups and even social service organizations to launch projects ranging from our former Latino Theatre Festival, to citywide celebrations of playwrights like August Wilson and Lorraine Hansberry, to our Share the Joy celebrations of A Christmas Carol, which distribute thousands of tickets to veterans, first responders and other groups. And, of course, every season we have ever put on has included works which cast a light on voices and stories too seldom heard in our culture.
In this continuing journey, we had a watershed moment last summer, thanks to the vision of Resident Artistic Associate Henry Godinez, when we presented Fannie Lou Hamer, Speak On It! for free, socially-distanced audiences at nine city parks, making for an electrifying call to the polls. In keeping with past tradition, we were pleased to do this in partnership with the League of Women Voters and local chapters of Zeta Phi Beta, who were able to register new voters right on the spot.
The arts—and in particular theater—have an unmatched ability to help us all see each other as thinking, feeling human beings and citizens of the same society. It is my sincere belief that theater has the potential to unlock our imaginations for creativity and empathy, and to help us chart a course toward a better, more just world than the one we have known.