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Arts. Work. Life. Season 1: Bonus Episode 2

ARTS. WORK. LIFE. is a podcast from the Association of Performing Arts Professionals about what it's like to work in the performing arts, featuring bold, untold stories from arts workers.
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Stop Talking, Start Listening: Young Arts Worker Panelists Reflect

In this special bonus episode, the panel of young arts workers reconvene to unpack their experience in the “Stop Talking, Start Listening: Finding Common Ground with Young Arts Workers” session, featured in the last episode.

Javier Stell-Fresquez, Lexis Hamilton, and Tariq Darrell O'Meally answer audience questions about authenticity, “paying your dues,” and connecting with colleagues from different generations and backgrounds.


Claire: In the last episode, you heard excerpts from “Stop Talking, Start Listening: Finding Common Ground with Young Arts Workers”, a panel discussion from the 2023 APAP conference.

But what you didn't hear were moments like this.

How do we as under 35...

Audience Member 1: Except they do have the positional power.

Claire: Are you saying, Gen X or Gen Z?

Audience Member 2: The generation older than millennials.

Claire: Or moments like this.

Audience Member 3: But then who does the work?

Audience Member 2: Well, GenZ has the positional capacity [inaudible]

Audience Member 4: Whoa!

Tariq: Oooo, controversy.

Claire: Yeah, something that someone said over there I think segues, um… [Trails off]

>> music

Claire: The ballroom on that January morning was packed. And as our panelists shared their thoughts, people in the audience began to shout out their own opinions and observations.

It's a little hard to hear on the recording because these enthusiastic audience members weren't using microphones. In fact, it was even hard for those of us on stage to understand what was going on in the audience.

One thing was clear though. The topics the panel was covering---pay equity, performative activism, generational divides---they hit a nerve.

We were flooded with audience questions, so many that we couldn't get to them all. After the session, people surrounded the stage, wanting and needing to talk.

It was the end of the session, but the beginning of something else entirely.

Claire: You're listening to ARTS. WORK. LIFE., a podcast from APAP, the Association of Performing Arts Professionals. I am your host, Claire Caulfield.

A few weeks after the conference, there was still so much to unpack. So the panelists and I hopped onto a video call to debrief about the audience's reaction and address some of those unanswered questions and comments.

>> music fades

Claire: All right, and I am delighted to be in this virtual room with Javier Stell-Fresquez, a performing artist and festival producer.

Javier: Hola, buenos días.

Claire: Lexis Hamilton, a presenter and program coordinator for the University of Wyoming.

Lexis: Hi, everybody.

Claire: And Tariq Darrell-O'Meally, creator of the Blacklight Summit and programmer at the University of Maryland.

Tariq: Hey, hey, team. How you all living?

Claire: Unfortunately, booking agent Bobby Cento, who was on the original panel, couldn't make today's recording. But we'll just jump right in.

First, I want to hear about everyone's experiences with the panel because the energy in that room, it was like palpable. What kind of reactions and responses have you heard?

Lexis: I wish we had more time for the panel because near the end, there was a lot of heavy discussion and a lot of crowd involvement. So I just wish we had more time.

I've heard mixed reactions as well from the panel, people that just didn't feel like they were being heard or that their age group wasn't being heard.

And then you heard from younger millennial arts workers who were like, thank you for saying exactly what we're feeling.

So mixed reactions. I just wish we had a longer time to discuss.

Javier: I think, in general, I heard a lot of positive reactions or at least if people came with comments, they were very polite and forwarded with appreciation.

One person asked me for a definition of something I had said in the panel that I felt like, hmm, I'm not sure that you heard the part about free labor, because I think I was literally standing in the subway giving them a definition that they could have looked up on Google.

But that moment especially was really powerful when I think we were talking about prioritizing self-care and someone shouted, “then who does the work?”

And someone else in the room, different part of the room, then replied something like, “but Gen X actually has the institutional power.”

And I thought that was a really beautiful moment where it kind of just reflected the need for the panel as well as, yeah, probably the fact that we might have been able to do a lot more with a discussion space.

I was actually involved in a panel later in the day that it split its time between a panel and several discussion groups. And in those groups, I heard that one of the older participants really wound up talking down and condescending and practically reprimanding someone in their group that they did not know, who was younger, who had just expressed some feelings about how they and their experience had been underappreciated within their career.

And I just that was an interesting reminder of the balancing of like the safety that a panel creates for those speaking versus or in conversation balance with the kind of vulnerability that we need in order for people to actually bridge this kind of a divide.

Tariq: I think the thing that popped up in that room is so much of the trauma that we're experiencing right now, you know, from COVID for the last three years about 2 million people passed, and we are a culture without grieving practices.

We know how to be productive. We know how to keep moving. We do not know how to stop and reflect. And I think Sonya Renee Taylor, a writer, says that we have a lot of new awarenesses, but we're using old tools to interact with them, so we need new tools.

And I think what we were trying to discover in that room was new tools, and that's going to take some time to construct those things. So I think as we're moving through these consistent and overwhelming cascades of trauma that I think the industry and people are trying to figure out a better way, and we are at the edges of what we know and we're at the end of something, which is not a bad thing.

Claire: Great points, Tariq. And so now I thought we would answer some audience questions that we've received.

The first one is, “How can we enact genuine acknowledgments of all cultures without being perceived as performative action or following younger trends?”

Javier: I just want to unpack the question a little bit so that at least we're kind of thinking about how it's framed. As I answer the question, I think that I won't be answering how people can avoid being perceived as something. Worrying about one's perception is like a PR goal and purpose. That's not the point. The point is where you're coming from, not how you're being perceived.

Tariq: Because the question in and of itself, although it's not a bad question, is asking for a prescription, a way to fix it and then one size fits all and this is how we're going to address different cultures and it's not performative.

Like how I will handle something in Washington, DC is completely different from where Lexis, are you in the Midwest?

Lexis: Yeah, technically, Mountain West.

Tariq: You see how much I know about geography. Thank you for my DC education. But like those require different things and I think that comes back to that question of like equity and equality.
Like equity means like it's going to take a few different things in order for our work to work.

Lexis: Yeah, and just piggybacking off of that, from a university standpoint, we're focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion. But what does that mean when we actually enact it within our field? We take these groups that come to our university, and we disperse them into the community and we provide free lectures, we provide free master classes.

We do something that engages our community. So by bringing these master classes and bringing these lectures into our community, we're able to not only garner a different audience, but get them engaged.

Javier: I want to add one little thing about land acknowledgments themselves. The way our land acknowledgments are constructed are often with the assumption that it's host peoples and guest peoples, sort of binary there that doesn't acknowledge how people got to the land that they're now gathered on.

Natives have been learning how to incorporate into their own land acknowledgments for everyone who's in the circle in that moment. So I'm sharing this as a way of saying like everyone's figuring it out. Land acknowledgments are somewhat new and contemporary to a lot of tribes in the way that they're formed now.

Tariq: Javier, a teachable moment for me. A land acknowledgement is not just that you do one thing and then you've completed it, checked off a box, but it's, there's a vigilance in that.

Javier: I love that because it's not even just the moment that it's happening at all. It's everything that it relates to afterwards and brings you back to.

Claire: Great. So then I think we can transition to our next question. This was specifically addressed to Javier, and it references some of the comments that you made about code switching on the panel.
This listener wrote, “How do we show up authentically in spaces where perceptions of our identities limit our positional authority?”

Tariq: Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow.

Javier: To try and answer the question, I just want to say that there's lots of strategies that I have to use as someone moving through the space with a lot of intersectional marginalized identities.
And one of them is to sometimes be willing to take a lot of risks with my positional authority and to sometimes be willing to interrupt a lot of the logics and scripts and things that are being said that establish everyone else's.

Tariq: But yeah, at least for me, step one is being very clear about what it is you're doing and why you're here to do it. And then I think like step two is you have to know which hill you're going to, you're willing to die on.

That kind of detailed listening work and being aware is so important as you move and traverse these different spaces. I think Season Two of Random Acts of Flyness, the whole conceit of that season, and I'm going to fumble the ball on this because it's just such a densely populated show.

But talks about the parable of the pirate and the king and how a king is like Oprah, Martin Luther King, Beyonce, and like a pirate is Solange, Malcolm X, Prince, right?

And they're saying that each of these people have maybe the same goal, but they have different methodologies for accomplishing those things.

So you have to recognize like there are some people who are able to move between worlds. There are some that are only their mission. We're not all sent here to do the same thing. Some people's mission is just solely to be on the ground and to be like to shout and be like it's a hard no on anything that is not in my vibration.

So I think as, in that authenticity, you can only be authentic as clear as you are with yourself. So once you have that clarity, figure out what that is and then prepare yourself for the obstacles because the resistance lets you know that you're probably walking in the right direction, at least that is for the pattern of my experience.

Lexis: I feel like you both summed it up really well. I don't want to add anything because you summed up a lot of thoughts that I had. So I'll just leave it at that for that question.

Claire: I do actually want to hear from you, Lexis, because I think it touches on something that you and I have talked about, which is about your perception as being a young woman in the arts field.

I believe you got your job right out of college and that comes with some, you know, that identity to talk to the listener’s question that identity comes with some ideas about positional authority. How do you navigate that?

Lexis: It's really hard. When I first entered my position, I felt like I had to just keep climbing and keep working at just earning decent respect. It wasn't given to me. It wasn't granted and me being newer into this field in general, I did not know what I was doing. I had an idea of what it should be. But then there's that weird positional authority of those people that are surrounding you with that. But as a young woman in this field, it's just. I don't know. I just feel like I get talked down a lot. I've had to work consistently very hard for about a year to even get a ounce of respect.

And that respect was only earned once they saw the product delivered, once they saw like, oh yeah, we can do these events. Oh, and they’re successful, that's surprising. It shouldn't be that surprising because I was hired in my position to do my job and someone out there was sure that I was competent enough to bring something creative to the space.

So, it's just a constant battle. I'm still fighting it. I don't think it'll ever go away until I look older. But with, given my face, I'm at a natural disadvantage. It feels like especially among coworkers, colleagues, everyone just has the idea that, oh, you don't know what you're doing because you're young. Let me tell you how it's supposed to be. But that's not always the best-case scenario. It's so.

Tariq: Alexis, may I offer something though?

Lexis: Yeah.

Tariq: Just because again, people are limited by their vision of a thing doesn't mean you have to wait until somehow you can physically change in order for you to receive what you have earned. So like, hopefully, maybe in this job or whatever you grow into, you will intersect with the people that you're supposed to.

And maybe this one thing is providing a lesson about what you need to seek out and what you don't want to be around. But I think so often we give away so much time saying, once I change myself, then they'll pay attention to me, as opposed to, I'm fine now, there are things that I'm seeking to grow in and be better at. And ultimately, I think Oprah says this thing, when you do your best, someone will notice. 

So I would encourage you to like offer genuinely not to tell you how to feel or anything that you continue to do your work. And that is, they're really missing out and there will be some first some person, hopefully, or people, hopefully the first person is you, that recognizes that your work matters now and there's always room for growth and but you do not have to wait time for people to like, give you what you have earned and stuff. So I just wanted to offer that to you.

Lexis: Thank you for that. And I naturally struggle as a people-pleaser, and then adding that into my position as well. It's just very hard. I feel like a lot of performers out there, or have-been performers have that people pleasing aspect.

And so you want to entertain everyone's ideas and thoughts and beliefs and that it kind of affects who you are and affects who I am so, slowly, I'm working on that and I appreciate all the kind words and advice you have for me.

Javier: I love hearing all of this, I want to try and wrap some of these things together with the thing that Tariq said about knowing how there can be pirates and I think it was kings, different ways of approaching work, especially I guess, change or transformation or just the work that you need to do in an unsupportive context.

To me, that points at what I like to, to, to express to folks that we are an ecology. We are an always transforming ecology. And when I remember that I am one kind of player in an ecology of different players, many of whom are moving in similar directions to me, or with a similar compass internally.
I can look at the person across the room, who may be from a similar background as me, but maybe let's say, from my perspective I often see, oh, they're over there, doing the really respectable thing. Great, good for them, they might get that executive director job that they want, that I don't want and that therefore I don't try to perform towards.

I'll value them for that. And I'll also try and go have a honest conversation with them. That by the way, what are, what are the values? What can we build towards together? And how can they see me as a little bit more of the pirate in the context, which often I am, and value the different skills and limitations in my movements in this space can bring, and how can we together actually stay as a team, finding the cracks in the cement.

Claire: I think that dovetails actually so beautifully with the next question and actually a piece of feedback that I received from a lot of different people this idea that any age group is not a monolith.
And so this is a question from a young arts worker who seemed to disagree with a lot of what was said on the panel. They write, on the subject of “paid dues” or paying your dues, we have to stay humble as young people and understand how much there is to learn.

Real community work requires any party to show the F up and listen. That means we each do our part to show up to the culture and models we join, before reconstruction. I believe we can sometimes have patience ourselves as youth and not only scream in our biased bubbles.


Tariq: That's a very reductive thing that was said, I believe, throughout that conversation. When I say when I talk about paying dues for me something that I understood pretty early on was, I believe in paying dues to like myself, slash, the universe. I know that sounds really hippie like that space provides opportunity like. Paying your dues is, you know, you figuring out how much you actually care about a thing before you're led into the room for thing. But to say that you invalidate, you know someone's rings around the earth like, certainly, I do not know, or have experienced as much as someone who's 56 but my 34 years on this earth has allowed me to learn some things.

So I think in the first part of what that person said, I completely agree, but saying like humility and that you need to do this in order to do this is… that feels very limiting for like where you are in your experience. Well, that felt a little pointed.

I don't know that I don't think that's what we were saying, I don't think anyone is saying that we're skipping steps in order to participate in the thing. I am saying that there is a turning of the guard, there has been a cataclysmic thing that has happened in our planet that has collectively impacted everyone in which everyone can see it at the same time. That is new, that is different, that requires a severe amount of reimagination and rethinking.

And often times, at least in my experience, there are people often in my experience, usually younger or whatever this monolithic generation is like hey have you considered this, and they're like hey we know what we're doing, please get out of the room.

So, like, I think there's a missing the point in that particular thing no one is saying, I think I even said to at some point in the panel, this is not about erasure of anyone's wisdom.

This is just about saying like how do you continue to make space and understand and making that space that like our urgency is different because the resources are not the same, how we're living are not the same.

What we're seeing about the planet is not the same. And if there are people who are willing to show up and participate and offer, not push out, then I don't understand what the trepidation is around that, my bad, a little irritated by that.

Lexis: Yeah, I do not care for the term “paid dues” that's just my personal opinion, I believe you need to observe and acknowledge the environment you're in to enact change, but I don't really think that there needs to be a proven thing of, oh I paid my, I paid my dues so now you can enact change and now I'll give you respect I don't necessarily agree with that. I do agree with the last sentence of that we can sometimes have patience, but that patience is meant to observe and acknowledge the people around you.

You have to have respect for your older co-workers and your older colleagues, hear their experiences, but they also have to have respect for your new ideas and understand where you're coming from.
When I walked into my position I absorbed three people's jobs from a budget cuts. Like Tariq was saying, we just don't have the resources in order to keep up. And every time I did ask people for advice on how we did this festival or how we did these things they're like, oh, this is how it was previously done. So you need to do it that way.

In a way, I understand where they're coming from, but you can also, if you look at the whole picture, there's holes poking out everywhere. How do we mend them, how do we fix them? As a younger person coming into a field, people have to be open to your ideas of how to mend problems how to fix things, and it just makes you think that the people that say, oh this is the way that it used to be, you're now having to earn and build respect from someone who automatically doesn't grant it to you, so you have to work at that as well, so in a way we have more work coming into the field by trying to earn respect but also mediate that bridge between what was old and what is new and be open to both ideas, so….

Javier: Yeah, I really feel what both of you were saying, I really feel like the patience and paid dues, if there are any that are important for especially people of intersectional marginalizations, those were already paid, in our, by the shoulders, by the shoulders that we stand on.

Tariq: Say more.

Javier: Not all of them. We have a lot of dues to pay to each other. One community to another, one intersection to another. But I mean in terms of reference to power structures. It's like we walk into a space where everyone else on the team is more senior and more respectable and respected in the field.
And we already know in our body that this structure isn't set up to allow us to just be ourselves and do our work.

Why do we have to deny the truth of that? Why can't we speak to it and say, I need a space to do a new thing? I’m going to try some new things. Sure, we're going to fail and there's foolhardy ways to do that and there's wiser ways to do that. And there's so much to learn and there's so much skills to grow in entering a field or entering any body of work.

It's even true in the art, on the artistic level of if you enter a form and you spend too long learning the formalism, learning that form and not understanding that at the other side of most every form is how to release the form.

It's a subtle and hard thing to perceive sometimes when you've made that choice that takes you into a formalism that stifles the growth of the form, stifles the community that keeps that form intact or vital.
So tuning into the kind of the life that is always emerging at every life of our social, artistic, our creative, our aesthetic, our professional spaces like that's to me that's why the youth are sacred.

Because we're a little bit closer to, I don't know, I mean, I'm not even that much youth anymore but I try to keep young. We're a little bit closer to that emergent life, and it's our responsibility to try and hold on to that and bring possibility into the future.

Tariq: And I think something else that Javier has said throughout each of their words is like, when you're talking about patience or understanding, none of this is the erasure of you know, our, one of our first technologies as human beings which is wisdom.

So under, obviously most of this is through guidance from those, and I don't believe learning is vertical, like I believe that is a cyclical thing. I believe like, as much as I would learn from an elder and elder could learn from me because they're, they might have taken enough time to consider something that they did not have the opportunity to consider. 

So, you know, and I also have to say please forgive me if you're listening for the little bit heatedness of what I said before, but I think the thing we're missing is like if we were patient and paid our dues. Let's say let's say someone, I don't know any I know jack all about science, but let's say someone who was 15 had the solution to all of climate change.

And, you know, based off of the kind of praxis that you have laid out and not saying without guidance and wisdom from an elder that they wait 15 years before they can come to the table and say, hey, look, this thing is here. 

I think, patience is important listening but patience within, not patience for patience’s sake. 

I believe, now this is dramatic, we're not in peace times right now. We 're we're not, in America, the world, but in America, we're not in a peace time. We're in a time in which because of all of the push and drive for equity, predominantly I would say through the youth or youth open quote, however big that is anyone under the age of like 35, that we're starting to see queer rights and the fight for women's rights and all of these things in which I can't even wrap my brain around how my mother was able to endure as much as he did for so long, but like, that is because there is a necessity for the moment.

They're taking down drag shows, y'all. They're stripping books from people. Like, I don't, I don't know if we see now for every evil thing there's some really beautiful, beautiful things but we got to really pay attention to like, what could come next.

And I, at least for me I can speak for ourselves, I would like to say I did my best. Right?! My definition, and not just for myself but for those I care about, my new definition for like community is learning how to carry each other's dreams.

And if I'm not doing that with a high level of vigilance and care, and, you know, paying attention to the ancestral wisdom of like, sometimes now is the moment to go through, not always, then that's a wasted opportunity that's a waste of a gift that's a waste of like, whatever you've been blessed with. So, maybe that's the more mitigated version of what I said earlier.

Lexis: Yeah, and I would also like to add in terms of this question there's a sentence in there that says real community work requires any new party to show the F up and listen.

Why, and Javier mentioned this, but this field is a leading proponent of change typically. Why are we still perpetuating this? That's what it doesn't make sense to me.

This is that if we are advocates of change and we're promoting art and we're putting art out there that is trying to change society and or views upon society, why are we still claiming this statement right here? So.

Claire: Great and with all of that in mind, I want to go to our last question for today, and we're going to use this last question to look forward. The listener writes, how would you imagine an intergenerational, interconnective work team that operates with maturity, reciprocity and shared knowledge?

Tariq: I'm gonna, I'm gonna. This is one of like my go to quotes about love. So, it is from the Airman's Odyssey, and it says, or something to this effect. Love does not consist of gazing in one another's eyes, but gazing in the same direction. So if we can find ways to share a comprehensive vision. I think that is my ideal work environment, where everyone is showing up with the same purpose, the same intention, clear about what their skills are to bring into the space and knowing that I might know this really well but I need you, and I need to be able to lean on you for the places in which I do not have that clarity.
So, a shared vision and looking in the same direction and hopefully walking in that direction would be my response to this question.

Claire: That's such a beautiful quote and I think maybe one way to implement this could be if you have a vision statement or a mission statement, every time you bring someone new into your group have a conversation about what your actual goals are. And then if someone is pointing out things that are not in line with the vision or pointing out things that might need to change just accepting that feedback and not being dismissive especially if it's coming from a young person. Is that kind of maybe like an action item someone listening could do?

Tariq: That, and/or lean into the conflict if I really because that the intergenerational thing, I mean, in the not fun and lovely way, but like lean into the conflict, lean into the sticky place, hit bottom together, so you can climb out together. And understand that that that that friction, that spark, that's where chemistry happens, that's how I think, I don't know anything about chemistry, because I'm in the arts, but like that's where that's where the growth and healing is in these in those really sticky places. So go in, not to like agree for agreeing sake, but go into listen and to find where the common ground is, I think, when I'm talking about gazing in the same direction, but that doesn't mean that that's going to be an easeful place is, it's going to be a necessary place.

Javier: Just want to add a tiny little thing to that that big first step to lean into conflict is to encourage dissent, not just listen for it and receive it. But actually, you probably won't hear it. There'll be probably a lot of people holding back. So encourage dissent.

Lexis: Yeah, and come piggybacking off of what everyone says, something I would, piece of advice I would like to give is just keep working towards a common goal, but know your limits both professionally and personally. Sometimes you need to stand up for your older co-workers, sometimes you need to stand up for yourself, just like I learned throughout this panel that was given [laugh] people have given me a lot of advice, I need to learn to stand up for myself, so if I had to give advice and also take my own advice, keep working towards the common goal, but just know your limits.

>> music

Claire: Thank you for listening. ARTS. WORK. LIFE. is a production from APAP, the Association of Performing Arts Professionals. APAP is the National Service Organization for the performing arts presenting, booking, and touring industry.

You can join APAP at I'm Claire Caulfield, your host and producer. Jenny Thomas is our executive producer, and our music is from Blue Dot Sessions.

This podcast wouldn't be possible without the generous support of the Wallace Foundation. So thank you. Other thank you for amazing panelists, everyone who attended the panel in person and listened online.

And really we love hearing your feedback and want to continue this conversation.

Other thank you to the APAP staff and board of directors, and the hundreds of thousands of arts workers across the world. Your stories matter, and arts workers are essential.

Season two of ARTS. WORK. LIFE. is coming this summer. If you work in the performing arts and want to submit your own story, visit

And if you enjoyed this episode, leave us a review. It helps other people find the show.


Carolyn: Arts, work, life. That's real. [Laugh]




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