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Arts. Work. Life. Season 2: Episode 5

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.
ARTS. WORK. LIFE. Season 2. Episode 5.


With or Without a Net

The best workplaces provide safety and support for their teams: permission to innovate, protection from harassment, support during difficult times, and a safety net for workers. In Episode 5, artists and arts administrators share stories of how their workplaces either provided that safety and support—or didn't.

Content warning: description of sexual harassment between 9:10 and 10:05 and brief mention of sexual abuse of minors between 24:09 and 24:49.

Introduction: “Starting From Scratch” with Josh A. Campbell, a curator and engagement and education professional in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Act One: “Breaking The Silence” with Lexis Hamilton, a presenter and program coordinator for the University of Wyoming in Laramie, Wyoming.

Act Two: “Lifeboat” with DJ Doza The God, an international DJ currently based in Chicago, Illinois.

Act Three: “Strength In Numbers” with Shenea Stiletto, a USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame member and circus arts advocate in Las Vegas, Nevada.


NOTE: The transcript below is provided to make the podcast more accessible to our audiences. Designed for the ears, the podcast is meant to be listened to. Stream the podcast here.

Claire: Hi, listeners, just a heads up that this episode discusses workplace sexual harassment and briefly mentions the sexual abuse of minors. There are some time codes in the show notes if you wanna skip over those sections.

Okay. Onto the show.

Last year, Josh A. Campbell was hired as the director of education and engagement for an arts organization.

Josh: I live at the intersection of blackness, being a millennial, uh, queerness, as well as disability, and for my family, first time college graduate, um, and so there's a extra level of pressure, right, of being the first. I know there are a lot of administrators of color that will understand this. The arts education space is predominantly dominated, by, women, and white women in particular. And in Philadelphia, my job is being tasked with serving black and brown folks. And so now we have this interesting dichotomy of the, now the face of your arts education, and community engagement work is black, although most of the institution is white. The level of respect that's given can be challenging.

Claire: The organization was also in the middle of a big transition, moving from a for-profit music venue to a music, art and education nonprofit.

Josh figured that a big reason he was hired is because he comes from an arts education, nonprofit background, and he got to work planning the organization's first community engagement event, but only fifteen people came to the venue, which could have held 300 people.

Josh: It was a moment, um, in which I learned a very real lesson around failure and identity.

Claire: He did warn his bosses that community building takes time, especially because this organization was trying to diversify and reach out to a completely new audience.

So Josh started working on his second program. He called it Multitudes and collaborated with a diverse group of local artists that had never worked with the organization before

Josh: And it was a dream come true.

Claire: And then it came time for Multitudes opening night.

Josh: So I'm in the lobby and I'm barely breathing because I'm like, I need people to show up. I need people to show. I can't afford another failure and eventually around eight o'clock when we started, I had to let go and accept that, you know, we had 30 to 45 people. how do you justify, uh, spending — and we're gonna say the amount – $25,000 on this project and it’s commissioning and these artists, and you're not making nearly as much of that back.

Claire: To add to Josh's disappointment, no one from the organization showed up to the event and at the post-event debrief at work the next week, all anyone talked about was the low attendance.

Josh: I, I wouldn't say I felt supported. No, because once again, when you have organization that is a new nonprofit and you've had folks in their positions for eight to ten years who are not used to the nonprofit model or way, it was a severe culture clash in which I spoke one language and they spoke another, and there was no way to be even on the same page. If your view of community is just limited to the grants and just the data and statistics, it can become jarring.

Most of my peers in the organization, even though they were in the building, did not even come to support Multitudes. It wasn't the buy-in that was needed for it to feel like a success. If I had to tell anyone this, especially, um, white administrators in key powers of position, if you're gonna put a black face or a brown face, or a queer face, or whatever intersection that you want to highlight, you are gonna put that face in the forefront of the work and leverage that person's identity, the least you can do is come to experience the community.

Claire: At first, Josh felt like a failure. And then he realized that, okay, yes, technically his events didn't live up to his expectations, but a big reason was because he was abandoned.

Josh: I was very clear about, “If you hire me, this is what you're gonna get.”
Sometimes you have to redo your strategic plan. If you've hired new leadership, let's redo the strategic plan to be in alignment with what this person is bringing to the table. Be transparent about where your organization is. If your organization has never done work around diversity, equity, and inclusion and accessibility, your administrators of color need to know that, so that they can make an informed decision especially if you're asking them to do that work.

Claire: Just a few months later, Josh put in his resignation.

Josh: It was, uh, bittersweet for me because I really wanted this job. I really was hoping to stay at this job for a while. I'm not gonna say it's relief because I'm not there yet. I think, um, the sweetness is that I have such a beautiful community of artists that I've got to work with, curate and steward, and I'll add this audience development especially about trying to get those underrepresented voices into our venues, into our buildings, to experience what we are doing.

And it is exhausting. When you do great work, it doesn't feel satisfying. And that's what I felt with Multitudes like these artists up here telling their stories, they were really embodying the work, and I just felt this doom and gloom because I wasn't satisfied because we didn't have people in the room there was nobody there to say, “Josh, this is actually great.”

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Claire: You’re listening to ARTS. WORK. LIFE., a podcast from The Association of Performing Arts Professionals.

I'm Claire Caulfield.

Safety and security are fundamental needs and the best workplaces make sure their employees feel supported, that they have the safety to innovate and to fail. The safety to bring their full self to the workplace without fear of harassment and that they have financial security.

Today's episode, With or Without a Net.

With stories about artists and arts administrators taking a leap of faith and how their workplaces either provided that safety net or didn't. We'll hear from a presenter who risked her own safety and comfort to protect a group of students.

Then a story from the high seas about an artist who had to ask a cruise ship to make an emergency disembarkment. 

And lastly, reflections from a survivor and advocate on why there will always be strength and security in numbers

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Claire: Act one: Breaking The Silence

In 2020, Lexis Hamilton moved to Wyoming for a job as presenter and program coordinator for the University of Wyoming,

She was 23 years old, had never worked as a presenter before and didn’t know a single person in the state.

Her story is about the first two programs that she brought to the university, the lessons she’s learned from the experiences, and why she decided to step up and risk her own reputation, so other young women in the industry could have a safer workplace.

Here’s Lexis.

Lexis: My very first group that we presented. David Hazeltine, who's a famous jazz pianist, he brought in six of his friends and they have this group called One for All. I didn't know what I was doing ‘cause I'm new to the presenting world, and after the performance. David emailed me and he said it was wonderful to work with me.
That was just such a transformative experience ‘cuz it set my mind at ease. Like maybe I am doing something right ‘cuz I was so unsure beforehand.

And I still have it saved in the very top of my email to remind myself that I might not feel like I'm doing a good job, but there are people out there that think I am doing a good job.

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That was the first show I presented. The second group that I programmed myself. I did everything myself. It was me reaching out to the agent, me reaching out to the artist and getting them here.

So this group, I'm not gonna name their names or anything, but their tour manager was with them. He did his job. And then after the performance, we were talking just like I talked to every single tour manager that tours with groups and just being a personable, friendly face to get them to know that our university is a friendly institution, we're hospitable. 

Um, And then it turned very sexual, very fast. He said some things like, “Oh, I've been watching you walk. Who's the oldest man you've been with?” And he even asked if I had friends or a another woman that I know that could spend the night with him. Just all these things they're throwing at me, and I'm so uncomfortable with this whole thing.

And I have box office staff that work for me, and they're all students. I knew I had to stay there and be in that moment because I was afraid that those students would have to endure whatever this was. You know, there, there's some young, what, 18, 17 year olds that I did not want this man talking to, so I, I took one for the team basically.

And he said one thing to me that I'll probably never forget. He, he said, “Oh, don't, you're not gonna tell anybody about this, right? Like, oh, don't tell the agency, you know, I'm kidding.”

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So after they left, and we were able to get them out of there, but um, it kind of made me take a step back and second guess everything that I do with artists, managers, tour managers.

‘Cause I'm like, I don't want. That to happen again. It was just, and I don't want that to happen to anyone else.

And he didn't just do it to me, he did it to a member of our technical staff as well. Found that out a lot later.

I got the brunt of it. Um, but it doesn't excuse the fact that that happened to her too, so…

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I second guessed myself a lot after that, um, very self-aware to make sure, am I putting off any sort of vibe? And I shouldn't think like that. And I know I shouldn't think like that, but it just kind of opened my mind that people are like that out there. And it's, I wanna be me and I wanna be myself, and I'm a personable person.

It just makes you think that, are other people taking it kind of the wrong way?

When it first initially happened, and he mentioned, “Do not say anything to the agency, you know, I'm kidding.” I was like, “okay,” because I'm, I thought about it in this way initially that I'm young, I'm a young work arts worker, I'm a woman, and this is my second group that I've done from start to finish, if I bring in a group and I'm like, “Oh, I have a complaint. He was inappropriate with me.” What would that brand me as? What would I be known as with all the other agencies and all the other artists? So I thought about this reputation ‘cuz of a lot of our businesses about reputation and who you know that I didn't want it to affect my work.

So I thought that I would just keep it, keep it a secret, but um, our technical director, came up to me and told me about how his staff member was affected as well. And I was like, okay, this is bigger than me. This isn't just me. And it's whatever her decision is too, what we want to do together.

Um, we ultimately went to our music department head reported the situation and then we looped in the agency as well, so. It shouldn't, I, I hate that it kind of made me feel silenced in a way when he said, “Don't go to the agency.” And I listened for a little bit.

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And it's affected my programming for this upcoming year because, because I, I feel like I have to vet people that come into our university because these are, some are minors and there's some, I don't know. I just, I feel like I've been behind in a lot of things because of this incident.

I'm, I'm such a strong, independent woman I would like to say that I can't believe this little man did this to me and made me second guess who I am, because I know that's not who I am. So I'm slowly trying to get back, um, into the mindset that it's okay.

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You have to fight and earn for your respect as such a young worker in, in any industry, but, Obviously my experience is tailored to the arts. We just wanna be respected in the workplace. We want to feel like we belong and have a safe space, but misogyny is out there. It's in every institution, unfortunately, and I really wish it wasn't, obviously with my firsthand experiences, we all, we all know.

I've had to work so hard for so long and when I feel like I don't achieve, what do I want to achieve? I feel like I've let my whole life down, like everything that came up to this moment is now just crumbling.

There's been a lot of ups, but there's been some downs, but I think it's made me grow more as a person, more as just a young woman ‘cuz I've just learned a lot about myself with this position, and I think as you get older you learn more about yourself. 

When you're far removed from the beginning of your career, you kind of forget certain little milestones that were so monumental in your life at the time.
And of course there'll be more important milestones, but there will also be those, those down periods and just how I've reacted to everything that's happened. I'm just really proud of myself.

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

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Claire: Act two: Lifeboat

When Drea went on a cruise for the first time a couple of years ago, he was captivated by the on-ship DJ. How one person was able to bring smiles to everyone's faces, encourage people to dance and change the mood of the entire room with a single song.

So he began teaching himself how to DJ, worked on his set list and stage presence, and after a few failed auditions, he finally landed his dream job: a full-time DJ on an international cruise ship.

He was excited, but also nervous because no one on the ship knew that he was transgender, and had recently had gender-affirming surgery.

Drea, who performs as D.J. Doza The God, starts his story a few weeks into that dream job.

DJ: During my time on the ship, I experienced major complications. I went into, um, urine retention.

I was in so much pain. But I am on the cruise ship. I am having the opportunity to, live my dream life, you know, have the dream job that I've, I've always wanted. So while I'm at the different events, DJing and people are enjoying themselves, I'm in major pain.

But all that time, I'm smiling, no one knows that I'm experiencing this pain. One day it just got to the point where, I couldn't take it no more, and I had to call my boss I let her know that I was a transgender male and I went through surgery, and I am now experiencing complications.

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And she let me know that “Yes, you have to go to the hospital.” So I was admitted to the hospital on the cruise ship. They had to perform an emergency procedure.

They had to insert a catheter. And the crazy part is the doctors on board had to contact my doctors here in Chicago, and my doctors had to, you know, explain, in medical terminology, you know, everything and how to move forward with me. So, once all of that was done, I, um, I had to spend, what, two, two days in the hospital on the ship and that's when they let me know that I have to disembark. I have to have an emergency disembarkation.

So the dream job of my life is still on hold because I am still experiencing those complications, but I'm in the process of getting those complications fixed.
I'm going into surgery again, and my mental, my physical, spiritual, emotional, just all of that is just, outta whack lately because, what if this doesn't go well? I don't want to miss out on my opportunity, to fully just live out the career of my dreams.

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When I let the doctors know, when I let my, my boss know and some of the coworkers, like they were very understanding, they were very helpful. Like when it was time for me to leave, they was carrying all my bags and, [starts crying] see y'all, y'all doing this to me. I'm trying not to cry.

But it was just so overwhelming when I got downstairs to disembark the people, the other people on the ship were just like, “We look forward to seeing you again on this ship. This is what you are meant to be doing. Entertaining people, spreading your love to people.”

And that was the type of acceptance I received. So when I do hear horror stories, trans or LGBTQIA community, it breaks my heart because we are human just like everybody else, and we just wanna live just like everybody else live in our, our authentic selves and just enjoying life like everybody else. And. I'm just grateful that I can come to them with anything, although this process has taken a long time, they're always there.

I can't ask for nothing better. So I just really hope that others can experience love. ‘Cause you, you need love during this time. You do need people that love you and support you because it is, it is hard.

It is very hard. [Crying]

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I'm ready to get back on the ship.

I packed my bag for the cruise ship, so I got my little suit jackets, you know, and my crowns and my little essentials that I need for the ship.

So when it's time to get back on, that's already out the way.

And I, I've been watching YouTube videos, like some of the DJs, at the festivals and I gotta kind of stop it at times cuz I'm like, “Ugh, I just wanna be there!” But it's, it is good to see that, because that's motivation for me.

I've been thinking of like different elements I can add to my show and keep the, the ideas flowing and still downloading music, but I'm just ready to get up and out and present all of that to the people.

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This journey is, it's not easy. I will say that it is not an easy journey, but I, I don't regret any of it. I'm, I'm happy with the, the way that I am now. Fully being accepted the way that I wanna be accepted. So I'm just ready to just fully get out there and enjoy this, this new life that I, that I have cuz it, it is a, a, a new life for me.
I'm just ready to enjoy. [laugh]

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Claire: DJ Doza The God is an international DJ. He lives in Chicago, Illinois.

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Claire: Act three: Strength in Numbers

Shenea Stiletto has been an acrobat and a gymnast for her entire life. For years, she traveled the world as a circus performer and circus arts teacher.

So when the pandemic started, she found herself stuck in one place with no income, no security and no safety net.

And because of Shenea’s unique background, she decided to stand up. And demand a safety net. Because she’s seen the worst of what can happen when athletes and artists aren’t protected.

Here’s Shenea:

Shenea: I found myself starting to get very angry because I was in a category of kind of a forgotten class.

So within that, I thought, okay, I need to use my voice this particular time to advocate for myself. Most oftentimes, who's advocating for the circus arts industry are the big guns, are the big companies, are the representatives from Cirque du Soleil, from the Big Apples, from the Ringling Brothers and their PR people. And you hear from people that are in charge. You don't hear from the performers.

You don't hear from the tech. You don't hear from the crew. You don't hear from those of us that keep those big companies working and neither had Washington, DC, and I knew that. These were conversations that I've been having within the circus industry all over the world for decades prior to the pandemic, we just weren't having these conversations into a microphone for fear of being blacklisted from the industry.

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I know that that sounds pretty serious and like an exaggeration, but word travels fast within the circus arts industry. It's a very niche environment. It's very unusual, much like the USA Gymnastics environment that I grew up in and came from.

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I am a part of the, one of the biggest sexual abuse cases in U.S. history. I, along with the hundreds of survivors of Larry Nassar were deeply, deeply impacted by the USA Gymnastics organization who failed us as minors on multiple levels and allowed for us to be sexually and physically and mentally abused by our coaches and doctors, and also by the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Ah, unfortunately, for the last 13 years, I have gotten an education in and around advocacy that I never would have wanted for myself.

But I had a lot of engagement with Washington, with working with various Congress people, Senators, lobbyists, um, working on getting statutes changed, policy reform and laws passed.

I've been able to infuse and utilize all of that experience as an advocate for the circus arts industry, too.

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Those of us that wanted to bring our heads together, thought, there's gotta be a better way forward. There's gotta be a way that we are going to get access to the basics: unemployment. which took performers and circus workers months, if not over a year, to be able to get, and several of them were simply waiting on their last paycheck, which was worth, for many of them, thousands and thousands of dollars.
So we felt that it was time to contact our Representatives.

I think we all were very nervous and apprehensive because our Representatives have not heard from the circus arts industry. And the sad part is is that people love hearing about the circus.

There is another side of that where people don't take us very seriously, and you get to hear that when you go and you do those normal adulting things like trying to buy a car or getting insurance or getting a loan or contacting your Congress person or your Senator or your representative, where you see that they don't really know what to do with you.

And so our very first meeting on behalf of our advocacy committee, we, everyone was very nervous.

They've not had to advocate for themselves within Washington, DC or even speak to their local representative about the strains of the circus arts industry.

So our first meeting felt like a huge triumph in terms of circus arts advocacy.
Things like this just don't happen overnight, even if they seem to happen overnight. There are meetings and things and conversations behind the scenes all the time.

We need an industry that continues to stay hungry because we haven't achieved our goals.

We've achieved small things. And we need not only our own internal industry support, we need the public support. Please write your Representative on behalf of the circus arts industry. Please as an arts community include us in your arts advocacy, Please include us in your organizations, in your panels, in your conversations.

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It's easy to rile people up around art advocacy when they are down, when everyone is in the same boat.

However, when things started to open up, Nevada being a state that opened up far faster than many other surrounding states, and with the robust entertainment, circus entertainment industry here, they got back to work faster than the majority of us.

And so it became and has become a very difficult road in trying to corral as much support around these issues as we were able to get during the thick of the lockdowns.

People can't make meetings in the same way. We can't schedule things in the same way. Circus workers are more inclined to go to outreach and support for jobs mainly at this point. They don't want to make sure that they're going to have access to unemployment if something happens to them on this job.

And they don't realize that that safety net is still not certain. We still don't have policy and legislation. We were not able to basically codify or confirm those emergency safety nets. They do not exist as an undercurrent or as a functioning safety net.
And so keeping that in the, in the minds and ears of industry professionals right now is very daunting.

This work takes a long time. It's not for the faint of heart. Just like we all say that circus arts is not for the faint of heart because it's a very difficult profession.

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And I, you know, in having these conversations consistently put my career on the line.

And I refuse to care. I throughout being, a USA Gymnastics survivor for the past 13 years, have been called a liar, have been called a money grabber, have been called a professional victim.

You have to build up a very supportive community around yourself to be able to take that kind of heat and to be able to engage in an environment that's not fully supportive of you, or that wants these conversations to go away.

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People sometimes see people like me at this stage in my life and think that it's super easy for me. That I don't go through stress and strain or that I don't go to therapy all the time, which I do that I don't go to support groups, which I do.
But I have not always had that, and so it's been very challenging over these past few years, trying to get people to have conversations on camera that are explicit and that are naming names because of how, uh, retaliatory this environment is within the circus arts.

There's many people that do not wanna see their power being taken away, And I dealt with that in reforming these youth sports environments where there's a lot of people that think that they're the good ones, but they are literally the ones that are helping to perpetuate these issues through the desire to have incremental change. Incremental change that is good for them, that makes them look good, change that is very superficial.

We cannot have them go for another five years in a way that does not serve the industry professional in the best way unless you happen to be one percent.

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I would love to live these changes within the industry, but I would also like to leave this industry better than when I found it. And I think that that's all of our responsibilities. You shouldn't just eat, everyone else gets to eat, too.

We should not shoulder those burdens for these companies to make billions of dollars off of our talent. And we can't continue to be intimidated by this industry and by the lure of having such a glamorous job that we allow ourselves to just take it.

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Claire: Shenea Stiletto is a circus arts advocate in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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Claire: Thank you so much 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 music today from Blue Dot Sessions.

As always, this podcast wouldn’t be possible without the generous support of The Wallace Foundation. So thank you.

Other thank yous to Shanice Mason, the APAP staff and board of directors, our storytellers today, and the hundreds of thousands of arts workers across the world.

Your stories matter, and arts workers ARE essential.

Speaking of stories, if you work in the performing arts and want to submit your own story to this podcast visit

And if you enjoyed this episode, which as always, I really hope you did, please leave us a review. It helps other people find the show.

Carolyn: Arts, Work, Life. that’s real *laugh*

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Claire: And next time, for the Season 2 finale of ARTS. WORK. LIFE.

Emily: Just to, so you know, I haven't talked about this publicly. Um, yet, but I want to, I think it's time.

Luke: Dancers feel like they are expendable, and if they say the wrong thing or speak out about their pay or their treatment, they could easily just be either pulled from the project or not invited to come back.

Sam: I have to be able to not let the disease win [laugh] or take over or, and I might not be able to help that.

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Resources and Links

The following resources may be helpful to our listeners.

INTRO/ACT ONE: Pushing Buttons/A Compromise and A Coda

ACT TWO: Encore

ACT THREE: An Aha Moment


This podcast made possible with the generous support of The Wallace Foundation and listeners like you. Donate here.
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Photos: Lynn Neuman at a recycling facility; Thamara Bejarano courtesy of storyteller; Taylor Gordon photo by Jon Tayler; Craig Knudsen returns to the opera stage in 2018.
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