OLIVIA SATHER: You're listening to Beyond the Stage from the Carpenter Performing Arts Center at Cal State Long Beach. In each episode, we introduce you to the artists, scholars, students, and arts professionals interpreting our world through the arts. In today's episode, I talked to Christina Ramos, Education and Outreach Coordinator at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center about our Arts for Life program. And now for the show.
OLIVIA SATHER: Welcome Christina Ramos. Thank you for joining us today. How are you? You were at a conference today. What was your day like? What have you been up to?
CHRISTINA RAMOS: I’m good. I'm a little tired. But it's been all good stuff today. I was at a professional development with art equity and everyday justice and anti-racism learnings for daily practice type of thing. A two-day thing with lots of information, but it was great to be in the community for eight hours.
OLIVIA SATHER: We'll be getting some more of that in a little bit, but I wanted to start with how we know each other. So we went to grad school together here, actually, at Cal State Long Beach in the theatre management program and MBA program. So that's a bit about how we know each other. And we both just happened to start working together at the Carpenter Center shortly around the same time in 2017. I wanted to start with how did you, specifically, get involved in the Arts? I know you come from the theater background, so how did you get involved in theater?
CHRISTINA RAMOS: I kind of just randomly signed up for a play at school in high school. To be on the crew and not to act. And I was randomly made the costume mistress which is the high school equivalent of the head of costumes there. It's a good thing my mom had already taught me how to sew, and I did it well and I continued to do costumes for my high school theatre department until I graduated. And then I eventually ended up focusing in costume design and technology in undergrad.
OLIVIA SATHER: I want to transition a bit into your work for the Carpenter Center and beyond. So we mentioned this earlier, but you are the Education and Outreach coordinator for the Carpenter Performing Arts Center and have been since 2017. What does that mean? What does your roll encompass?
CHRISTINA RAMOS: I basically manage our free programming. I handle our elementary education program, Classroom Connections, our Campus Connections program which offers free masterclasses, lectures, and workshops to CSULB students, and also our Community Connections program which offers things like a public concert, free readings, and discussions that are open to the Long Beach community. I also do the grant writing for the Carpenter Center because programming is not actually free to produce or to offer. We need grant funds to support that.
OLIVIA SATHER: Absolutely. Those grants are a huge help to make sure we’re able to continue to provide those programs. So, during the last year, you also started a new Arts for Life program, what ended up becoming our Learning How to Be Anti-racist series, which later turned into Learning How To Be Anti-racist: Special Topics. Can you talk a bit about how that program started, and what it was, how it kind of spun off from the Shakespeare meeting? I don't know that it would have come about if not for that.
CHRISTINA RAMOS: Yes, that’s true. Following the summer of uprisings following the murder of George Floyd last summer, we felt like we couldn’t conduct business as usual and hold that weekly Shakespeare reading. So instead we used that time and that Zoom meeting to just have a conversation with our patrons about racism, and what we can do as individuals and organizations. But following that initial conversation, our patrons requested this become a regular thing. For the first 16 weeks, we went over the basics, like what is racism, and then went into identifying the characteristics of white supremacy culture, and then we moved to a once-a-month discussion to focus more deeply on special topics like appropriation, policing, colonization, intersectionality, to name a few.
OLIVIA SATHER: Was there anything about that conversation that you think was successful or not, or made it different because we conducted it in an online space as opposed to in person? How did that shape the conversations, if at all?
CHRISTINA RAMOS: I think being online offered people a bit of anonymity. They could be off-camera you know if they wanted to. They could log off and walk away if the conversation got too hard, they didn't have to participate in the conversation, or they could participate through the chat function. I think it would have been harder to convince people to have these very difficult conversations in person, to actually walk into a room and sit across from someone and be vulnerable. That's a lot harder to sell then logged-in behind a screen in your living room and know you're kind of offered that protection, that distance. I think it's a gentler almost way to get people into a conversation
OLIVIA SATHER: I got this question from many different areas, but how did that conversation group discussion move over the year tie back into the Carpenter Center's mission? How did it relate back to what we do which is presenting performing arts?
CHRISTINA RAMOS: I think anti-racism is relevant to any and every aspect of life, including the arts and college, and I mean, you name it. The Carpenter Center had the means to do it, so why not do it if you're able? It's something worth talking about, and there's almost, I think, our responsibility to be able to provide that space if you can. Anti-racism work is for everyone, and for every every field, every industry.
OLIVIA SATHER: Was there anything that came up over the year that was exciting or new for you, or took you by surprise?
CHRISTINA RAMOS: Towards the last several months, participants became more comfortable talking to me and to each other and that was really exciting to me to have more dialogue back and forth instead of me just talking for an hour at them. There were also several “ah ha” moments that I saw happen with different people. Which is also really and I couldn't even tell you who they were or what the moments were anymore, but I remember seeing it on their faces and having someone able to explain back to you something you taught them—it's really exciting. If at least one person learned one thing I mean then it makes the effort worth it.
OLIVIA SATHER: Yeah, definitely. I remember when we were in graduate school, several times where you, Christina, not in a particular role as a teacher or whatever position you had that semester in the management program, but as our friends and classmates, my friend and classmate, you often spoke up and called us in and provided teaching moments for me and our fellow classmates on bias, ableism, appropriation, prejudice, microaggressions. And there were some tough conversations we had but you never backed down. I remember always admiring how brave you were in those moments and how knowledgeable you were and your ability to see things from other people's perspective other than your own. Was there a moment in your life or in your career when you decided that you were going to start speaking up for—I don't want to say take on this role as an activist because I don't want to like pigeonhole you in that way, I don't want to put that label on you if you wouldn't stand up for yourself—but was there a moment where you were like, I can no longer be silent about these things?
CHRISTINA RAMOS: I don't know in my life, I think I got my start in feminism, which I would say is a gateway social cause. I got started in feminism when I was five. I remember this vividly. I was outraged that Gaston in the movie Beauty and the Beast said that women shouldn't be reading. I demanded that my mom explain why women shouldn't read. It's an outrage as a little five year old saying this isn't right and growing up with a brother and knowing that he was in no way superior to me. I love him to death, but he is not better than me because he's male. It was just something I knew inherently. I think finding a voice—that took practice and that was a gradual process I really started getting involved in feminist spaces in college, undergraduate. With my generation those spaces are largely online and through those spaces my awareness was expanded by peers to things like racism, ableism, classism, etc. And I think having started from a place of trusting my own experience as female helped me to keep my mind and my heart open as I continue to learn about other injustices that I may have been unknowingly participating in. Graduate school, I think, may have been the turning point when I started being more vocal. And I think it was a couple things at that point…my awareness has grown to realize that to be silent was to be complacent with oppression. It was also for the first time in a position where I would look around a room of peers and see maybe one of two people of color, maybe. I saw only two faculty of color come and go during my three years in that department program that sold me on its diversity. I was pissed off and we know anger is a great motivator. That's when I became a little bit more vocal.
OLIVIA SATHER: How have you been—I feel like you just touched on this but like—how have you practiced that over time? Does it just take doing it over and over again to feel good at it? Maybe you never feel, I don't know, do [you] ever feel good at it?
CHRISTINA RAMOS: No, I never feel good at it. I’m always wondering if I'm saying the wrong thing or if I'm explaining this correctly or if I'm just talking in circles. Am I even making sense right now and I think my approach has changed, too, since grad school. I think you can recognize this in grad school. I was the squeaky wheel, you know, thorn in the side, a little bit combative one might say.
OLIVIA SATHER: We needed that.
CHRISTINA RAMOS: Thank you, sorry, but yeah, it takes practice. You get more comfortable with it and I think I've realized always being right isn't necessarily the point of speaking up. The point is to bring people in and to expand someone else's awareness. Get them on board with you, which is kind of difficult to achieve when they are being defensive, and sharing experiences and understanding is usually more an effective route.
OLIVIA SATHER: You also are on the board of California Presenters which is an Association of Performing Arts Center, an organization throughout California but also [the] western United States. You joined the board what was it…I think...
CHRISTINA RAMOS: I think fall or was it January. I think the fall I started. Yes, it's in the fall 2020.
OLIVIA SATHER: Around that same time you also joined President Connelly at CSULB’s Commission for Equity and Change. You're working not only with the nonprofit institutions and Cal Presenters in higher education… How is it going and what are you working on if you can talk about it talk about it?
CHRISTINA RAMOS: It's a long complicated story for each, but yes, I am part of both of those organizations and with California Presenters. Actually with both, people are feeling the need to change. The pressure is definitely on, especially after last summer. And I think with both there's a desire to enact actual change. There is that slippery slope there, though, of providing optics of change. With California Presenters, we are a membership organization, so our members, like Carpenter Center is a member of California Presenters, we can't really dictate what members do. So it's a little bit more difficult to enact change when you yourself are just a collection of other organizations who have their own autonomy. We are, with California Presenters, working on our Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility, our idea, our policies, our statement, and what we're going to expect from Member organizations, or encourage of member organizations. With the President's Commission on Equity and Change, we make recommendations to the President of different things that should happen on campus to provide more equity. We've already gotten started on some initiatives allowing for affinity spaces on campus to be considered part of the work day, so that staff and faculty can count it as actual work to be involved in an affinity space, instead of having to like use their lunch break or take time off for a meeting. We’ve created guidelines for how those affinity spaces are created to make sure that they are groups that are there to promote equity on campus and not just anyone is deciding they want to create an affinity space. We are looking at the equity of scholarships on campus, both the process of receiving them and awarding them, which is ongoing at the committee that I'm heading up. Exciting. We are part of the campus climate survey analysis, looking at that. And there's another thing that we just got done: posting jobs online for CSULB. Historically it would be posted for like two weeks, then closed, which doesn't really allow for a wide pool of candidates or a diverse pool of candidates. And as we learned last year, a sense of urgency is a characteristic of white supremacist culture. So what's the rush, let's slow our role, as Carmen Morgan would say. And, yeah, make sure that we're getting the right people on board, so that's another thing that we just got accomplished as well, extending the time of job postings. And then we have a whole strategic strategic plan that will be posted publicly soon that is quite extensive for every area of campus, and very ambitious for everything else we're going to be doing. That's all I can say on it.
OLIVIA SATHER: That's really exciting. In the nonprofit and performing arts realm, what do you see on the horizon for performing arts, theater, nonprofits, in terms of equity, diversity, and inclusion.
CHRISTINA RAMOS: I think they're also feeling the pressure to change, given the current climate—so sick of hearing and saying that—yeah they're feeling the pressure to change or at least to provide the optics of change, and unfortunately, I think it's the latter that we're going to be seeing more of immediately. We're already seeing a lot of virtue signaling, we might say, or performative allyship, long-term I think the industry is slowly coming around. Every year I hear of another organization that has taken some radical steps towards equality, which is great, but it is slow. I want to be optimistic and say like this is a big moment where everything actually happens, but I think it's a big moment where everything looks like things are happening. Everyone is learning the language you know, but not actually doing things.
OLIVIA SATHER: Is there anything new, either in higher education or in nonprofit or in the performing arts, in terms of equity, diversity, inclusion, that’s not being talked about that you think should be?
CHRISTINA RAMOS: I think it's all being talked about somewhere at a given point. It's like who's talking about it though. I think for any of these equity initiatives to happen, a predominantly white leadership has to get on board and let go of their power. And I think we can hire as many diverse staff members as we can, we can program an entire season of diverse shows, but if leadership—saying both staff members and board members remain the same–nothing really changes, and who really is willing to give up their job, even if it means allowing for a more equitable field? It’s a conversation we shy away from, because a lot of times our leaders are our friends, and it's an uncomfortable conversation to have to say that you need to take a step back if you really want this to work.
OLIVIA SATHER: Your thesis was about that, a little bit.
CHRISTINA RAMOS: My thesis…what was my thesis? Three-four years ago I was looking at the effectiveness of pipeline programs in diversifying the theater management field, that's right, and using data analysis to try and figure this out. And actually my thinking has changed around all of that since I wrote my thesis. It’s coming from a deficit standpoint that the talent for theater management isn't there when we're looking at diverse candidates. That diverse candidate simply don't exist, so therefore we need to create these pipeline programs to train more people so that then there are more candidates that we can hire. That’s the idea on programs to bring more people of color who otherwise wouldn't have the opportunity to be in these leadership positions, and get them ready for leadership positions. That’s coming from a deficit way of thinking and that these diverse candidates aren't already out there, when in fact they are. It just requires more work to find them and that more work to find them is what discourages people from looking for them. A qualified candidate isn't necessarily coming from the theater field. They could be coming from anywhere and have the potential there to learn to already have the skills in a related industry that can be applied to the theater. And it requires work to go find them, and that's what has changed in my thinking, too, is that the keys are there. You got to find the keys. I took this workshop with Sharifa Johka up at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and she gave the analogy that you come home from work and you're in your house, you’ve unlocked the door, and you're in your house and you've been in the living room and you realize that you need to leave again so you need to find your car keys, and you cannot find your car keys. Now you know you had them when you came inside, because you drove home to work, they are connected to your house key, and you used your house key to get in your door. You know that your keys are somewhere in this living room because it's the only place you've been. You’re going to tear that living room apart to find those keys because you know they're there, and that's the same energy you should bring to finding diverse candidates. They're there. Go find your keys. Put that same energy there.
OLIVIA SATHER: I really like that idea. The people are there, it's just a matter of finding them and going back to those, what were the 13, now 15, aspects of white supremacy. Do you think it's also that we sometimes don't identify people as leaders because of those things, because we need to change our mindset around these 13 to 15 tenants, that these are the things we’re valuing, when that's not really what makes a good leader? And so, if we changed our mindset around these things, and then maybe changed our worldview, the leaders were there all along, we just weren’t seeing them. It wasn’t them; it was us. I think those things kind of go hand-in-hand, too. You can't expect the leaders coming in to want to play in the same sandbox you’ve created. They're going to want to create a whole new sandbox, or get rid of that sandbox altogether. That’s what make them a great person to carry on whatever you're passing over.
CHRISTINA RAMOS: Even power-hoarding really is another characteristic there of white supremacist culture and the idea that we need one leader. The power-sharing creates this hierarchical approach to organizations and that this is what is needed. And if we get rid of that, we realize we can flatten that hierarchy, and we don't need one person to stand up. We could have several people sharing power and having responsibility, and working in collaboration with each other. New ways of thinking, and again, the power-hoarding is something that needs to be let go, or pried from someone's hands.
OLIVIA SATHER: To wrap up, I have some, what I hope will be fun rapid-fire questions. I'm not sure if I can say who I borrowed this from, but I borrowed this from a very well-known podcaster who I admire. So we’ll get started with our rapid fire. Favorite play and/or musical?
CHRISTINA RAMOS: An Octoroon and it's coming to L.A. soon. Waiting for that email to buy tickets. I can't remember which theater is doing it. Musical has always been Jesus Christ Superstar, but Hamilton might be unseating that. I've also been really obsessed with Hadestown. Jesus Christ Superstar—I grew up with it.
OLIVIA SATHER: What are you listening to these days: an artist or album that you recommend?
CHRISTINA RAMOS: Brandi Carlile. Today, yesterday, and forever.
OLIVIA SATHER: Pandemic hobby?
CHRISTINA RAMOS: Well, my sourdough starter really didn't get started correctly. Pandemic hobbies? I was trying hobbies and having them fail. Catching up on TV. All the TV I missed in grad school.
OLIVIA SATHER: What are you reading these days and do you have any book recommendation?
CHRISTINA RAMOS: I am halfway through Stamped From the Beginning and I have been for several months now. I still recommend that you read it. It's hard read. Another book I recommend is Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler and the following one, Parable of the Talents.
OLIVIA SATHER: Best live stream or virtual performance that you saw?
CHRISTINA RAMOS: Something the Carpenter Center produced, obviously. Of course, yeah. I really liked our Ballet Folklorico one and even before that one, our more informal Jarabe Mexicano concert— that was fun and informal. I also attended a virtual concert or two with Brandi Carlile.
OLIVIA SATHER: That Ballet Folklorico one, I was up in my living room, dancing. They’re so fun. I can’t wait until they come in person.
CHRISTINA RAMOS: I was at my parents' house and my dad came and sat down in the living room, too.
OLIVIA SATHER: What are you looking forward to as we return to in-person events, but also life more open as we move from like red tier to orange tier? Anything you're excited about or looking forward to?
CHRISTINA RAMOS: Dancing on a wooden dance floor. I’ve been line dancing in a dirt patch in a park for the last several months. It used to be a grass patch but we danced it into dirt and come away filthy. But yes, a real wooden dance floor. I think getting together with other people who have been vaccinated. Game night. Two weeks after our second shot.
OLIVIA SATHER: I'm also looking forward to that. Well, thank you, Christina, so much for our interview. It went longer than I expected, so I appreciate you giving me your time and giving this podcast your time. Any final… I don't know if you are like a professional social media person but anywhere you want to send people or final thing you would like to share with everyone listening.
CHRISTINA RAMOS: I'm not a social media person. All my stuff is private, but diversify your newsfeed. I will say that. Go follow some BIPOC influencers and some news media that isn't white or mainstream. I recommend The Root, Wear Your Voice magazine.
OLIVIA SATHER: All right, we'll link those up in the show notes. For everyone listening thank you for joining us. Beyond the Stage is produced by the Carpenter Performing Arts Center at Cal State Long Beach. Views expressed by guests of the show or the hosts are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of the University. A special thanks to today's guest and the entire staff of the Carpenter Performing Arts Center, including our Executive Director Megan Kline Crockett. Audio engineering is provided by Ken Beaupre. Graphic design by Patti Laurrell. Digital Communications by Franz Neumann, and additional marketing and media assistance by Amber Legaspi-Valdez. Our theme music is by Ken Beaupre. If you'd like to support Beyond the Stage or the Carpenter Performing Arts Center, please donate online at Carpenterarts.org. Thank you for joining us today and we'll see you next time.