Unity Awards Alums

Asolo Rep’s Michael Donald Edwards Strives for Inclusivity and Diversity

Edwards was a 2016 Unity Award winner and is the producing artistic director of Asolo Repertory Theatre.

March 2, 2021

Michael Donald Edwards

Michael Donald Edwards

Image: SRQ Headshots

Where are you now?

"Since 2016, Asolo Rep has continued to work towards an invitingly diverse and inclusive workplace and slate of productions every season. Programs like OUT@AsoloRep and the IllumiNation series have continued to provide a space to do that work and invite everyone from our community to find a home at Asolo Rep."

Your biggest challenges in 2020?

"We share this challenge with every arts institution and, indeed, every institution in our country, and that’s the coronavirus pandemic. It has put a great deal of stress on every aspect of our organization, forced us to become temporarily smaller, and made it dramatically more urgent to stay relevant, engaged, and to continue to reach our community in every way possible with great, insightful stories."

Where are you finding success?

"Our staff, our board, and our supporters, have all risen to the challenges presented by Covid-19. We are strong; we are going to survive this. And we are going to be part of making our community, better, safer, more connected. The pandemic has reminded us at Asolo Rep that we must all love our neighbor."

What do you wish people understood about the arts?

"How fundamental the unifying influence of the performing arts is to a livable community, to a sustainable community, to an inclusive community. It isn’t a luxury. We are deeply connected to the economic health of the city and to everything that makes our community worth living in. We in the performing arts have a critical role to play to make everyone who lives here, more engaged, healthier, and proud of where they live."

What do you think the most powerful qualities are to bring people together?

"A bridge builder accepts and embraces as necessary the value of education and engagement for every aspect of public health and happiness. It’s about more than simply the group to whom they may have the strongest attachment. A bridge builder sees beyond the perimeters of their own friends and family and embraces the idea of the well-being of the stranger in our midst. I think the only way to increase the number of people engaged in this kind of work is to share stories, to listen openly, and act based on that learning. Any initiative that can bring about a step in that process is inherently raising tolerance and inclusion."

Do you remain hopeful that the divisions we’re seeing right now will lessen? "Yes. At this time, the divisions in American life seem more pronounced than the forces that bring us together, but to some extent that is a self-imposed reality. The loudest voices I hear proclaiming division come from consuming media that insists on these divisions being at a crisis level. My daily life and interactions in Sarasota give me hope that these divisions are less fixed and more capable of dissolution than they appear to be. We just need to talk to each other—I don’t live and breathe division, people are choosing to live and breathe it, perhaps without even realizing it. If they turned it off, we would see other people more clearly as just like us with the same needs and hopes."

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