By: Mallory Carbon
Looking back, nothing could’ve prepared me for what came after unceremoniously clicking the zoom link to join my first CD Forum staff meeting. I was greeted by literal screams of joy as my mentor and dear friend popped up on the screen, clearly surprised by my face. Of course, I’m talking about the one and only Dani Tirrell. I was welcomed with completely open arms by staff who were strangers then, but have now come to be members of my extended family. After what seemed like a half-day of introductions, business, laughs, cries, and “soap-boxes” (a new term for me), I had one thought in my mind: I am so lucky that this is where I have found myself.
My name is Mallory Carbon and over the past couple of months, I had the privilege of interning with CD Forum through Northwest Folklife’s Cultural and Creative Workforce Development Program. I’m a University of Washington senior studying Science, Technology, and Society with a huge passion for the arts. I’m a musical theatre performer, a scientist, and a lover of sparkly things.
I would be kidding myself if I didn’t acknowledge that I was nervous to be walking into a Black-led organization as a white woman, especially during a historic time for racial injustice. My extensive time in Dani’s Street Styles classes at UW had completely opened my mind to experiences of Black and brown bodies through dance, culture, and activism. With Dani’s guidance, I had seen many CD Forum shows and sponsored events, usually alongside a mighty cohort of my classmates. However, my time as a CD Forum employee would go on to provide me with educational experiences that I could never glean from my time in academia. At CD Forum I have developed in professional and artistic ways as well as in my understanding of what it means to listen to and represent voices other than my own. CD Forum has shown me what it takes to be a leader for change in the world.
I look forward to my CD Forum meetings for a lot of reasons (sharing space with exceptional people, getting to laugh and be my full silly self, hearing about the art we support) but what I find to be most enriching is to be able to listen to Black change-makers talk about their experiences. Our fearless leader and Executive Director Sharon Nyree Williams quickly made it high on my list of people I truly admire for her ability to step up and lead, especially when it’s most difficult. She, alongside her incredible team, create a safe space that allows me to be brave and ask questions as I’m continually defining what it means to be a young white woman wanting to put in the work to understand my privilege and how to combat racism in the world around me. The kind of leadership that has been modeled for me while at CD Forum from all corners of the organization has and will forever inform how I lead, ask the hard questions, act on my words, and find meaningful connections in my work.
One of my many duties as an intern was supporting the rehearsal process for Showing Out: Black Choreographers Festival. Originally I was paired with artist Milvia Berenice Pacheco Salvatierra, whom I had never met, to make sure she had things set up and sanitized to safely rehearse. In her first few rehearsals, I tried not to bug her too much but would selfishly catch glimpses of her creating something truly unique. Things changed when halfway through the process she asked me to film a run-through. It was the first time I got to see start to finish what she was working on. Needless to say, I had chills from the moment her booming voice marked the beginning of her piece. After that first recording, I was caught off guard with her asking me simply, “What did you think?” From then on we would engage in intellectual dialogue about purpose, meaning, artistic expression, and the deep history of her piece. Most rehearsals were accompanied by a full history lesson when I would ask about what different elements of her art meant to her and represented. I went from just popping my head in the room to check on her to fully assisting her rehearsals by filming, talking about the new elements she added each week, and helping her begin her piece by wrapping a rather difficult to work with tapestry around her head, representing Black women’s hair. What I learned in the conversations we had as I helped her wrestle this huge, stiff, cloth on her head could fill a book.
During our final rehearsal together I was literally sweating as we wrapped the tapestry on her head when she asked me to be there on the day of filming to support her. I was completely excited and felt honored that she had even asked me. Filming day rolled around and I realized that it was the first time in 8 months that I was going to be back in a performance space. After fulfilling my duties as the official tapestry wrangling assistant, I sat in the dark and watched it all come together into its final product. The second marvel of that day was watching others in the room be entranced by what I got to watch develop for months. Seeing Milvia advocate for her artistic vision, be in relation with her musician, and exude her strong presence in a performance that demands your attention, I could not help but reflect on the process that I had a small part in supporting. I was watching a talented, intelligent, strong, expressive, kind, and beautiful woman in her element. I could think of fewer more powerful experiences as I teared up in the darkness.
I am incredibly grateful for what I have gained from my time thus far at CD Forum. I am incredibly grateful to Northwest Folklife for providing me the opportunity to have a job in the arts during the COVID-19 pandemic. I am incredibly grateful for the people I have been in community with along the way and what each of them has taught me about myself, working in the arts, leadership, supporting incredible work, how to be a better person, and how to show up for each other, especially during times of distance.