The August Wilson Red Door Project
The mission of the August Wilson Red Door Project is to change the racial ecology of Portland
through the arts.
We envision an inclusive and equitable Portland where people from diverse backgrounds and
experiences, people whose attitudes and beliefs are different from one another, can live, work,
play, and create together, and all people have the confidence, capacity, and opportunity to
fulfill their highest human potential.
We derive our inspiration from our namesake, the playwright August Wilson, author of the
American Century Cycle of ten plays, which explore the African American experience in 20th
century America. Wilson introduced the "red door" as the entryway to the home of his
character, Aunt Ester, who represents healing from the legacies of slavery and racism. Those
who walk through Aunt Ester’s red door embark on a journey of transformation and
redemption. Our intention is that, as Portlanders, we all walk through this red door together,
and our values derive from this commitment. The Red Door also enjoys support from Wilson's
Estate. Constanza Romero, an award winning costume designer, Wilson's widow, and executrix
of the playwright's estate, serves as an honorary Board Member and has given full support for
our activities and programs.
Values Statement: The Red Door Manifesto
The Red Door considers all of humanity, all human kind, as kin. The attempt to distinguish
oneself by race and color is a primitive ideal. We come from a common ancestor. Biological
variations occurred to adapt to changing environments, nothing more. There is consequently no
profound social meaning to be found in such biological variation. Yet, in our ignorance, we
divided ourselves as a means to power and control. Race and creed, lines on a map, culture,
and history— using these as a means of distinction and power is an antiquated and bankrupt
philosophy left over from a primitive age. Knowing this does not preclude recognizing the
current reality in which the construct of race is indeed used as a means to power and control,
resulting in an array of disparities that must be addressed in multiple ways.
A Systems Approach to Changing the Racial Ecology of Portland
We employ a systems theory perspective that tells us that all systems protect themselves.
When change threatens, it’s natural for a system to harden its boundaries. This hardening
attempts to keep out that which is unknown and unfamiliar. Eventually some feedback gets in
that can help the system expand and evolve to its next iteration. The work of the Red Door is to
create environments where boundaries become more permeable, and natural resistance to
change is mitigated.
Guiding and Operating Principles based on Systems Thinking
- For the Red Door, changing the racial ecology means creating and/or enabling inclusive environments where relationships between people who are different from one another can flourish.
- If these environments are created and these relationships are nurtured, growth and transformation at the individual, institutional and community level are possible.
- Rank and power are contextual and are rarely used effectively by any group. Everyone needs to learn how to use rank and power well.
- The culture itself provides clues to potential avenues of change.
- Diversity is the expression of multiple perspectives that can lead to innovation, creativity and learning. Diversity exists as soon as there are two people, not one. Cultural and racial groups are not monolithic, and within each group there is a broad spectrum of life experience, beliefs, values and perspectives.
- The arts, because they bring people together based on common interests, dreams and passions are fertile soil to plant the seeds of a new ecology by diversifying organizations and audiences. However, it is not enough to simply increase representation from different groups. Intentional work to build on common ground and bridge across differences is essential.
- The Red Door seeks to create an organizational culture that values experimentation, risk taking, learning and individual transformation.