May and June are typically full of joyous welcoming and reunion at Sitka. We greet returning workshop participants and instructors and do our best to make first-time visitors feel at home within this caring and creative community.
Instead, this past month has been one of difficult decisions and deep reflection.
As we shared the disappointing news of our decision to cancel Sitka's summer workshop season due to ongoing COVID-19 health concerns, many of you reached out with supportive words and generous donations. I've been especially struck by how many of you mentioned friendships you have made here and how Sitka is a place where friends gather to enjoy art and nature together. Others reflected on the power of this landscape as a place where our senses are reengaged and where our creative spirits breathe freely.
These descriptions of what we cherish about the Sitka experience were fresh when news of Christian Cooper, a Black birder, and his racist encounter in Central Park went viral. They were still fresh just days later when George Floyd's suffocating death was witnessed by the world.
Both of these recent and racist events illuminate with sharp contrast how privileged our beloved Sitka experiences are, and also how much work there is for our caring and creative community to do to champion self-expression and access to nature as human rights.
What role can Sitka play in helping Cascade Head be a place where hikers, birdwatchers and nature photographers of color are able to carry binoculars and digital cameras without fear, exploring their natural curiosity and creativity as freely as White people who live and visit here?
As we work societally to end systemic racism, what unique roles will artists and scientists play in speaking truth to power, and how can Sitka most meaningfully support their work?
How do we reframe our definition of ecology to include those who have been working for decades and those who work now on the front lines of social and environmental justice?
How might our campus be offered as a resource to Black organizations and organizers, Indigenous groups and other leaders of color, and how would our institution need to be different for our offer to be welcomed without reservation or hesitation?
I don't know the answers to these questions, but I do know that the responsibility to take action and make progress lies with Sitka: our team, Board of Directors and community. I invite us to pursue answers to these questions and others together, even when doing so is uncomfortable.
I hope you will join me, in this summer apart, by reflecting and listening actively to concerns and calls to action voiced by social, artistic and environmental leaders of color. Our staff and board members are doing the same. From here, the next steps will become clear, and I look forward to sharing more information on those steps in the early fall.
Through your kind outreach during this tough time, you have shown once again that the Sitka community is engaged and constructive. I wholeheartedly look forward to welcoming you all back next summer, and to working collectively, year in and year out, to have Sitka be a place and space where all people feel welcome.