A Letter I Hope in the Future, Doesn’t Need to be Written

Emily Johnson
22 min readJan 22, 2021


I sent the following letter on January 20, 2021 to the National Endowment for the Arts to share with them my experience as a Yup’ik womxn and artist with Jedidiah Wheeler, Executive Director of Peak Performances at Montclair State University. I’m publishing it here so that we — artsworkers, audiences, presenters, funders, and a broader public — can examine what exists. And so we can build processes and relationships forward that are equitable, justice centered and decolonized, rather than stay in systems and experiences that perpetuate violence and extraction.

January 20, 2021

To: Brandon Gryde, Presenting & Multidisciplinary Works and Artist Communities Director | Multidisciplinary Arts Division (Artists Communities/Folk & Traditional Arts/Presenting & Multidisciplinary Works) at National Endowment for the Arts


Sara Nash, Director of Dance | Programs and Partnerships at National Endowment for the Arts

Dear Brandon and Sara,

I hope you are feeling healthy and well and that you felt safe during the insurrection last week and the ongoing effects. I am sending you calm and ease for the next many weeks.

I am writing, many months after our conversations, to inform you that I have decided to forego any funding and further entanglement with Peak Performances. As you are aware, Peak Performances received a grant from the NEA for $25,000 in support of my residency and project, Being Future Being. As you are also aware, this grant comes with the federal requirement that Peak Performances match your $25,000.

Acknowledging the uncertainty and collective loss of this time, it has become even more clear to me through this year that my work — its values, intentions, its very meaning — cannot, and should not, be realized within institutions where its transformative goals are not genuinely supported by leadership. I cannot accept funds knowing my work, my name, might be used to signal to funders, colleagues, communities and audiences a set of values that an institution does not actually adhere or aspire to.

I am upset I have to write this letter. I am upset you have to receive it. I am upset I have spent a year contemplating unpleasant knowledge and the implications regarding each decision I might make regarding that knowledge. What brings me to write is the unfortunate irony of company. Unfortunately, I am not alone in the kinds of situation I will describe through this letter.

I offer gratitude to and am in solidarity with Nana Chinara and Anthony Hudson — who shared publicly their individual experiences with depth and clarity. I am with every artist interviewed and quoted — anonymously or named — in the Creating New Futures phase one document. And I am with every artist who has a story, but not the platform to share it publicly. We are powerful together, powerful enough to change the racist, unjust, inequitable and harm inducing systems and power structures in the performing arts world and the world at large. I am inspired by artists and friends, Demian DinéYazhí, S.J Norman, Merritt Johnson, Amber Webb, Nataneh River, and others — who speak, write, draw, dance their truths — and generously and with courage, offer their stories to the world. I have courage because they all have courage. Quyana Nana, Anthony, Demian, S.J, Merritt, Amber, Nataneh.

What do I want from sharing this story, this letter?

Do I want a personal resolution with the named presenter/institution? No. Not anymore.

Do I want to gather empathy for my story and the realities it shares with other Indigenous, Black and other arts workers of color? Yes. Absolutely.

Do I want to change the racist, extractive and harmful systems we live in? Yes. Always.

Do I want the $100,000 commission we were offered and I think we have earned, outright? Yes, of course.

Do I think this letter alone will accomplish this? No. But I offer it because I believe in our collective stories and experiences. I hope the more artsworkers and others share these stories, the more clear and obvious the focus on change becomes. Most of all, I hope there are artsworkers in the future who won’t have to write such letters.

As you know, I became fully aware of the $25,000 NEA grant and the matching requirement after submitting a Freedom of Information Act request, as Peak Performances was not forthcoming with this information nor with what information they used to receive the funding.

Brandon and Sara, I am thankful for the conversations we have had regarding what I will outline below.

I understand from our conversations that the NEA (currently) has no avenue for recourse when an individual artist, whose work is meant to be supported with grants from the NEA, is met with unethical and harmful situations with the presenter or institution who is granted the funds. Maybe this is something we can endeavor to change, too! Shifting the burden of risk away from individual artsworkers must be part of our collective path forward.

I believe in the power of transformative relationships. And I know that the process of creating and sharing performance can shift consciousness, center community knowledge, and bring us to equitable and just futures.

In my creative work, this takes deep commitment from all involved, including community members, collaborators, performers, audience, and presenting and residency partners — who most often want to engage in the community building and systems change processes my work depends on and requires.

I understand this kind of commitment from a presenter can be challenging, and I’m fine with that. Work that deeply respects and involves community takes a long time… it is expensive… and it can be difficult for leadership in some institutions to engage in the long form, multi-layered, community based processes required. It can be difficult for settler-run institutions to navigate necessary processural shifts, guided toward a decolonised structure and practice. This can be especially challenging for larger institutions that are often founded on and therefore engrained in white supremacist and colonial values of extraction, capitalism, racism, and perseverance of perceived power. But I am honored when individuals working within such institutions want to try. And of course, they should try. The processes and commitments to decolonisation I am writing of are embedded within the creative practice and the presentation of dances I make. It is a consistently and necessarily changing process that is different with every performance offering and with every new institutional partnership.

The challenges and difficulties noted above can become obvious in many forms. Fear, anger, rage, discomfort, obstacle, obfuscation, refusal. We can work through these challenges. No process of decolonisation that is worthwhile would come without deep structural, emotional, and systems wide change. I am here for these processes. And I am remarkably proud of my many Indigenous colleagues and accomplice and ally colleagues who are also. There are, however, boundaries regarding health and safety that must be respected.

I have to make clear that my choices to engage in this work are not nor should be the expected choice of any other artsworker.

I have to make clear that it SHOULD be expected that institutions have done and are committed to consistently dismantle systems of oppression.

I refuse to participate in a creative process with a violent and oppressive individual who, while may be experiencing some of the challenges noted above…fear, anger, rage…, cannot control them in a professional manner and chooses instead to be verbally abusive, demonstratively condescending and controlling, and then wield the weight of his position and institution in continued abusive, unethical and punishing measures.

In October 2018 I began meeting with Jedidiah Wheeler, Executive Director of Peak Performances at Montclair State University. We met at a coffee shop on the Lower East Side and began conversations about decolonisation processes and the possibility of a presenting and commissioning partnership. We had not met in person prior, but he was knowledgeable about my work on stage and with communities of people in process. Previous to meeting, I wrote an essay titled, Land, Indigenous, People, Sky for the PEAK Journal, invited by editor Claudia La Rocco - for Marrugeku’s performance of Cut the Sky in Peak Performances’ 2018–2019 season. I knew Marrugeku from my work in the country currently called Australia and was happy to write the essay.

By the end of 2018, George Lugg, who works with me as creative producer, was in commissioning and contract conversations for my new dance work with Peak Performances. Public announcements about the commission were made at NPN, APAP and Under the Radar conferences.

The 2019 workflow consisted of, among other relational aspects, George working to cultivate a commissioning consortium with Peak, helping them to fundraise, and working to advance terms and contract.

Although a contract was not yet signed, we were in an exclusivity agreement, based on Peak Performances’ terms. Any process forward with Peak meant declining any performance opportunities within 100 miles of Montclair, New Jersey including, of course, New York City where I live.

My relational conversations with other organizations in my home city, who wanted to be part of a creative process, included Jedidiah’s exclusivity preferences. While I recognized the limitations embedded in an exclusivity agreement, and it hampered other potential processes, I also knew the scope of the project I wanted to make and the fees I wanted to be able to pay my First Nations and ally collaborators. Weighing this, I decided to remain in an as yet un-contracted, but promised process toward a commissioning agreement with Peak Performances. In October 2019 we were offered (without contract) a $100,000 commission and a residency process, with $15,000 payable in FY 2019/2020.

In January 2020, during the Association of Performing Arts Professionals conference, Jedidiah and I were in the same room twice.

The first was at a panel on Indigenous Residencies at the APAP conference, hosted byAdvancing Indigenous Performance, a program of Western Arts Alliance. Jedidiah stated in his public introduction that he was “the luckiest person in the room” because he got to work with me for the next year plus and that he was there to learn. Well that sounded fine!

Following this meeting, Jedidiah attended a meeting I co-hosted and facilitated at Abrons Arts Center called, Forms of Relationship Building: Longevity and Commitment — an Indigenous led meeting geared toward supporting First Nations artists and building a First Nations touring network.

According to minutes taken at the meeting, Jedidiah said, “I want to address this question of what do you need — it is not a new question — it’s a question that should be asked to anyone no matter what their needs are, it is important to get an answer. This question is specific to the world arts community — if one has the ability, this is a fundamental question, and leads me to believe in universality — the Indigenous person needs to ask for what they want.”

George and I began conversations with Peak Performances staff about residency engagements with community members and students, we outlined themes and values of the intended creative process and production, set me up as a business entity in the state of New Jersey, and made plans for a no-tech residency in the theater at Montclair State University. And tried to get a contract agreement signed.

Still without contract, but with “confirmation” that the $15,000 that could be paid in FY 2019/2020 would be paid, and with full access to the dark stage, plus flight and hotel support for my collaborator who was coming from their home community in Abiquiu, New Mexico — we planned and held an onstage creative development residency with two collaborators, some prop elements, and meetings with potential on-campus collaborators from January 14–23, 2020.

Jedidiah came through once while we were rehearsing, giving a tour to another artist. I met with an on-campus social architect who I hoped would be part of the ongoing creative process. Backstage bathrooms at Peak Performances are not gender-neutral. My performance collaborator is a trans Diné womxn, and she and I worked out what was comfortable, safe, and best practice during our residency. I did not bring it up, but noted that prior to coming back to the theater, it was something we would want to address with all curatorial, administrative, technical, and maintenance staff.

In late January 2020, George sent a request for an update on the contract and was told we needed to finalize spring campus activities first. So, we set up a call to organize and brainstorm details for campus engagement through the spring. Given the collaboratively robust and relational nature of our intended residency process, George asked that Jedidiah be on the call, so that we could all be part of the process from the beginning. Great idea!

The call began fine. There were five of us on the line, myself, George, two Peak Performances staff and Jedidiah.

Jedidiah was very excited, describing what he imagined I would be bringing to audiences based on ideas I shared about creating a sustainable structure to support community self determined action and relationship. Being Future Being intends to activate from the performance moment forward and this is something my collaborators — Indigenous scholars with expertise in gathering, care, listening and kinstillatory methodologies — and I are working on. He said he loved that I kept using the word, ‘gather.’

When I begin hearing exclamations like this, I listen, too. There is usually a subtext. I become careful to be clear that this work is not about me, but about relationships and commitment to process and to what can be exciting change.

We continued to discuss ideas. I proposed speaking with First Nations students on campus, building a process that could include regular meet-ups, visioning processes, and thinking together about what students might want for their own self-determined sovereignty, health and well-being on campus.

We discussed collaborators, including the cast of ‘more than human creatures’ adorned in quilts; an Indigenous, Black and other artists of color ‘chorus’ — who might sing or might not, but who will gather their energy and the energy of the collective, guiding us toward activation — the architecture of the overflow.

I love these kinds of conversations and I got very excited.

Getting to matters of protocol, George asked where Peak Performances was in their process of Land Acknowledgement. Jedidiah said it was not something Peak Performances was concerned about, that the University was engaged in a process of making a Land Acknowledgement and Peak Performances would do what the University modeled and told them to do.

I said that is one way to go about it and many institutions do it that way, but here we are, in this process together. I said I understand cultural — and especially performance institutions — to have a particular relationship with audiences, with potential, and that given the right attention, can really drive change. I went on talking about Land Acknowledgments. I explained what I respect about them — that when they are truly action oriented, when they are living processes committed to decolonisation — that respect Indigenous people and land locally and globally — that they can be a first step toward powerful, honest, real change that guide us into relationship, toward justice and equity.

I suggested that since we were committing to a residency process together, it would be powerful to begin a Land Acknowledgement that Peak Performances could be in process with, that the process of decolonisation is ever changing and never ending and we could start with staff and I working together. And that with their help, we might create new pathways for relationships with other Indigenous artists and generate processes — like with the First Nations students on campus — that the larger institution could follow. I requested a personal commitment to a decolonisation process and said that I can’t and don’t do it myself, I need help and we need to do it together.

Jedidiah responded immediately and violently. His yelling relayed that he “calls the shots.” That we are going to have “a problem” if I continue to “come in here” and make “demands.” He screamed, “I don’t even know what this word, “decolonisation” means.”

He yelled, continued yelling, and did not stop yelling until he hung up on us.

One of his staff members asked if I was okay.

I knew Jedidiah had been in the rooms and in the discussions noted above, in this letter. I knew he had engaged my work for the possible outcomes it produces beyond staged performance, and I knew he was excited for me to offer my perspectives to audiences. And so I understood his last particular phrasing and tone: “I don’t even know what this word decolonisation means, ” as specifically aimed to demean and make lesser — in the presence of himself, his staff, and my producer — me, my work, my heritage, and my ethics. He said he would revoke the commission if any “requests of this nature” are part of the creation process.

In an overly generous reading, I could take this aggressive beratement as pure narrative: he was asked to join a process that required commitment toward decolonisation, and even though he knew my work was rooted in such processes, he didn’t know much about it and the not knowing enraged him.

I have seen white rage before.

We all have.

While I could have said no to any further dealings with Jedidiah Wheeler, I decided to think and to reach out to a trusted colleague and my closest friend, a professor who through her projects and teaching also works to end institutional racism and to protect Indigenous knowledge and data sovereignty. While we did not condone his anger, we agreed that this is exactly what white supremacy looks like. And so, this is exactly where it must be undone.

I decided to try to continue, rather than back away. I wrote a letter which I sent to Jedidiah Wheeler, cc’ing everyone who was on that phone call. That letter is here:

Emily Johnson <emily@ — — .com>

Wed, Feb 12, 2020, 4:36 PM

to Jedediah, Jedediah, George, Jill, Chrissy, me

Hi Jed,

Hope your day is alright. I am responding to what happened yesterday, with this email.

I’m sorry that was a difficult conversation. It was certainly surprising.

I do think what was said was from some uncertainty — and I understand this. The work of decolonizing can be difficult. Creating change and healing can come via pathways that are painful. That said, it can also be joyous and fulfilling. To be part of a global effort that is bringing justice and equity through the specific Indigenization and decolonization work that is required and happening locally is/can be rewarding beyond measure.

I think that you do understand decolonisation. And must be excited by the prospect of that work to be engaged with me as an artist. Our first conversation, before we began speaking of the commission, was certainly about the broader consciousness shift I work toward through my art and my decolonisation/Indigenisation work with colleagues and accomplices globally. My efforts to create gatherings that bring people together that we might reconfigure how we function in this world require deep partnerships.

We have been on this path together for a good portion of time already and we were together in rooms at APAP and Abrons in January — rooms that centered Indigenous voices, relationship building and decolonized processes. All of which takes time. And many conversations. And deep commitments. To my understanding, we have all already committed to a process.

I am encouraged by and invite you to think alongside me in imagining what this could look like in an ongoing professional partnership,but even more so, in a broader engagement with students, audience and participants; with Peak Performances, Montclair, the local, regional, and national communities this work could reach and impact. Decolonisation is not a metaphor. It is real and needed and something that is alive and personal. It is the practices, learnings, unlearnings, and ways we find ourselves through a new equitable politics and way of being. It needs as many of us individuals and organizations as possible, committed to it. I don’t want to walk away from the work that we have already begun together with you on this path.

Nothing I spoke of yesterday in terms of decolonisation has a specific timeline. Nor is it something I need outlined in a contract (though I know many Indigenous artists who do make that a requirement). To me, it is a living and creative process and as such depends upon the people working together. I ask for a good faith commitment to this work from everyone and every organization we work with and I do ask it of all of us embarked on this project together. I am known for this way of working.

There were questions about what decolonisation looks like. I appreciate the question! Because if I knew, or anyone knew — then, wham! that is what we’d be after. It (fortunately) has more nuance than that, but there are initiatives that nurture decolonisation — like the meetings we held in January, staff cultural competency trainings, discussions with Indigenous and accomplice leaders in the field; plans toward adding to board, advisory councils, or staff First Nations/Indigenous representation; plans for ongoing, future inclusion of Indigenous artists in programming model; Embodied Land Acknowledgement processes; equitable relationships with local Indigenous community and here in Lenapehoking, specific pathways that address the forced displacement of Lenape peoples.

The action steps taken come from the learning/unlearning process and that is to me why it is a creative and exciting path and also why I don’t have answers, only desire to find that path, in this decolonized process we are already in.

As one concrete example, this is the language we work with in Catalyst’s tech rider. It was shared amongst us all in a handout at the meeting at Abrons in January:

Working With Catalyst

Catalyst requires all Presenter and all Presenting Partners collaborating on the presentation of Then a Cunning Voice and A Night We Spend Gazing at Stars (note: for internal communications only, we abbreviate “TACV”) to comply with Indigenous Protocol and acknowledgement of its host Nation/s in all announcements and press that includes TACV or reference thereof. This includes communication with, commission of, and permission sought from Nations, elders, appropriate consortia, etc.

Within the scope of a contracted performance of TACV, Catalyst can and will help connect and direct these efforts, but the presenter must be prepared to engage directly with Indigenous community, leadership and agencies. Presenters seeking training and support in preparation for working with Indigenous communities can contract with Catalyst for additional consultation, separate from the performance contract.

I am hoping we can continue the conversation and this good work together,

Emily (and George)

I did not, nor have I yet received any response from Jedidiah Wheeler.

I do not claim to know why he has not responded. What I do know is that he was verbally abusive. And that the abuse went on with continued requests for updated timelines and proposed outcomes from me and George. These requests came from Jedidiah’s staff members. The ones tasked to do his work. The requests became so blatantly tedious and provoking that I eventually asked that I be removed from any correspondence. The continued erasure and non-response to the violence that had been directed at me, coupled with the continued expectation (and desire?) of my commitment and work, without a mediated (or contracted) process forward was unsafe and disrespectful.

On March 31, 2020 we were told the $100,000 commission, including the $10,000 we were owed from the January residency — was “postponed.” The reason given was COVID and a delay in our response time. In June 2020 we were told the entire commission, residency support and presentation commitment were revoked.

The request for a document from Peak Performances noting said loss of funds so that I could apply for COVID relief went unanswered.

Meanwhile, Peak Performances has engaged a new COVID era series called PEAK HD. By Spring 2021, PEAK Performances will have featured 7 full productions, from artists including Elevator Repair Service, David Gordon, Zvi Gotheiner, Bill T. Jones, and Heidi Latsky.

In a statement online, Jedidiah Wheeler writes, “You can turn the lights on and off without artists, you can check the electricity, but the hot current on any stage is transmitted by artists performing under those lights. So instead we’re opening our stage doors and making something happen, bringing artists into the environment where they thrive — and paying them, for their sake and yours!”

I think it’s great that an organization can find a way to implement new strategies for sharing work and paying artists. I think it’s kind of gross he calls what we do a ‘hot current.’ I don’t think it’s great the list of artists does not include an Indigenous or First Nations artist and I don’t think it’s great that Peak Performances brags about paying artists while this artist — and every collaborator I would have employed — expected, and due to the exclusivity clause depended, for over a year, on receiving payment from Peak Performances.

Here is a letter, written by George Lugg, in response to a request from Peak Performances (in September 2020, six months after postponing and three months after cancelling the commission) that I engage with students:

George Lugg <george-@ — -.com>

Fri, Sep 18, 2020, 3:13 PM

to Jedediah, Stephanie, Chrissy, Regina, me

Hello All,

I am glad to hear of the campus enthusiasm for Emily’s work. In our last conversation, I noted that we had no clear written communication about Montclair/Peak Performances commitment to Emily’s project.

I provided Stephanie, Crissy and Regina with all my notes and emails from my last exchanges with Jill, so that we could seek clarification, and get a written agreement in place before further planning continued.

I hope the need for that is clear.

We have worked in good faith since late 2018, but that cannot continue. There remains an unexecuted contract from last fiscal year for $15,000 (of which, Jill found a way to pay $5,000), and in June, Jill conveyed in a phone call that the originally communicated commitment of the $100,000 commission, and all of residency support and presentation commitment, had been revoked.

She mentioned on that call that Montclair had received $25,000 from the National Endowment from the Arts which she intended to provide in the form of a commission, but no written agreement was put in place. That award also requires grantees to a 1-to-1 match to be fulfilled, and I did not receive any indication of how that additional investment of $25,000 would be made by Montclair.

I understand the financial uncertainties and the difficult decisions you may face, which is all the more reason for me to ask for explicit terms, and a solidly executed contract before any planning takes place.

On our end, the loss of that commission was devastating not only to the project, but made even more vulnerable an individual who I am meant to support, protect and represent.

These are hard times, all around. But this not a situation where equal partners are equitably sharing impact. In this country, the fact that agreements and promise made by institutions to Indigenous people are routinely broken is not news — covid or not. This is not lost on us.

That truth is embedded in Emily’s work, and in the calls to action that she makes to individuals and institutions alike.

If you are up to the call, and can set forth in clear and binding terms your material commitment to the work, I hope we can find a path forward.



This brings me to the letter I am writing now and the further reasons I am choosing to forego the funding and current “offer” from Peak Performances.

Though Peak Performances has cancelled my commission, they are under contract with the NEA to pay me $25,000. They have proposed I provide two zoom sessions, or talks with collaborators, for their students and faculty.

The $25,000 that the NEA requires Peak Performances to match will, we are told, be represented by “staff costs.”

I was a contributor to the phase one document, Creating New Futures: Working Guidelines Towards Ethics and Equity in Presenting Dance and Performance. I understand the abusive, punishing, and unethical behaviour I have witnessed and experienced from Jedidiah Wheeler and Peak Performances to be part of a field wide system that continues to root itself in extractive capitalism and white supremacy.

I find the offering of $25,000 for two zoom meetings to be an excuse for Peak Performances to get out of real commitment or association with me and my work. And to do so without a necessary acknowledgement of our labor or the emotional and monetary harm caused. All while messaging to their University, staff, and students that they are engaged with me and my collaborators in processes, methodologies and scholarship.

The aggression, the refusal over the course of 15 months to move a commission to contract, and a refusal to make full payment for delivered work leads me to understand Peak Performances as an unsafe and unethical place to work.

I cannot bring my collaborators into process at Peak Performances, even if it is for a well-paid zoom gig.

Remember when Jedidiah said, “the Indigenous person needs to ask for what they want”?

I want Jedidiah Wheeler to read this letter.

I want the Office of the Provost of Montclair State University to read this letter.

I want the Office of the Provost to determine what apology and monetary remuneration will be offered.

I want Montclair State University to commit to anti-racist and decolonial processes and trainings and to set up a reparations and real rent fund for Lenape people and to commit to Land Back.

I want Peak Performances to commit to anti-racist and decolonial processes and trainings and set up a reparations and real rent fund for Lenape people, to hire Indigenous and Black curators and other staff, and to engage the work of Indigenous artists each season (perhaps best after Jedidiah has undergone anti-racist training and anger management, or some other solution for his behaviour is found).

I want the NEA to consider new paths of funding that do not lead to nor encourage institutional power over artists.

I wrote the following after that phone call in February 2020. I still feel it. How vicious and pointed he was. And it reminds me of so many other vicious men. I wrote the following while thinking of my Indigenous kin from everywhere:

Along with many of you, I have stood at the front lines protecting our lands and water. Facing bullets, water hoses, threats of and/or actual arrest, and certainly heartbreak at the fact we have to protect what is ours in the first place.

Along with many of you, I have been at other front lines asserting equity, and centering Indigenous artists, knowledge and process. Facing white guilt and anger, bias, cancelled gigs, ‘translation fatigue’ (thank you for that, Dr. Twyla Baker), lateral violence, and certainly heartbreak. Back when she was growing up, my grandma was not allowed to attend Yuraq. I feel it’s my right and responsibility. To do work so that my dances, the dances of other Indigenous artists, and the dances that come from future Indigenous artists are supported, protected, celebrated. That we’re never in a time again where we cannot, are not allowed to, or are punished for dancing, for making, for speaking, for being. And I know this work comes with fallout. And I know this work comes with the very real possibility of deep structural change and broad consciousness shift and this is why I do it.

When a white male presenter yells at me, belittles the importance of this work, threatens to cancel a commission that will employ numerous Indigenous artists and creative council members because he “calls the shots” and will, under no circumstances engage in or commit to decolonisation efforts because he “doesn’t even know what that is,” yells that we have 24 hours to respond, and then hangs up on our five person conference call…

I remember looking into the eyes of men who held assault rifles pointed at us.

I remember being raped twice.

I remember our Missing and Murdered Indigenous women, girls, trans, and two spirits who cannot remember being raped because they are dead.

I remember seeing anger and knowing in my heart each of those men had a choice.

They could, in fact, put their guns down. Leave sacred ground they were trespassing.

They could, in fact, not rape. Or take. Or kill.

I remember thinking each of those men probably had someone in the world who loved them.

I remember our singing in the face of violence.

I remember saying their names.

I champion all of us at all of the front lines. And I champion our allies who become accomplices. We build kinstillatory relations. We sing and make plays and dances and artworks and gather and write. We break down the literal and figurative walls colonizers built, build and hide behind to destroy us.

We are the future, now.

Settler colonial violence has no place here.

I, along with so many of you, say yes to this work because it needs all of us, together.

I am encouraged by artist centered groups like Creating New Futures, Dance Artists’ National Collective and individual artsworkers who are guiding paths toward equity and justice and away from harm.

I am hopeful for a just future and look forward to being in sustainable and ethical relationships that center Indigenous, Black and other artists and communities of color.


Many thanks,

Emily Johnson

Director, Choreographer. Emily Johnson/Catalyst

CC: Willard Gingerich, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Academic Affairs. Montclair State University

This letter is also published in slightly edited form, by the author, on Medium.

Thank you Tanya Marquardt for editing help. Thank you to everyone collaborating with me, named and not named. Thank you Karyn Recollet for your ongoing thinking and our continued collaboration with the kinstillatory.



Emily Johnson

Emily Johnson is an artist who makes body-based work. She is from the Yup’ik Nation, is a land and water protector & lives on the Lower East Side of Mannahatta.