Local arts leaders unite to combat antisemitism

by | Jun 17, 2024 | It's a Wrap, Latest News

In a time of unprecedented antisemitism, United Jewish Federation of Tidewater organized a workshop on combatting antisemitism in the arts. The event, held on Wednesday, May 15 at the Chrysler Museum of Art, focused on creating a more inclusive and welcoming environment for Tidewater Jewish community members and artists. More than 50 local arts leaders representing more than 30 area arts organizations attended the day of learning and discussion.

The workshop was hosted by UJFT’s Arts + Ideas and the Jewish Community Relations Council; Erik Neil, the Macon and Joan Brock director of the Chrysler Museum; and Rob Cross, executive director and Perry Artistic Director of Virginia Arts Festival.
“I appreciated the invitation to gather Hampton Roads arts leaders to address antisemitism in the arts,” says Cross. “It’s important that our organizations have the tools to recognize and combat antisemitism when we witness it and know that we have a network of partners that will be with us when we need their support.”

The event featured presentations from the Anti-Defamation League and the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities and focused on the historical foundations of antisemitism, its modern-day manifestations, and strategies for arts organizations to combat hate through thoughtful programming. A panel discussion followed the presentations, featuring representatives from the ADL and VCIC, Cross, and Neil. The group answered audience questions and discussed practical steps that arts organizations can take to create more inclusive environments.

One of the workshop’s key messages was the significant role arts institutions play in shaping public perceptions and fostering community. By creating inclusive programming and highlighting Jewish contributions to the arts, these institutions can help combat antisemitism and all hate and promote broader cultural understanding in the community.

Jeff Ryder, managing director at Virginia Stage Company in Norfolk, says, “Virginia Stage Company is grateful to UJFT for convening the arts community around this important topic. It is imperative that we examine our organizational practices and the ways we interact with our community to stand up against discrimination and hate of all kinds. This training was an important first step in making Norfolk’s arts institutions stronger advocates for our Jewish community.”

Following the formal program, a docent-led tour of the Chrysler Museum was offered to celebrate Jewish American Heritage Month. This tour served as an example of the types of programming discussed during the workshop and showcased the rich contributions of Jewish artists, reinforcing the themes discussed throughout the workshop.

Participants left with a renewed commitment to promoting inclusivity and combating antisemitism in their respective organizations. “The workshop was extremely valuable and informative,” says Nikki Thorpe, director of Diversity and Engagement with Virginia Symphony Orchestra. “I am excited to use what we’ve learned to make the VSO an even more inclusive organization.”

UJFT Arts + Ideas created an online toolkit to assist arts organizations in educating their staff and audiences, accommodating the needs of their Jewish constituents, celebrating Jewish art and artists, advocating for the Jewish community, and standing up against antisemitism and all forms of hate. That toolkit can be found at JewishVA.org/Antisemitism-Arts-Toolkit.

Hunter Thomas is director of Arts + Ideas at United Jewish Federation of Tidewater. He can be reached at