Making the Flynn more Welcoming and Representative

The Flynn is committed to equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility (EDIA)—including race/ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, and physical ability—and we are cognizant of the fact that the organization needs to do more to address these topics. Our team does not yet reflect the full range of the people who live in our community and we must do better.

Transparency and accountability are essential to this work. This space is dedicated to communicating our EDIA goals and our progress. We will post a running log of our efforts, communicating clearly and honestly how we are doing, what work is ongoing, the concrete steps we are taking, and what we are trying to achieve. We welcome feedback from the community as we strive to make the Flynn more welcoming and representative.

February 28, 2023

Over the course of the summer of 2022 and the first-half of the 2022-2023 season, the Flynn has produced, presented, and hosted a wide variety of events, shows, and initiatives that represent the organization’s commitment to raising up, and providing a platform for, a multitude of voices.

The 2022 Burlington Discover Jazz Festival was a celebration of Black music and the variety of directions that the genre is currently heading. The 10-day festival showcased artists working in, and mixing, straight-up jazz, funk, blues, gospel, folk, musical theater, and so much more. The festival kicked off with The Sound of Black Music, a project conceived and co-created by festival curators Michael Mwenso and Jono Gasparro that reimagines the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical through the prism of Black American musical forms and perspectives—jazz, R&B, funk, soul, gospel, and beyond. This set the tone for the whole week, which featured meditative listening sessions, free music all over the city, late-night jam sessions at the Vermont Comedy Club, and a collection of shows in Flynn Space. The week culminated in a weekend at the waterfront, headlined by George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, and also featuring knockout performances by Lakecia Benjamin and Mwenso and the Shakes.

During the jazz festival, the education team brought festival curator Michael Mwenso to Burlington's alternative high schools, the Integrated Arts Academy and Sustainability Academies, to engage students in listening sessions. We also brought the Sean Mason Quintet to Winooski Middle School and Winooski High School to work with students in the music program.

Many highlights stand out in the first half of the 2022-2023 season. One of the marquee events for the year was an incredible performance from iconic singer Gladys Knight, who continues to stun crowds and retain her status as the “Empress of Soul.” Our kick-off show for the season was Step Afrika!, one of the best African-American dance companies in the country, that blends percussive dance styles practiced by historically African-American fraternities and sororities, traditional West and Southern African dances, and an array of contemporary dance forms. Soon after, we welcomed Native and African American Appalachian folk singer-songwriter Martha Redbone, who performed her new work Bone Hill, an interdisciplinary musical theater project inspired by the lives of Redbone’s family in the hills of coal-mining Appalachia. This show also coincided with Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Both Step Afrika! and Martha Redbone also performed as part of the Flynn’s Student Matinee Series. It was incredible to see a theater full of students in a frenzy over the energetic dance moves of Step Afrika!, and to experience Martha Redbone teaching students original and traditional folk songs in the Choctaw language. This fall, the Flynn also partnered with Vermont Humanities to present a special event with bestselling author and activist Jason Reynolds, who spoke with a panel of ninth-graders on stage, discussing his book Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You as well as efforts to inspire social change. At the start of 2023, we also helped welcome and celebrate Kim Carson, the newly appointed director of racial equity, inclusion, and belonging for the City of Burlington, with a gathering in her honor at the theater that brought together many community leaders.

Each person who's a master at their instrument comes from a whole wealth of their own history and their own family stories and you feel that energy in the music.

There are still many exciting shows the schedule in the back-half of the season. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (May 2), Former Attorney General Eric Holder (May 16), and Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis (April 22) are a few of the upcoming events that represent the Flynn’s commitment to providing a stage for important, influential, and vital BIPOC voices and perspectives across many genres. Several events happening this month speak to this as well. On February 11, we are putting on Hot Butter, an LGBTQIA+ disco night in Flynn Space. And we are partnering with nuwave and the City of Burlington to present The Black Experience 2023 on February 25, featuring a keynote from iconic activist Dr. Angela Davis, a performance by PHILADANCO! (The Philadelphia Dance Company).

The Flynn is deeply committed to making the arts accessibly to all. One of the primary ways that we do this is to offer our arts education through a pay-what-you-can model. We believe that cost should not be a barrier for anyone to participate in the arts. And we are grateful to those who are able to pay full tuition to support staff time, facility maintenance, and supplies, as well as the participation of your friends and neighbors. The Flynn Education team is working hard to expand our arts education program, adding a wider variety of classes and camps, and cultivating relationships with teaching artists. In the last year, we have also had a renewed commitment to producing free programming that is open to the public, and we have taken these efforts out into the community. In September, we put on Playing Fields, two events held at local high schools that featured the world-music band Red Baraat and giant bird puppets from the Dutch company Close-Act. During this year’s South End Art Hop, we also worked with Korean artist Juhyung Lee to present C’est pas là, c’est par là (It’s Not That Way, It’s This Way), a community installation where anyone could come and work together to untangle a massive web of string.

The Flynn’s education team works to expand access to the arts by bringing Flynn programs out of the theater and into communities and schools. One way that we are doing this is through a partnership with Brian Boyes and his project SoundCheck to reach students in Central Vermont. SoundCheck is a band of select high school musicians and singers creating and performing music to fight for social justice. The students work with music educators, prominent singer-songwriters and anti-racist educators to develop original material that tackles racism, injustice, and hate. The band regularly performs and facilitates workshops at Vermont schools using art and music to spark dialogue, action, and awareness.

Since reemerging in 2021, we have had 118 performances on the Main Stage, provided 280 hours of free music, and served over 6,500 students. We have also shared inspiring classes and performances with towns across the state, including Middlebury, Hinesburg, Duxbury, Winooski, and Montpelier. And we have given away over $100,000 worth of tickets to people and organizations, including King Street Center, Central Vermont Habitat for Humanity, Special Olympics Vermont, and Burlington High School.

The work continues and we are trying to identify areas where we are falling short as an organization with respect to our EDIA goals. This includes our efforts to ensure that the staff, board, and teaching artists at the Flynn are representative of the many communities here in Vermont. The Flynn is currently hiring and we encourage anyone who is interested to apply. All the current open positions can be found here. As always, we welcome any and all feedback about our EDIA efforts at the Flynn. Please take our EDIA survey to provide thoughts and ideas for how we can improve our representation and outreach within the organization.

Take our EDIA Survey

May 18, 2022

The Flynn endeavors to celebrate all voices in all our programming. Over the course of our 2021-2022 season, we showcased a range of art forms and artist perspectives in shows such as the theatrical production Cartography; the New Voices Series featuring musicians KeruBo, Mikahely, and Goblavi Doga; Diana Burco; the Indian classical/experimental collective Brooklyn Raga Massive and Go: Organic Orchestra; Amadou & Mariam and The Blind Boys of Alabama; John Cameron Mitchell; and comedian Hasan Minhaj. We are excited to continue this work in the upcoming Burlington Discover Jazz Festival and throughout next season, including efforts to produce artistic experiences out in the community that connect with new audiences.

In February, the Flynn was thrilled to announce Michael Mwenso and Jono Gasparro as curators of the 2022 Burlington Discover Jazz Festival. Michael is the leader of the incredible band Mwenso & The Shakes, who played at the jazz festival in 2016 and 2017. He and his creative partner Jono co-founded Electric Root, a company that centers Black roots music and Black artists by producing and curating music, festivals, residencies, and tours, in addition to hosting artist-led anti-racism workshops.

With Michael and Jono’s stewardship, this year’s Burlington Discover Jazz festival is a celebration of Black music. The 2022 jazz festival has a strong thematic throughline where the shape of events, and the artists invited to perform, represent a clear, overarching vision: to explore the rich history of jazz, blues, gospel, funk, and many other intersecting genres, and illuminate how artists today are adding to these narratives. Each day of the festival starts with Reflection/Meditation sessions and Ancestral Communal Listening gatherings where Michael and guests guide audiences through different musical styles, paying tribute to artists who helped shape the history of Black roots music. Then, at night, the Vermont Comedy Club transforms into an after-hours jazz lounge called Big Joe’s, in honor of renowned Vermont saxophonist “Big Joe” Burrell. These evening gigs bring each day full-circle, creating a gathering space for the local artist community to convene, socialize, collaborate, and jam.

Michael Mwenso and Jono Gasparro
The heart of the festival is creating a holistic experience of immersing oneself into Black music. Music is a potent force for healing and connecting with spaces, artists, and the community in new and unexpected ways.

As curators, Michael and Jono have crafted a lineup that cuts across generations. The week is anchored by performances by three octogenarian musical legends: Grammy-winning Blues Hall of Famer Bobby Rush, master jazz-fusion saxophonist Gary Bartz, and George Clinton. Clinton leads his iconic band Parliament Funkadelic in a free show on the waterfront stage, an event that is a gift to the community and an opportunity for people from all over to see this massively influential musical collective live. And the 10-day festival features many exciting artists at the vanguard who are carrying the story of this music forward, such as Lakecia Benjamin, Pedrito Martinez, Vuyo Sotashe, and Brianna Thomas. The 2022 Burlington Discover Jazz Festival takes place June 3-12.

In March, the Flynn launched a number of spring classes, including the return of the storytelling course I Am My Ancestors’ Wildest Dreams, which was developed by teaching artist Ferene Paris Meyer in 2019 to create a safe, welcoming, and healing affinity space for the BIPOC community. The class is a platform for BIPOC voices to be heard, where participants can find connection and a sense of belonging through shared narratives of resilience, joy, shared experience, and empathy. As the owner of All Heart Inspirations, Ferene creates heart-centered spaces through workshops, community engagements, culinary art, and more. Through storytelling, she aspires to make a collective difference within our local community and beyond, one story at a time. We look forward to continuing to support Ferene’s vision for this class.

On April 11, the dancers in the Flynn's Movement for Parkinson's class put on a special public performance on Church Street Marketplace in Burlington. This is the second time the group has organized a flash mob event (the first was in 2019) in front of City Hall. This year's event featured live music and the presentation of a new dance piece that the class has collaborated on over the past few months. This performance also marked World Parkinson’s Day, a worldwide annual event dedicated to raising awareness around the Parkinson’s community. The Flynn’s year-round Movement for Parkinson’s and Wellness class is led by certified Dance for PD teacher Sara McMahon, who has been recognized by the Mark Morris Dance Group and Brooklyn Parkinson Group. This class is specifically designed for people who wish to continue moving dynamically despite movement challenges.

The April performance was especially memorable because it was the first time that the group had performed together for an audience since the beginning of the pandemic. The class continued to grow through virtual sessions over the last couple years and it was beautiful to see this community come together and share their dedication and compassion.

The dancers in the Movement for Parkinson's class performed again on May 17, this time on the Flynn Main Stage in an opening presentation before the Mark Morris Dance Group show. Following the remarkable evening, the Flynn partnered with David Leventhal, founding teacher and program director of Mark Morris Dance Group’s Dance for PD program, for a residency. On May 18, David led a community movement class for person's with Parkinson's as well as their families, friends, and care partners at Elley-Long Music Center at Saint Michael's College.

In May, the Flynn participated in the Vermont Business Roundtable’s Executive Leadership Series, providing volunteers to help with the event in a variety of ways. This series is designed to be valuable professional development and networking opportunities for CEOs and their team members, as well as influential leaders in the private, non-profit, and public sectors. This year, the fifth annual convention, featured a keynote address from Heather McGhee, author of the book The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together.

On June 18, the Flynn is partnering with The Black Experience Vermont for their first annual event in Battery Park. The Black Experience 2022 (BX22) is a free holistic celebration of Vermont’s Black lived experience, and a new addition to Burlington’s Juneteenth celebration. The day includes performances by musicians and poets as well as speeches by community partners. The event is headlined by iconic Black activist, educator, and author Angela Davis, who is taking part in a panel discussion. The Flynn is offering support with logistics planning, stage management, financial backing, and marketing amplification.

September 9, 2021

Earlier this summer, we circulated an EDIA survey within the Flynn community. The survey was sent to all staff, board, volunteers, and teaching artists. The purpose of this survey was to understand the demographic breakdown of the organization now, gauge how people see the Flynn with respect to EDIA issues, and source ideas for moving forward with our efforts to address equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility. Below are some key highlights from the survey. If you haven't yet taken it, we encourage you to please do so. Follow this link to take our EDIA survey. All voices in this process are important.

We are hearing from many people that the Flynn has a reputation within the community as an organization that takes EDIA issues to heart. The Flynn has a long history of welcoming local and international BIPOC artists, and in just the last few years, has enacted initiatives to improve access to the theater. Additionally, we have reached out to new audiences by bringing art to the community; organized free events, such as our Hurly Burly series and the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival; produced student matinee shows attended by hundreds of thousands of students; worked with dozens of social services agencies through our community ticket program; and offered free and pay-what-you-wish classes and camps to support arts education access for students of all ages and backgrounds. These efforts have been made possible by grants from the Ford Foundation, Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, Vermont Community Foundation – Spark Connecting Community Grant, Ben and Jerry’s Foundation, Vermont Afterschool, the Bay and Paul Foundations, and Courtney & Victoria Buffum Family Foundation.

In looking at the pool of respondents, the overwhelming lack of diversity stands out. For example, over 98% of people who responded identify as white. Over the next few months, we will work to get this survey in the hands of more people and partners in our area, so that we can get statistics, ideas, and opinions from a more diverse, representative cross-section of our community. We would appreciate your help in distributing this to anyone who lives in the region.

The Flynn also recently announced the creation of a new creative chair position, which will be held by composer/violinist/educator/activist Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR). In his role as creative chair, DBR is spearheading the Flynn Fellowship program, curating and directing a series of focused collaborations between local and nationally-recognized BIPOC artists or ensembles, leading to new commissioned projects with members of the Vermont community. The first Flynn Fellowship will be with popular, soulful blues-rock group Dwight & Nicole. Working closely with DBR, Dwight & Nicole will assist the Flynn in reimagining the organization’s relationship to the community; forge connections and foster dialogue with key local partners; engage with issues around diversity, equity, and inclusion; connect with local students from many different age groups; and produce two original performances during their residency. Learn more about this program and Dwight & Nicole on our Flynn Fellowship page.

I see the Flynn as a campus, a place of creative ideas, a place where artists, and particularly marginalized people, can and should be heard . . . and I see the Flynn as a space where there's safety, respect, deep intellectual inquiry, and fun.

EDIA progress is an iterative process that requires us to constantly and unconditionally ask ourselves and our community how we are doing and what we need to do better. We will continue the conversation started by this survey with the greater Flynn community, to better understand how audiences, Flynn members, educators, students, partners, and other local stakeholders feel about the Flynn. Below are some key statistics from the first phase of this survey. Please note that this data is evolving and we will update as more people respond.

We want to be transparent about the information that we receive, and we will publish the full results once more members of our community have had a chance to weigh in and provide their ideas, opinions, and suggestions. Our immediate next step is to reach out to a wider audience to get them to complete the survey.

Here's a snapshot of people who have responded so far 

254 total respondents to date from . . .



White or Caucasian - 98.3%

Black or African American - 0%

Hispanic or Latino - 1%

Asian or Asian American - .4%

American Indian or Alaska Native - .4%

Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander - 0%

Prefer not to disclose - 1.7%

Gender identity

0 people who responded so far identify as trans or non-binary.

Sexual orientation

Bisexual - 2.8%

Gay - 3.1%

Straight (heterosexual) - 86.3%

Lesbian - 3.1%

Prefer not to disclose - 4.8%

physical, mental, sensory disability

Yes - 5.1%

No - 92.9%

Prefer not to disclose - 2%

How do you perceive the Flynn is viewed by members of communities who are like you?

How do you perceive the Flynn is viewed by members of communities who are not like you?

We recently created and distributed this brochure as part of our season launch, emphasizing a welcoming, inclusive message. The shows this season were selected to lift up and showcase a variety of voices and stories, and to appeal to a many different audiences, across all ages and backgrounds. We hope to connect with new, diverse audiences in the year ahead, and welcome many new members who find inspiration and a renewed sense of belonging at the Flynn.

The Flynn’s Grand Reopening Celebration on October 23, featuring a headlining performance by Angélique Kidjo, kicks off the 2021-2022 season. The season includes the Delta blues and New Orleans jazz showcase Shake & Holla (North Mississippi Allstars, Rebirth Brass Band, and special guest Cedric Burnside); compassionate, visually stunning theatrical work Cartography; brilliant tap dancer Ayodele Casel (with special guest Arturo O’Farrill); gospel and soul collective Trey McLaughlin & The Sounds of Zamar; Quebecois circus troupe Flip Fabrique; and popular stand-up comic and satirist Hasan Minhaj.

June 28, 2021


An essential component of this initiative is self-assessment. We need to first get a baseline of where the Flynn is now—understanding who is a part of our entire extended organization including our staff, board, members, volunteers, performers, and teaching artists—so we can identify a full accounting of the areas that need to be addressed, and initial actions that can be taken.

As we work towards re-opening our venue, hiring new staff, and inviting audiences back into the theater, it is crucial that we do everything possible to ensure the Flynn is welcoming to all the many communities and people that are a part of this region. We have an opportunity right now to take a hard look at the current makeup of the Flynn and to set short-term and long-term EDIA goals.


To start, we have created and distributed a survey that will give a better picture of the demographics of the Flynn. The survey also asks for respondents to provide their opinion about what diversity means for the organization, areas that need to be addressed, as well as initial, actionable ideas for making improvements. This survey has been sent to all staff, board, members, volunteers, and teaching artists. This brief survey is the first step in a larger process that includes acknowledging shortfalls, taking actions to address representation, and defining a plan for accountability. EDIA issues impact all areas of the Flynn, and everyone’s perspective and voice is important in this ongoing discussion of how we strengthen the Flynn at all levels.

Next steps

Everyone from the community is welcome to take our EDIA survey. We will report the results of the survey here.

The Flynn's EDIA progress is now a standing item for all board meetings. Decisions that result from these meetings will be communicated here. 

The Flynn is hiring. Anyone who is interested is encouraged to apply. We are looking at how we can make the Flynn more welcoming and attractive to a wide range of applicants. All the current open positions can be found here.

Take our EDIA Survey

Key figures

34.5% of the artists on our stages have been BIPOC in the last 10 years.

We’ve provided 1,098 hours of free music in the last 10 years at the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival.

Our year-round Movement for Parkinson's class promotes dynamic movement for students with movement challenges.

We distribute free tickets via 87 social services agencies through our community ticket program.

Camp scholarships and pay-what-you-can classes and camps make our education programs more accessible.

We’ve subsidized 340,707 tickets to student matinees over the last 10 years.

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