After years of working at Microsoft, Mitch Marshall moved to Orcas Island and opened up a shop, only to experience the feeling that nothing had really changed. “People would walk into the shop and remark on the color of my skin,” she explains. There was no maliciousness, but a frustrating level of insensitivity and a focus on how she didn’t fit in rather than how she did.
“I actually thought about leaving the island,” she confesses. “I was walking around Mountain Lake, not another soul around, contemplating what I should do. I knew I would miss the sheer beauty and serenity of the island, and that saddened me. As I made my way through the cedars, I decided that I could make the island feel more like my home, that I could add to the beauty. With each step, I came to believe that I could change the social landscape.” By the time she reached her car, the vision had crystallized. Mitch was going to use performance art by artists of color to start a conversation—a powerful one.
When faced with what was lacking, Mitch chose to stay—to make a positive difference. It’s that modern pioneer spirit that created her non-profit arts organization Woman in the Woods. Their shows, which sell out in a matter of hours, confront racism and are avant-garde and wildly entertaining, but you also spend part of the time with a lump in your throat. As Mitch puts it, “I always knew the art I wanted to bring here would not be easy. The most moving art is born out of blood, sweat, and tears, and sometimes that can be hard for an audience, but hard can be so uplifting.”
Woman in the Woods also provides free racially inclusive programming to schools and has hosted Poetry Grand Slam champion Alex Dang; Blackbird, a genre-jumping collaboration with Marc Bamuthi Joseph and Daniel Bernard Roumain; and Guggenheim Fellow, cellist and artist Paul Rucker.
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