Serenbe Institute Implements New Policies And Programs To Rebuild Its Environment

The Terminus performance of “Long Ago and Only Once” was streamed during the pandemic.

Serenbe Institute

Serenbe is a neighborhood on the edge of Atlanta in South Fulton County. The residential community offers a connection between arts and the environment. Jennifer Bauer-Lyons is the executive director of the Serenbe Institute for Art, Culture and the Environment and she joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes to discuss their newly created programs and partnerships.

The Serenbe Institute is comprised of two divisions: Terminus Modern Ballet Theatre and AIR Serenbe, which is their artist-in-residence program. They also manage a new program called A.C.E. “This is our outreach program, specifically for the residents of South Fulton County and that program brings free arts, culture, and environmental programming to schools, non-profits. We partner with the City of South Fulton, with Union City, with Fairburn, and it just kind of runs a gamut with all the different partners we have,” said Bauer-Lyons.

Interview Highlights:

How Serenbe pivoted during the pandemic:

“We were fortunate that we received a large grant from the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) to continue some of program virtually. We launched a concert series last August that was housed out of the Southwest Arts Center, in partnership with the city of South Fulton. We brought those concerts to everyone live-streamed. We’ve also had a variety of other programs that we were able to do virtually; everything from story-tellers, to environmental lectures we were able to do that.”

Last June, The Serenbe Institute for Art, Culture & the Environment decided to lay off the entire staff of the Serenbe Playhouse, amid charges of racism. Bauer-Lyons explains what occurred: 

“Last summer, it came to light that there were several issues of unfair work practices, unsafe work practices, gender discrimination and racial discrimination under the leadership of the previous artistic director Brian Clowdus. The Serenbe Institute Board made the really tough decision of really needing to reset with the Serenbe Playhouse. So, due to that and everything that was happening in the world with the pandemic, it was necessary to lay off that entire team,” said Bauer-Lyons.

She continued, “Since then, the entire staff and board have been working towards creating a more equitable and inclusive organization. That really stemmed from taking a look at our theatre division, The Playhouse. But it really has really spread across all of our divisions. We’ve taken a hard look at everything.”

Bauer-Lyons said there will be news in April of a new theatre company that they will be launching.

New practices and policies implemented to improve Serenbe’s environment:

“We’ve been working with Dr. Tiffany Russell, who is a DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) professional and consultant.  We started a conversation with her about taking a look at how we were doing and doing a landscape of what our current practices were. We had already started those conversations a year ago when all of this came to light about what was happening with The Playhouse. She has been on this journey with us over the last year to really help us create a more diverse and equitable organization,” said Bauer-Lyons.

She continued, “One of the things we did was pull together an artistic values task force made up of a lot of different members of the Atlanta theater community. We met with them over the course of five different sessions and what came out of it was a new artistic values statement, which talks a lot about how we should be treating people and how we should be creating an environment that is accessible to everyone. One of the things that is really important to me is really decentering this notion of having an artistic and managing leader that make all the decisions. I’m very focused on making this a community-inspired and community-designed, lead organization. And what I mean by that is making sure we have an artistic committee that is going to decide what that programming is and help evaluate that programming.”

You can find the list of Serenbe’s upcoming events here.