King Arthur Baking’s Suzanne McDowell, VP of Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability, talks New Partnership with JAG Productions

VBSR members King Arthur Baking Company and JAG Productions are collaborating on Theatre on the Hill, a series of performances that illuminate Black life and Black aesthetics appearing on a new stage built for the series at King Arthur’s Bakery, Store & Cafe in Norwich, Vermont.

Deeper than writing a check, King Arthur has worked collaboratively with JAG Productions to create a space for the performances and spread the word about them to their customers and fans, setting an example of how a business can amplify marginalized voices, ideas, and work.

Learn more about Theatre on the Hill, running August 13 to September 12

Below is an interview with Suzanne McDowell of King Arthur Baking:

What led to the idea of this outdoor performance space?

King Arthur Baking Company has always been rooted in community, whether that be our employee-owners, a nationwide community of bakers, or the community in our very own backyard. And like all communities across the country, ours here in Vermont is not impervious to the effects of injustice and inequity. A year ago, we made a promise to become better, more effective partners to those experiencing marginalization. We defined our intentions and took steps towards advocating for racial justice in our country, with focus on the inequities in our food systems. As those intentions evolved into actions and we considered our local community, JAG immediately came to mind as a meaningful potential partner in our work towards diversity, equity, and inclusion. The idea of Theatre on the Hill was born out the natural link between food and art and the potential for King Arthur Baking to offer a vibrant, living stage for JAG’s work, and progress toward our ultimate mission to build stronger and healthier communities.

 

What do you think is the relationship between food and art? And why is it important to King Arthur to provide a space to connect the two? Where does King Arthur Baking Company see the intersection of baking and the performing arts?

Food and art are inextricably connected, and both are integral facets of life, place, and community. At King Arthur Baking, we’ve always viewed baking as an art in and of itself; one where blistered hands and well-loved rolling pins are the tools and flour is the canvas. Just as art does, food tells stories, evokes emotion, and activates our senses. Recipes and ingredients are imbued with personal and global histories and culture. As bakers, it’s important for us to emphasize the connection between food and culture and to offer a broader range of voices, recipes, and expertise – this is core to our work towards diversity, equity, and inclusion. Everyone’s voice deserves to be heard, everyone’s art deserves recognition, and everyone’s culture deserves respect. At King Arthur Baking, we have always believed that everyone deserves equal access to the joy of baking and creative expression and marrying the two in our partnership with JAG helps expand and extend that access.

 

How can food and art connect to promote civic dialogue and social action? 

The act of connecting food and art has powerful potential to promote diverse voices, experiences, and perspectives. We’ve already seen this play out at King Arthur Baking in our partnerships with bakeries that are owned and run primarily by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). Through these partnerships, we’re able to uplift small businesses that are using their craft to bring positive changes to their communities. We’ve also expanded our network of social media, video, and blog contributors to feature a broader range of voices, perspectives and backgrounds, prioritizing those historically excluded from the food media landscape including BIPOC and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Civic, productive dialogue has been a result of these efforts, especially in the digital space where photo, video and written content, forms of art, allow our audience to make deep, meaningful connections with those who often don’t have the platform or “stage” to reach such a broad community.

 

How did JAG’s and King Arthur’s relationship first get started? Was it Baking a Stand? Or before that? 

As a theater lover, I have known of Jarvis since he first moved to the Upper Valley, and my son Jack was one of his first interns in Vermont. The King Arthur Baking partnership formally began in October 2020 when our bakers selected JAG as the first recipient of funds from Baking a Stand, a program created by the King Arthur Baking Pastry Team to amplify the work of BIPOC bakers and organizations working toward greater social justice, through baked goods.  This then evolved into an even more meaningful, long-term, sustainable relationship when Jarvis approached me with his idea for Theatre on the Hill and Conversations in the Courtyard. In our relatively small community, theater makes a powerful impact. I’ve seen firsthand how it can engage individuals from all backgrounds, creating a shared experience that still allows for diversity and difference to blossom, and JAG is a perfect example of that.  King Arthur Baking is thankful for our partnership, and we look forward to a great summer together.

 

How is KABC dealing with the logistics of this performance/What should attendees know about attending (parking, seating, handicap accessibility, any COVID related guidance etc?

  • Gates open at 6:30 PM
  • Parking available in both lots
  • Wheelchair accessible
  • Restrooms available in our facility
  • Masks are not required for vaccinated patrons but recommended – if not vaccinated then masks are required
    • Mask statement – “Stay safe, stay healthy. Keep our employees and customers safe. Wear a mask unless fully vaccinated.” 
  • General admission (seats provided on a first come first serve basis)
  • Food and beverage available upon purchase
  • JAG merchandise available for purchase