The Shape of Trust

The Shape of Trust is a multi-part, multi-year project designed to build a practice of racial equity - daily ways of being, relating and decision making that foster racial equity, wellbeing and belonging - in the workplace.


In 2017, staff from the Office for Civil Rights, Department of Human Resources and Office of Arts & Culture began exploring ways that arts experiences could shift workplace culture away from the white dominant behaviors and expectations that promote racism and other forms of oppression toward ones that foster connection and belonging. How can visual arts, theater, music, movement, embodiment and mindfulness help cultivate these changes? How can we understand the power dynamics of race, gender and other identities and use that knowing to create racial equity in our workplace relationships and environment? It was at this time that Office of Arts & Culture staff Elisheba Johnson, Kathy Hsieh and Jenny Crooks were working with artist Sara Porkalob to produce Real Talk, an original performance based on stories from workers of color in the Seattle arts community and inspired by a similar project by Arts Workers for Equity (AWE) in Portland, OR. These various seeds have grown into the performances, video and learning experiences that comprise The Shape of Trust project. 

Group of panelists speak on a stage.

The Shape of Trust emerged from over a decade of organizing for racial equity within the City of Seattle workforce. Much of that organizing has been led by employees who are most impacted by racism, sexism and other intersecting forms of oppression. Their stories reveal patterns of pain and resilience, struggle and strategy, disconnection, collaboration, leadership and change. They show how what's real and what's possible depend on our institutional culture - the ways of being, norms and practices that uphold our decision-making and policy processes. We either consciously work together to create a culture of racial equity and belonging that supports policies and procedures designed to build racial equity, or we reinforce - consciously or unconsciously - the culture that maintains the system of white supremacy in which we all live.  

A staged reading of a play.

The Shape of Trust project examines the space of relationships, the places in-between us that flex, morph and adapt as we build racial justice. The title draws inspiration from Emergent Strategy author and activist Adrienne Maree Brown and other racial justice leaders who remind us that "change happens at the speed of trust." The Shape of Trust project invites us to tend to the contours of our authenticity, the rhythms of our relationships. It invites us to listen and reflect, to recognize power in all of its forms: What types of power are playing out? What types of power are needed for healing and transformation, and how can I and we embody those?

Components of The Shape of Trust      

  • An original theater production based on City employees' stories of racial harassment and discrimination, and institutional racism collected via Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI) surveys, focus groups, the Citywide Workforce Equity Planning and Advisory Committee, Anti-Harassment Interdepartmental Team, Coalition of Affinity Groups Against Racial Harassment, Seattle Silence Breakers, RSJI Strategy Team, other City employee groups and news media. Acclaimed playwright and director Sara Porkalob wrote the script and worked with a team of actors to perform it. 

The Shape of Trust cast is Monique Aldred, Tricia Castaneda-Gonzales, Christi Cruz, Anasofia Gallegos, Aishé Keita, Ayo Tushinde and Nina Williams-Teramachi.

Over 1250 individuals attended one of three live performances at A Contemporary Theatre, Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute and Benaroya Hall in June, 2019. A talkback session with members of the cast and City leaders organizing for workforce equity followed each performance.

Snapshot of the Shape of Trust program, featuring the cast and director.

  • An arts- and mindfulness-integrated Community of Practice for supervisors, managers and those who advise on HR matters. This multi-racial learning environment will weave together resources at the levels of self, spirit and collective to transform behaviors and decision-making between individuals, within teams and across the institution. The Community of Practice will include group engagements, assignments, peer coaching, racial caucusing and conversations with City employees leading for workforce equity. (Forthcoming, 2020)
  • A video of the performance with an accompanying arts- and mindfulness-integrated activity guide for use by organizations of all kinds and sizes working to build a practice of racial equity within the workplace. (Available for free download, 2020)
  • Incorporation of arts- and mindfulness-integrated racial equity curriculum into the Citywide Supervisor and Manager Learning Program.
  • A Train-the-Facilitator Cohort that participates in the Community of Practice as well as parallel sessions focused on developing facilitation skills grounded in racial equity, wellbeing and belonging. Graduates of the cohort will help facilitate Citywide RSJI and Human Resources trainings.  

Diagram explaining the Shape of Trust project.

Thank You

Much gratitude to the City employees, in particular women of color, and transgender and nonbinary people of color, who shared their stories for this project. 


The Shape of Trust is a partnership between the Office of Arts & Culture, Department of Human Resources and Office for Civil Rights, and is sponsored by the Citywide Workforce Equity Planning and Advisory Committee (WEPAC). Contributing department partners include Seattle Public Utilities, Seattle City Light, Seattle Center, Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections, Department of Neighborhoods and Seattle Public Library. Efforts to improve workforce equity at the City began in 2008; more recently, they have included the creation of a dedicated workforce equity director and staff within the Department of Human Resources, and internal organizing and advocacy by employee groups. Organizational Partners include A Contemporary Theatre (ACT), Benaroya Hall, Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute, Ijo Arts Media Group, Blank Space, Race Forward and API Chaya.    

Creative Strategies Initiative

The Shape of Trust is part of the Creative Strategies Initiative (CSI), a component of the Race and Social Justice Initiative's new culture shift strategy and the outgrowth of more than six years of partnership between the Office for Civil Rights and Office of Arts & Culture. CSI uses arts- and culture-based approaches to build racial equity in non-arts areas like the environment, housing, workforce and community development. CSI aims to shift the culture of government by focusing both on racial equity outcomes - what harm is eliminated, or opportunity increased for those who are most impacted by structural racism - and process - how the City does racial equity work.


The Office of Arts & Culture and Office for Civil Rights piloted multiple CSI projects in the first two years. Stay tuned for more information on these projects and CSI overall.