In the face of a request to divest from the SHIFT festival, the Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board reaffirmed its support for the conference and the nonprofit that puts it on, the Center for Jackson Hole.
In April, a group called Won’t Take SHIFT Anymore posted a letter to the website Medium asking for the resignation of Center for Jackson Hole Executive Director Christian Beckwith, saying he created a “toxic” environment for participants of color and those from other traditionally marginalized communities at SHIFT and in the Emerging Leaders Program.
Soon after, the group also sent a letter to the Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board asking it to divest from SHIFT, which would have been a significant blow to the festival’s finances, considering the board supplies roughly a quarter of the nonprofit’s overall funds.
In a public statement Monday morning, the board made clear it would not heed the request.
“We have concluded that, although the Center for Jackson Hole is not without historical missteps,” the statement reads, “it is in the best interest of our community, our environment and our broader society to continue our support of their work.”
According to the fiscal year 2020 budget approved last month, the travel and tourism board dedicated $85,000 to the nonprofit for the SHIFT festival. Maintaining that funding comes as a result of organizational changes the Center for Jackson Hole has made, the statement says.
According to Beckwith and the nonprofit’s board chairman, Len Necefer, the center has added diverse members to its board, many of whom are graduates of the Emerging Leaders Program, and instated Dr. Morgan Green, a graduate of the program, as its director.
“His lived experience is in line with these marginalized communities,” Beckwith said. “He has personally been doing diversity, equity and inclusion work.”
Beckwith has said he is “trying to work himself out of a job,” though he has not put a timeline on when he might step away from the festival and nonprofit he has built.
“We want to make decisions in a responsible manner,” he said. “In the decision about when we’re making the transition, it’s more important to make the transition correctly than to make it by a certain date.”
Steps taken so far appear to be enough for the travel and tourism board to continue its support for SHIFT.
“We have full confidence in the Center for Jackson Hole’s ability to execute on their organizational changes,” the statement says. “It is our belief that through this process, they have become better equipped than ever to proceed with their valuable work on the challenging, pertinent issues surrounding conservation, recreation and outdoor access.”