Americans for the Arts Presents 2020 Robert E. Gard Award to Red Door Project’s ‘Evolve’



Americans for the Arts has announced Red Door Project’s Evolve, a live performance experience based in Portland, Oregon, as the 2020 recipient of The Robert E. Gard Award. The award recognizes exemplary projects from the last year led by individuals or organizations who demonstrate a commitment to intersecting the arts with other sectors of community life in meaningful and measurable ways.

Red Door Project’s mission is to change racial ecology through the arts and improve discourse across differences. Using storytelling and performance as tools for community building, Red Door Project encourages interaction between community members with different backgrounds to discover shared values and take on alternative views while connecting over their common humanity.

Evolve is the result of three years of listening and relationship and partnership development between the co-founders of Red Door, playwright Shepsu Aakhu, and now retired Portland Police Bureau Deputy Chief Robert Day. The performance experience explores the relationship between police and communities of color. Combining monologues from The New Black Fest’s Hands Up: 7 Playwrights, 7 Testaments, a show written by African American men and women about their experience with racial profiling, and Cop Out: Beyond Black, White & Blue, based on interviews with police officers, Evolve stimulates conversation in a new way and help bridge a seemingly intractable divide. An accompanying curriculum encourages those who engage with Evolve to reflect on their experience, engage in dialogue, and build motivation to act towards systemic change.

We at the Red Door greatly appreciate having been selected for this award. We are honored to be selected alongside such an illustrious group of community leaders who are individually working towards a brighter future,” said co-founders Lesli Mones and Kevin Jones. “We know we are all continuing this work because we share a desire for a better world, and none of us can do that alone.”

In 2019, almost 600 Oregon law enforcement professionals including local police, FBI, district attorneys, and judges experienced Evolve. Ninety percent of participants reported increased motivation to listen and more deeply consider the perspective of people with vastly different life experiences. The project has been featured on the PBS NewsHour and will soon begin touring nationally in partnership with local law enforcement entities.

The Red Door Project serves as a model for using the arts to transform relationships within communities and generate greater empathy and understanding across differences,” said Robert L. Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts. “The important work of the organization and its performance experience addresses significant social issues through the power of art—and it’s needed now more than ever. I congratulate the Red Door Project for this well-deserved recognition.”

The Robert E. Gard Award is named in honor of one of the founding fathers of the local arts movement and a champion of the arts’ role in the creation and maintenance of healthy, vibrant, and equitable communities.



Americans for the Arts is the leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts and arts education in America. With offices in Washington, D.C. and New York City, it has a record of 60 years of service. Americans for the Arts is dedicated to representing and serving local communities and creating opportunities for every American to participate in and appreciate all forms of the arts. Additional information is available at