Dana Harrison: In Memoriam
Wednesday, May 16, 2018
Posted by: TBA Staff
by Brad Erickson
Earlier this spring, our Theatre Bay Area family suffered a devastating jolt in the loss of our former Managing Director, Dana Harrison. Dana passed away, with little warning, on March 9, of a particularly virulent strain of lung cancer. She was just 57.
For those of us who knew Dana she was a cosmic explosion of life – ferociously intelligent, burning with passion, overflowing with compassion, and hard as nails when she needed to be.
Outside of the office, Dana and I spoke almost every single day -- usually starting at 8AM—scheming, strategizing, dreaming – until after an hour or more one of us would say, “OK, we’ve really got get to work now!”
Dana came to Theatre Bay Area after several years at Burning Man, and before that, decades in the field of finance, where she worked as an executive at both Bank of America and Charles Schwab. She was highly successful at both institutions, having launched herself in a soaring career trajectory – a high-flying female financier in a very male firmament.
Until one day – and I will never forget this story – Dana was on her way to work, walking from her Berkeley home to the BART station to catch a train to downtown San Francisco, and as she crossed the street, she was struck by a car. Dana remembered flying through the air, flipping over the hood of the car, and landing hard on the pavement just beside the driver’s door. In that nanosecond, while she flew, Dana wondered if that moment would be her last, and if so, what her life’s work, to that point, had meant. Dana realized that she hadn’t died when the horrified driver opened his door to ask if she was alright. She knew also at that moment that she couldn’t go back to a vocation that seemed now to just be about making wealthy people wealthier.
Dana spent the next few months on sabbatical, healing, then traversing the mountains of Patagonia (she also climbed the Himalayas). When she returned to the Bay Area, she resigned her position as a financier and dedicated herself to causes that she believed in, to the arts, to the theatre, and to her faith community.
We at Theatre Bay Area were incredibly fortunate to have Dana as our Managing Director. She brought a rare combination of business acumen and passion for the mission, all mixed with humor, grace, and candor. Few have loved this theatre community as much as Dana, and few have so deeply understood and valued the work our theatre-makers do, every day, enriching individual lives and whole communities.
And few in our community have as great a passion for advancing justice in and through theatre as Dana had. Many will remember that Dana served as staff lead for TBA’s Gender Parity Committee working with the members of that group to effect real change and open equal access to opportunity, regardless of gender identity, in all positions within our theatre community.
Dana was a Buddhist by practice and a Jew by heritage. I remember Dana sharing with me why celebrating Passover was so meaningful to her and so central to her understanding of her heritage as a Jew. The celebration of Passover recalls the deliverance of the Hebrew people from the bondage of slavery into liberty. For Dana, it was an ageless and universal story about the struggle to break bonds of oppression and move towards freedom and justice.
Now, in honor of Dana and of her passion and unshakeable belief, we launch the Dana Harrison Fund for Theatre and Social Justice. The Fund, which we plan to administer in perpetuity, will be dedicated to supporting programs that advance justice in our theatre community and through our theatre community.
TBA’s executive committee has authorized that the first year of the Fund will be committed to underwriting our new initiative to advance equity, diversity and inclusion in our theatre community. Partnering with Carmen Morgan and the renown trainers at artEquity, we will launch this fall a ten-company cohort, working intensively with representatives from these organizations, while we simultaneously roll out field-wide convenings and opportunities for learning, awareness raising and skill-building, all in an effort to confront racism and bias and advance justice in our theatre. The work is being supported by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Zellerbach Foundation, but those funds cover only half of the project. We are committing the Dana Harrison Fund to advance this crucial work.
I hope you will join me and TBA’s board in becoming among the first to honor Dana’s memory through the Dana Harrison Fund for Theatre and Social Justice.
Learn more about the Dana Harrison Fund for Theatre and Social Justice.