The Common Field Convening, originally slated to take place in person in Houston, Texas, is a gathering of more than 500 arts organizers in the US around topics of equity, collaboration, and sustainability across various arts fields. It includes panels, workshops, and conversations touching upon subjects from art and environmental activism to building successful partnerships between artists and local governments.
With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the conferences have shifted online, taking place on April 23-25; April 30; and May 1-3. A full program, along with links to sign up for each conference, can be found on Common Field’s website.
The ongoing health crisis, which has had a devastating impact on the cultural sector, means some of the issues addressed in the Common Field Convening are more urgent than ever before. Hyperallergic will be live-blogging select conferences, below.
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Live-blogged by Hakim Bishara
Speakers: Ashley Dehoyos (Houston, TX); Diverseworks (Houston, TX); Filipinx Artists of Houston (Houston, TX); Laura Napier (Houston, TX); John Pluecker; Rothko Chapel (Houston, TX)
6:o3pm EDT: Ashley DeHoyos, a curator, educator and cultural producer from Baytown, Texas commences the discussion with a group of Houston-based artists and art organizers.
6:o5pm EDT: A video plays with images normally associated with Houston, including pictures of Beyonce and Solange, but DeHoyos says that the discussion will present a lesser-known image of the city.
6:19pm EDT: Emily Peacock performs standup, with a Zoom background resembling a standup club stage. “Welcome to the South!” she begins.
6:25pm EDT: Francis Almendárez is presenting his photography project, focusing on gentrified neighborhoods in his former home city of Los Angeles, and in Houston, where he’s currently living.
6:35pm EDT: DeHoyos asked participants to choose keywords from Manalo’s presentation: identity; queer; culture; appropriation; loss; language; oil; etc.
6:37pm EDT: The purpose of the discussion is to present an “intersectional view of the city,” says DeHoyos.
6:39pm EDT: Manalo, who chose the words “identity” and “community”, is speaking about the importance of representing the growing Filipino community in Houston.
6:43pm EDT: “There’s so much good art being made in Houston that is often overlooked,” says Prajgariah.
Prajgariah and JD Pluecker are rocking cool Zoom appearances:
6:49pm EDT: Olivia notes the benefit of living in an affordable city like Houston in sustaining themselves as an artist: “I can have a studio a few minutes from home and still live downtown.”
6:55pm EDT: So far, the speakers have nothing but praise for the city. Most of them came to Houston from different parts of the country.
7:00pm EDT: Sounds of applause to healthcare workers in New York are penetrating my apartment. Some neighbors are drumming on pans.
7:05 EDT: Houston has a lot more to offer to artists than LA, according to Almendárez. “I’m able to work here as an artist and also teach,” he said.
7:15 EDT: NYC artists, start thinking about moving to Houston! I’m (almost) sold.
7:15 EDT: Fun fact — in Texas, oil and gas workers are considered “essential workers” during COVID-19.
7:25 EDT: Pluecker interjects all the positive talk with criticism of Houston: “This land has been rough on queer folks.”
7:25 EDT: “Houston is lacking in art criticism and art writing,” Prajgariah noted. “More art can help launch us.” DeHoyos agrees: “We need more writers.”
7:31 EDT: Napier complains about the lack of diversity among teachers in art schools. “Most teachers are white, including myself,” she adds.
7:31 EDT: City funds are unfairly skewed towards white art organizations, according to Pluecker.
7:39 EDT: “Just a note that I love everyone’s backgrounds,” writes one viewer in the chat room. (Agreed).
7:39 EDT: “We live in paradise down here,” Napier says.
7:39:05 EDT: “I don’t know if I would call it ‘paradise’,” Prajgariah followed.
7:45 EDT: The meeting ends with Virginia Lee Montgomery’s “Mind Map” drawing, which she has prepared during the conversation based on the themes and key concepts discussed.
Live-blogged by Jasmine Weber
Speakers: Black Femme Brunch (Washington, DC)
4:03pm EDT: To start off, Black Femme Brunch welcomed participants to stand at attention for their anthem: Juvenile’s “Back That Azz Up.” The energy of the two hosts, juh weems and Jos Bloomfield, is incredible.
4:04pm EDT: Bloomfield addresses the crowd of over 75 to make sure we feel comfortable, even in our pajamas: “This is going to be an unprofessional workshop, on purpose.”
4:17pm EDT: After making it known how attractive the crowd of attendees is (true), the hosts are walking through the community guidelines for today. A highlight: prioritize listening and centering the voices of disabled individuals, queer and trans folks, and BIPOC to create an inclusive space. Black Femme Brunch is typically a space for solely Black queer femmes, and they are encouraging non-Black participants to step back to ensure the voices of Black participants are heard.
4:18pm EDT: The hosts are introducing themselves and their art practices. Bloomfield says, “I believe that pleasure is a tenet of humanity.”
4:24pm EDT: Jos is sharing their “pleasure bio”: gardening, steamed pork buns, particularly crisp Canada Dry Ginger Ale, and the experience of giving someone their first flogging, to name a few. For weems: butter chicken and their mother’s cooking, laughing, and impact play. Participants are sharing their own “pleasure bios” in the chat.
4:27pm EDT: We’re watching a seven-minute video of a past Black Femme Brunch “St. Zaddy’s Day” function. Everyone featured looks overjoyed to be surrounded by Black femmes in a comfortable, welcoming space. In the Zoom comments, people are fantasizing about the parties to come post-pandemic.
4:42pm EDT: The hosts are opening up the cruising board and sharing their checklists for navigating desire. Weems makes a poignant comment: “There is no hierarchy in pleasure.” She adds that the idea is to practice naming these desires.
4:45pm EDT: We’re now on the topic of whiteness, and what it means. “White culture, norms, and values […] become the standard against which all other cultures, groups, and individuals are measured and usually found to be inferior” (Henry & Tator, 2006).
4:50pm EDT: Now, we’re discussing Blackness and what it can be. Bloomfield calls it “everything and nothing,” and adds that she is uncomfortable thinking about Blackness as the antithesis to whiteness.
5:00pm EDT: The group was split into breakout sessions of five, to discuss how we’ve perpetuated or dismantled white culture.
Live-blogged by Valentina Di Liscia
Speakers: A Blade of Grass (Brooklyn, NY); Amanda Lovelee (Minneapolis, MN); Annis Whitlow Sengupta (Boston, MA); City of Fargo
2:05pm EDT: Prerana Reddy from A Blade of Grass is starting the meeting. She’s defining what partnerships are: essentially, they involve sharing risk, resources, and rewards.
2:10pm EDT: One interesting aspect will be understanding the power dynamics inherent in government-artist partnerships (in Reddy’s words just now: “Cities don’t always have more power; artists and cities have different types of power.”)
2:17pm EDT: Annis Whitlow Sengupta from Boston’s Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) has the mic, she’s talking about MAPC’s arts and culture initiative.
2:22pm EDT: Sengupta explains how MAPC’s initiative works: artists in residence are hired by the agency as part-time employees with salaries and benefits in the Department of Arts and Culture. The position is funded by a three-year grant, and each artist is given workplace within the agency offices. Each resident will spend six to nine months on orientation and project development, and nine to 12 months on actual project execution and documentation.
2:28pm EDT: She’s circling back to Reddy’s comment about power: MAPC’s audience is planners and officials, so artists in residence have a lot of power to lead the conversation. (Past residents include Carolyn Lewenberg (2017-2018), a visual artist who had a degree in landscape architecture and background in youth engagement; Hortense Gerardo (2018-2020), focus was making performance art accessible.)
2:40pm EDT: This is super interesting. For her residency Gerardo wrote a performance called the Medfield Anthology, based on archival research on Medfield State Hospital. The medical campus served as a “stage” and the performance told a history of the institution through different vignettes.
2:46pm EDT: Amanda Lovelee is now speaking. She was a City Artist for Public Art Saint Paul in Minnesota and is sharing one of her projects: “Pop-Up Meeting.”
2:51pm EDT: So for Pop-Up Meeting, Lovelee drove a truck around the city hosting community gatherings, i.e., “bringing the city to the people” rather than asking people to come to City Hall. She asked survey questions and participants got locally-made organic popsicles in response for their answers. One of the questions they asked was: have you ever been to a city meeting before? Most people said they hadn’t. (Side note: I want a popsicle now.)
2:52pm EDT: I love this. I’ve always felt like a lot of local government engagement, activities like going to town halls, is only available to those who have the time, means, and ability to mobilize. Which leaves a lot of (or most) people out.
3:01pm EDT: In Q&A session. Someone asked a good question: is it important for artists who become City Artists to be long-term residents of these communities?
3:03pm EDT: Lovelee says yes; in case of St. Paul program, artists have largely been Twin Cities residents. But: “I’m not the artist for the whole city, I’m the ambassador, bringing in other voices,” she says.
3:08pm EDT: Nicole Crutchfield, a city planner and landscape architect in Fargo, North Dakota, is speaking. She worked with environmental artist Jackie Brookner on The Fargo Project, an initiative to engage different members of the community around a neighborhood storm water basin, finding ways to benefit everyone.
3:10pm EDT: The 18-acre basin, which stores stormwater for up to 16 hours after a rain event, was often dry and unused when there was no rainfall. Goal: transform it into a “community commons.”
3:20pm EDT: Takeaway: design “with, not for.” Integrate artists and community early on in existing programs and systems.
3:28pm EDT: Speakers are sharing closing remarks. Lovelee: “Artists have the ability to test things. That’s hard for government agencies, to test, experiment, and be vulnerable.” (I.e., governments can’t just try things out and say “this is an art project,” so true.)
3:32pm EDT: Wrapping up. Reddy just shared a link to a Google folder with Blade of Grass resources for artist-municipality partnerships, here.
Correction 4/30/2020 3:16pm EDT: In an earlier version of this article, JD Pluecker was misidentified as Phillip Pyle. This has been corrected, and we regret the error.