Welcome to day four of the Common Field Convening, originally slated to take place in person in Houston, Texas. The gathering of more than 500 arts organizers in the US includes panels, workshops, and conversations touching upon topics of equity, collaboration, and sustainability across various arts fields.
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. Read about day four’s discussions, below:
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Live-blogged by Hakim Bishara
Speakers: Blake Paskal (New York City, NY), Jeannette Rodríguez Píneda (New York, NY), Jennifer Harley (New York City, NY)
4:00pm EDT: Some background before the session begins: All three speakers are artists and Studio Museum in Harlem staff members. They will discuss the question: How can artists, art museums, and community organizations work collaboratively to build safe spaces and further equity in their communities?
4:02pm EDT: Jennifer Harley, school and community coordinator at the Studio Museum in Harlem, starts the meeting. She says the meeting will include “collaborative art-making”.
4:03pm EDT: Jeannette Rodríguez Píneda and Blake Paskal, teaching artists at the museum, introduce themselves.
4:07pm EDT: Paskal directs viewers to another digital platform for a drawing activity. Participants will be divided into groups.
4:09pm EDT: Participants are asked to express in a drawing “how has your idea of safety changed in the past couple of months?”
4:10pm EDT: In room 6, participants are drawing simultaneously in the drawing app. Paskal encouraged them to “embrace messiness”.
4:17pm EDT: Room 5 is going wild with this collaborative drawing:
4:20pm EDT: Returning to the main session.
4:22pm EDT: Paskal is sharing drawings from the different rooms.
4:25pm EDT: Participants are asked to share their experience of creating the collaborative drawings. Paskal is reading the responses. “It was relaxing but I disoriented at first,” one participant says.
4:27pm EDT: Several of the drawings included houses, as befitting of these times of quarantine.
4:30pm EDT: Back to Harley. She’s speaking about the museum’s partnerships with the Rikers Island detention facility.
4:33pm EDT: In 2017, NYC announced a plan to close Rikers. But it recently introduced a controversial plan to build four new borough jails in the city as a substitute.
4:36pm EDT: Artworks from the exhibition Black Refractions: Highlights from the Studio Museum in Harlem (2019) were shared with incarcerated people at Rikers in a program supervised by Harley.
4:40pm EDT: In one activity, the detainees were asked to respond in drawing and collage to works by Faith Ringgold, Kerry James Marshall, and Titus Kaphar, among others.
4:45pm EDT: The idea was to convert Rikers into a “creative space” that can transcend isolation and institutional racism, Harley said.
4:49pm EDT: Paskal is speaking about the museum’s partnership with the Harlem-based Ali Forney Center, a nonprofit dedicated to helping homeless LGBTQ+ youth.
4:56pm EDT: Paskal organized a sculpture workshop at the center. The works were shown in an exhibition. The workshop included tours in MoMA and other NYC museums.
5:03pm EDT: In another workshop at the center, participants responded to works by Mark Bradford and Mickalene Thomas with a collective mural.
5:07pm EDT: Píneda is speaking about her work with ReStart Academy, a city program for youth in crisis.
5:11pm EDT: She organized a paper-making workshop and an archive-related activity titled “Challenging Narratives” at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
5:17pm EDT: Píneda, who was a resident at the Schomburg, has also held printmaking workshops for youth, focusing on memory as a subject matter.
5:21m EDT: She quotes the Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire who once wrote: “It’s impossible to teach without the courage to love.“
5:23m EDT: Instead of a Q&A, the panelists are sharing “self-reflective questions” that they wrote.
5:27m EDT: Soft piano music is playing while everyone in the room is asked to write answers for questions like: How might we as cultural workers provide people with the possibilities of redefining experiences and themselves? How can you bring more vulnerability into your teaching or cultural work? Can you think of a teaching moment or otherwise, where the safety of the space was jeopardized? What could you do differently next time? What does it mean for an institution to take accountability and prioritize equity as they engage communities? What does it look like to center care in hour organization, how can you do more to care for and support and community members and staff?
Art Education in the Red: Strategies for Cultural Education and Resilience in Underfunded Communities, 2-3:30pm EDT
Live-blogged by Jasmine Weber
Speakers: Jessica Borusky (Atlanta, GA), Julie Clark (Tulsa, OK), Mandy Messina (Oklahoma City, OK), Suzanne C. Thomas (Oklahoma City, OK)
2:10pm EDT: Borusky is introducing the topic of arts education and how it will be explored throughout the session. For example, the “importance of arts education in rural and underfunded spaces,” and pivotal questions like “Who funds what and why? Who/what is rendered invisible?”
2:12pm EDT: Clark is focusing on her experience with Tulsa Public Schools and Living Arts of Tulsa; Borusky said the speakers will be exploring issues with arts education in Oklahoma as an example of how we must improve conditions for arts education across the country. Clark, interestingly, said many teaching artists are not practicing artists, which can be harmful. This is definitely a surprise to me.
2:14pm EDT: OK often ranks 49th or 50th among national education; Clark shares harrowing images of the conditions in Oklahoma classrooms. In 2018, there was a teachers’ strike across the state, and while teachers received a pay raise, there was little restoration to funds and programs that were eliminated.
2:16pm EDT: It became the teachers’ responsibility to fundraise for their own classrooms. Clark had to write grant requests, receiving between $50 and $7,000 from multiple organizations. The Tulsa Public School District offered development for grant writing to help facilitate these requests, but of course, this onus should be on the school administration, not overworked educators.
2:25pm EDT: Clark suggests that educators become familiar with grant writing, organize mass political action, and that “most importantly, in order for educational programs within the arts to be successful, institutions at a statewide level must realize that program sustainability means high-quality educators, equitable pay, funding for materials , additional staff and other means of helping educators to feel empowered and not overburdened.”
2:31pm EDT: Thomas is now presenting — she is a member of the organization Inclusion in Art, which was founded in 2005 as a means to support artists of color. One of their core values is collaboration/partnership. The Oklahoma Arts Council and Living Arts have been some of their supporters.
2:37pm EDT: In 2014 and 2015, Inclusion in Arts had a physical space to show artwork. Thomas says one of the most important things to Inclusion in Arts, in serving artists of color, was to “provide opportunity for them to show their work.” Sadly, they lost the space when the building was sold, and they needed to redirect their resources, and started focusing heavily, once again, on collaborating with other Oklahoma organizations. They were able to put on exhibitions in galleries and commercial spaces.
2:30pm EDT: They are dedicated to getting artists paid, and the administrators, who are all practicing artists, also help by teaching artists how to write resumes and learn other necessary, but overlooked skills. They pair participating artists with mentors.
2:43pm EDT: They recently put on an exhibition called The Spirit of Color, showing nine Oklahoma artists of color who have been working for decades.
2:45pm EDT: This is great — The Spirit of Color catalogue will be sent to every public high school across the state.
2:48pm EDT: Thomas teaches at Rose State College, which has a totally free ESL class, which is open to community members not enrolled as students. Programs like these are incredibly necessary.
2:58pm EDT: Messina has been working on a really wonderful comics series about their experiences in the arts.
3:00pm EDT: They say Trader Joe’s remains the best job that they have had thus far, and that experience is something they prioritize while navigating the arts.
4:02pm EDT: Even though the Philbrook is 90 minutes away from Messina’s home, they say this is the most worthwhile job they have right now in terms of freedom, payment, etc. One of the more unique programs they’re able to work on there is a weeklong LARP workshop for children. Their primary source of income — prior to the COVID-19 shutdown — is work in restaurants.
4:04pm EDT: We’re moving to the Q&A portion.
4:12pm EDT: One great question is about the divide and collapse between public and private funding, and how this divide can bolster inequality and inaccessibility in the education system.
4:14pm EDT: Thomas says “let’s not get too good” at supplementing arts education in public schools — not because they’re not capable, but because it encourages the administrators who should be supporting the arts to say that they can instead fall back on private funding. Clark calls it an “unstable ecosystem.”
Clark speaks about the power of ethically “empowering a student to use their voice and their artwork”: “If you empower a kid and make them love a program, they will continue it. They will be the voice for that program.”