Welcome to day five 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 five’s discussions, below:
* * *
Live-blogged by Hakim Bishara
Speakers: Carol Stakenas (Brooklyn, NY), Damon Reaves (Philadelphia, PA), Jacqueline Mabey (Brooklyn, NY), Pato Hebert (Los Angeles, CA)
6:00pm EDT: “Question Party is a place where sticky issues are welcome,” Common Field announced in advance of the meeting. Sounds promising.
6:04pm EDT: Stakenas starts the meeting after some tunes by the band SOHN.
6:07pm EDT: “The goal of the meeting is to create a space for collective learning,” Stakenas says.
6:09pm EDT: The first section the meeting will be dedicated to generating questions, which will later be exchanged and discussed.
6:11pm EDT: Mabey says that the format of a “Question Party” allows people to ask questions they wouldn’t normally ask out loud.
6:14pm EDT: Reaves continues the introduction, emphasizing that “it’s important to acknowledge the things we don’t know.”
6:17pm EDT: Donning a red mask, Hebert welcomes the audience in Spanish.
6:18pm EDT: “How do we shelter at home if we don’t have a home? How do we wash hands if there’s no clean water?” Hebert asks.
6:20pm EDT: Hebert shares that he tested positive for COVID-19. He explains that his red mask was made by his aunt, a fabric artist, out of a shirt that used to belong to his grandfather.
6:23pm EDT: Participants are being asked to rename themselves on Zoom in order to keep their questions anonymous.
6:25pm EDT: Most participants changed their names to “anonymous” or “anon”.
6:26pm EDT: A “free writing of questions” session begins.
6:28pm EDT: Participants were asked to unmute their computer microphones while writing their questions. I hear humming, typing, an alarm clock, and a baby crying in the background.
6:32pm EDT: Participants are adding their questions to the group chat, anonymously.
6:33pm EDT: “What if our organization ends up better off financially due to the pandemic? Is that wrong?” one person asked.
6:34pm EDT: “Is art just about putting more objects in the world that we don’t actually need?” another participant asked.
6:35pm EDT: “Am I horrific?” one person asked the group. “What’s the point of anything?” asked another.
6:35pm EDT: “When will this end?” someone asked. “Will I become destitute?” another added.
6:38pm EDT: “Am I contributing to the inequality of this city?”
6:40pm EDT: “Do I even like working in the arts or do I just keep going because it’s all I know/I’ve been doing okay at it?”
6:41pm EDT: “What if I am wrong about the value of moving slowly?”
6:42pm EDT: A controversial question: “How can we encourage minority groups to have a seat at the table when they do not show up?”
6:44pm EDT: “What can you do if you are part of an arts organization occupying a perceived gentrified space? What can be done to move past that negative narrative?”
6:45pm EDT: “When working to address power dynamics in the art world how do we ensure one set of biases are not replaced by another?”
6:46pm EDT: “Will my lover return? When?”
6:47pm EDT: “Can I, as a white cis male, queer myself, my family, the things I have influence over? Is it co-opting to use queer or queering this way? How do I move away from reinforcing my whiteness, my maleness?”
6:48pm EDT: “Who else is enjoying being locked down?”
6:49pm EDT: “How do I deal with someone who is being a Karen or a privileged person? How do I approach someone who has done something that is racist towards me in an institution, e.g. undermining my right to define myself and my own work, and not by my race or background? How do I get them to acknowledge the harm they have done? Do I even try? I’m a POC artist.”
6:50pm EDT: By contrast, “How does a white person find the balance between accommodating POC in their community in acknowledging histrionic disparity, and becoming a doormat for POC in the hopes of balancing the scale: white people are people too, and there’s a point at which we enable individuals who choose not to do their fair share of work as people, regardless of race?”
6:50pm EDT: “What does it mean if I cannot cry?”
6:52pm EDT: Participants were asked to take a moment to reflect on these questions.
6:54pm EDT: Groups will discuss the questions in breakout rooms.
6:58pm EDT: I was sent to room 8 with four other people.
7:00pm EDT: The group is discussing the question: “How do you preserve something that wasn’t yours to begin with?”
7:04pm EDT: The participants come from Houston, Dallas, and Seattle. They said they prefer to stay anonymous.
7:06pm EDT: The discussion goes into questions of gentrification and ownership.
7:08pm EDT: The room shifted to the question: “Do we even need art?”
7:09pm EDT: “We need it now more than ever,” one participant said while acknowledging that lees privileged people do not have the luxury to engage in the arts during this crisis.
7:11pm EDT: Another participant suggested discussing the question: “Do you resent me for having more than you?”
7:13pm EDT: “Working in the arts sometimes feels like being a butler for exorbitantly rich systems,” a participant said.
7:16pm EDT: Back to the main room, where good music is playing.
7:18pm EDT: Hebert throws the question, “What’s the gesture of our curiosity?”
7:20pm EDT: Silence in the room. “Asking questions, I think?” a person finally answered.
7:21pm EDT: “Seeking understanding,” someone added in the chat.
7:24pm EDT: “Wanting to know and be known,” another added.
7:25pm EDT: Participants are sharing some of the discussions they had in the breakout rooms.
7:27pm EDT: The moderators suggest to embrace the awkward pauses in the discussion.
7:29pm EDT: The party ended with a group toast (with mostly cups of water) and a collective Salute!
Towards a Fossil Free Culture, 4-5:30pm EDT
Live-blogged by Jasmine Weber
Speakers: Imani Brown (New Orleans, LA), Bryan Parras (Houston, TX), Priscilla Solis Ybarra, Ph.D. (Denton, TX), Regina Agu (Chicago, IL)
4:15pm EDT: Brown is reading a poignant missive on the exploitation of Earth’s resources, and the reliance of the art world on oil and gas funding.
4:16pm EDT: A panel on oil in Houston, an oil hub, is especially poignant. One standout line, by Brown: “What does it matter if our institutions’ lights are on if their physical buildings are underwater, and if their politics are dying from cancer and are left more vulnerable to pandemics like COVID-19?”
4:18pm EDT: The oil industry is collapsing — Brown ponders how we can utilize our current moment 0f isolation and rapid transition to come out of this time with new tools for change.
4:25pm EDT: Brown introduced all of the panelists, and is now opening them up to speak with a few key prompts: “Speak about your past work to address the propagandistic impact of fossil fuel philanthropy and fossil fuel environmental justice and transformative justice-related issues, reflecting as well on where you see us headed from this current moment, and how the tools that you’ve cultivated throughout your life and work will help us to get there. Is it possible for the unjust transition of this moment to end injustice? ”
4:35pm EDT: Agu says Alabama Song hosted Liberate Tate, from the UK, when they were in Houston. She explains: “There are important lessons there for artists to learn at an individual and collective level, and looking at what’s happening right now, Houston is being deeply impacted by the energy crash. This is not the first one since I’ve been there. But the current moment is, of course, being compounded by the pandemic shutdowns.”
4:37pm EDT: Snead moved to Houston shortly after the BP oil spill, the repercussions of which are still seen in wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico.
4:42pm EDT: Snead is sharing a satirical video that his organization shared on April Fools Day as part of Fossil Free Fest — an announcement for a children’s book called Goodnight Refinery.
4:50pm EDT: Ybarra is discussing Indigenous and Latinx knowledge and futurism, and how we can learn from these modes of understanding the earth and society. She shares information from an interview with Cherríe Moraga, who believes justice is “about our relationship with the earth,” rather than environmentalism being rooted in justice. Another highlight from their interview: “Expose Capitalism and White Supremacy’s fetishization of life for the elites at the cost of early death for everyone else.”
4:54pm EDT: Bryan Parras shares a beautiful poem by John Trudell, called “Honor Song”: “You must remember the gentleness of time. You are struggling to be who you are. You say you want to learn the old ways. Struggling to learn, when all you must do is remember. Remember the people. Remember the sky and earth. Remember the people have always struggles to live in harmony and peace.”
4:55pm EDT: Acknowledging indigenous erasure and violence against indigenous people is integral to understanding US capitalism’s stronghold on the environment — the exploitation of the land for fossil fuel extraction goes hand in hand with the US’s tradition of stealing land and/or making land uninhabitable for the indigenous people that live there.
4:57pm EDT: Parras is sharing stories about the “foul” air in his mother’s hometown, which used to make him nauseous. He developed asthma, and the water in his local spring was undrinkable. The destruction of natural resources in low income and predominantly POC neighborhoods is violence. He believes his grandmother’s kidney failure was due to her environment, similar to his asthma. And they were not alone, many of his friends experienced similar issues.
4:58pm EDT: Barras speaks elegantly about the tragedy that is environmental racism: “As I learned more about the fossil fuel industry, all these things really upset me. And made me feel like things had been taken from me. My full potential, the full capacity of my lungs, my attention in grade school, that irritability that these chemicals cause, that waft in the air every morning, so these are the things that compelled me and motivated me, to really think about other folks who grew up in these spaces, and how to get folks to think about these things.”
5:00pm EDT: He continues: “All of the oil that has been extracted from the earth, the earth remembers, and it will reclaim that. In one way or another. So when I think about the 6th extinction, and what oil really is, that’s kind of a reckoning, but also, it is restorative justice for the planet. And we’re sort of the fallout.”
5:17pm EDT: Brown asks the panelists how we can emerge from the pandemic as arts workers: “How do we ensure that we are prioritizing this visioning for the world that we want to exit out into? That we want to build? And how do we ensure that our societies are supporting the arts and culture bearers?” She believes our society “demands a more robust social safety net,” like Medicare for all.
5:19pm EDT: Parras explains that we are all working with a high level of trust for one another in this moment: “We should keep that level of gratitude and compassion moving forward.”
Beyond the Binaries Virtual Brunch (B.Y.O. Brunch), 2-3:30pm EDT
Live-blogged by Jasmine Weber
Speakers: Ashley De Hoyos (Houston, TX), Raven Crane (Houston, TX), Farrah Fang (Houston, TX), Frank Hernandez (Houston, TX), Philip Karjeker (Houston, TX), Slant Rhyme (Houston, TX), and Donald Shorter (Houston, TX) with support by Common Field Partners Ashley DeHoyos (Houston, TX) and Jessi Bowman (Houston, TX)
2:05pm EDT: Beyond the Binaries started last year; they also hosted an event called Gender Buffet. As Common Field was intended to take place in Houston, De Hoyos says they prioritized Houston voices to present at today’s virtual brunch.
2:08pm EDT: Slant Rhyme wished us a happy May Day!
2:10pm EDT: Ahead of the event, everyone was asked to bring their brunch to eat while we convene (I’m drinking iced coffee). People are sharing what their snack is in the chat (chocolate cake, mimosas, challah, papaya, etc.), and uploading photos in a Google drive.
2:15pm EDT: Crane shared footage from a group exhibition of Black and brown artists called There’s Enough for Everyone, which looked like a really interesting exploration of queer Southern aesthetics.
2:18pm EDT: Slant says their practice is “about the act of giving something away you love. The act of setting it free.”
2:20pm EDT: Check out some of the images from the brunch on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/beyondthebinariesbrunch/
2:21pm EDT: This weekend would have been the first queer job fair in Houston, Slant says. They’re a part of a TGNC guild that offers job training opportunities prioritizing unhoused and undocumented people, as well as sex workers and people with disabilities.
2:23pm EDT: Slant and Raven are also co-curators of the Black and Brown Mail Art Biennale in Houston.
2:27pm EDT: Donald Shorter worked in commercial theater and on Broadway tours, but felt she wasn’t able to be her authentic self and drag became a “space where I was able to really find myself.” She started a one-woman show, Generosity, where she shares her “story about being gender non-conforming and coming to a place of radical self-acceptance.” She lived in NYC for over 15 years before coming to Houston.
2:30pm EDT: Philip Karjker is an organizer and contributing artist in Qollective for Queer Houstonian artists.
2:33pm EDT: Frank started a program called Draw, to gather queer artists at a bar to make art. She’s currently out of work, but along with her partner, works as a videographer for things like weddings and music videos — hire them!
2:37pm EDT: Frank is sharing a video compilation of performances called “Smoke Break” showing some of his work in Houston — it started with a video of them in a cage, nude with “America the Beautiful” playing in the background.
2:45pm EDT: We’ve moved into the breakout session, and will be discussing the following questions: “What does it mean for us to think about gender and TGNC limitation, access, and representation now and how do we want to shift for the future? How is COVID-19 affecting people, how are we treating and giving resources to TIGNC folx? In what ways, we can share resources? How do we imagine safe digital spaces and access for TIGNC folx? How do we center TIGNC folx without tokenizing in workspaces? What can be done to negate the amount of labor placed in TGNC folx in workplaces?”
2:55pm EDT: To respect their privacy, I won’t be live-blogging the answers of the participants in my breakout group, but we’ll be convening again as a larger group soon.
3:19pm EDT: And we’re back. A poignant note from the group: “As we learn people are hurt, people are harmed.” We need to continue to discuss the growing pains as we build with one another rather than brushing this pain that has been caused under the rug. Regardless of intention, impact is fundamental and ignoring it will stunt our betterment overall.
3:38pm EDT: Shorter, who uses movement to communicate, is inviting us all to spend a minute making shapes with our body to respond to the session. It’s amazing.
As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever.
Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.