Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Deepening Our Roots: Capacity Building Cross-Country

By: Ilana Silverstein, Field Network Manager

With generous support from the National Endowment for the Arts, the The Field Network convened for our Annual Field Network Conference in Washington, DC last April and, shortly thereafter, for a new network capacity building initiative.  In May, Joelle Worm (The Field/Milwaukee) and I flew to Boulder to meet Chrissy Nelson (The Field/Boulder) for a 48 hour Capacity Building Meeting.  Our goal was to build the Boulder and Milwaukee Field sites by sharing best practices in fundraising, community building, and facilitation.

Of the many takeaways from the weekend, here’s three:

Back Up is the Best  On the Saturday night of the site visit, we gathered some local artists for a happy hour.  We promoted the event as an evening of mingling, mapping, and the de-Mystification of peer to peerfeedback. I sensed that Chrissy was nervous that no one would come. There were other popular arts events happening that evening and only a few people had RSVP’d.  But then, her energy shifted because she realized that she had us. Having 2 colleagues as back up, gave the work validation, felt less isolating (she was reminded of the larger community that she is a part of), and made hosting the event not as scary. And, people did come, and had a great time!

Post-Feedback Shout Outs  During our session on facilitation, one of the topics discussed was how to help artists apply feedback.  The three of us, along with James Scruggs (via conference call) developed a structure to make sure artists are getting the feedback that they need. After Fieldwork, the facilitator invites the artists to say one thing they heard that they are going to go back and use or a recent “aha moment” in making the work. By saying these observations out loud, the artist may be more likely to apply them as she or he continues in the creative process.  I look forward to trying this out in Fieldwork this Fall. 

Collaboration and Fieldwork Workshop  One of The Field/DC's dreams is to host a workshop on collaboration.  We find that artists come to Fieldwork wanting to collaborate but do not know how to initiate that relationship.  Chrissy shared a structure for a successful 2-hour collaboration workshop that she organized in Boulder.  I hope to produce a similar workshop in DC and tie in some Fieldwork basics.  

Just as arts residencies provide artists with time away from family/home for diving into the creative process, this site visit gave us the opportunity to focus and look critically at our sites’ organizational development.

In 48 hours we:
-   Strategized how to share the work load of running a site with our colleagues
-   Connected with local artists
-   Brushed up on facilitation skills
-   Brainstormed how to support and be supported by our kindred spirits, The Field Network.

The timing of the visit was perfect.  Joelle, Chrissy and I had recently connected at the conference and were able to draw on the inspiration we had felt from the guest speakers and other colleagues there.  Working as a cluster of three seemed just right.  We were effective in getting work done, as well as nurturing our artist-selves (desperately needed as site-leaders). 

In planning this capacity building initiative, Jennifer Wright Cook, Susan Oetgen and I had considered a web-based convening, but I am so grateful that we didn’t go that route.  Meeting face-to-face was key.  Being in the presence of other Fieldwork lovers is a tremendous gift.  There is a heightened sense of investment and listening among us whether we are engaging in Fieldwork or not.  

By tapping into The Field Network, anyone can find these individuals across the United States and Europe - from Boulder to Berlin!

To learn more about The Field Network, Fieldwork, or connect with the Washington, DC arts community, email me, at dc@thefield.org

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