Friday, July 6, 2018

How Can We Really Earn the Name, The Field?

by Jennifer Wright Cook, Executive Director of The Field

The name “The Field” is ambitious. It implies that we believe that the whole ecology of artists and makers is vital to the health of our world. “The Field” means that we believe that all voices and visions are key. Maybe we haven’t earned that name?

From May 2017 til May 2018 The Field was one of 60 arts organizations in the Race Forward’s Racial Equity in the Arts Innovation Lab, an amazing yearlong training program to improve racial equity in the arts and culture sector. Representing The Field was former Program Manager Wilfredo Hernandez, and myself - Executive Director, Jennifer Wright Cook.

Race Forward | The Center for Racial Justice Innovation | logo
Click to read their June 2017 press release,
"Race Forward Announces Distinguished Roster of
Participants for Racial Equity in the Arts Innovation Lab."
After several workshops and skill-sharing (and dance parties), each organization had to launch a prototype to advance equity in their organization. The Field focused our prototype on Fieldwork, our 32 year old flagship feedback program that has been used by tens of thousands of artists and educators nationally and internationally. 

For context, Fieldwork artists/participants have historically skewed primarily white, primarily female, primarily dance/movement-based work. Our four Fieldwork facilitators are artists of color; three of whom have facilitated for 10+ years. In order to support our facilitators and sustain the program as a whole, we realized (1) We have some work to do, and (2) We are gonna do that work.

Wilfredo and I analyzed the pedagogy and practice of Fieldwork by looking hard at the Facilitator Manual and the participant Guidelines. We looked for coded language and silent references to the lifting up of white Eurocentric aesthetics around style, structure, design, body type, etc.

The work we set out to do was co-created with our Fieldwork facilitators. They are vital to the work. We collaborated with Fieldwork facilitators Pele Bauch, James Scruggs, Shalewa Mackall and Naoko Maeshiba via discussions, and review of writing and processes.

Current Fieldwork facilitators, L-R: Pele Bauch, Shalewa Mackall, Naoko Maeshiba, and James Scruggs
Field Deputy Director Shawn René Graham and National Field Network Manager Katherine Longstreth participated in our discussions and revisions. Full Field staff was looped in to the process and resulting programmatic changes.

Here are two key problem areas we identified together, and our processes to address them:
  1. Problem: The emotional labor of our facilitators is real. We need to support them more, check in more, listen more, and pay them for check-ins and debriefs.
    Process: We are baking in regular check-ins and debriefs to our facilitator engagements, and we are adding money to the budget to support this work.
  2. Problem: We need to be race explicit. Our public-facing Guidelines had not intentionally and authentically included artists of color.
    Process: We added more inclusive language. For instance, we included the following text to the Guidelines used by all participants, and made them available on our website: “If you feel like the feedback is too much or is biased by race, gender, culture or other -isms, the facilitator will lead the group to ensure that the artist’s work and vision is centered authentically and respectfully.”
In case you’re wondering, “Is this just a Diversity Initiative that just aims to get more artists of color in Fieldwork?” – the goal of this work is not to get more artists of color in Fieldwork – although that might happen.

The goal is to ensure that artists of color feel intentionally and authentically seen, supported, and engaged. As Wilfredo said,
"If we are going to create the circumstances in which artists of color feel supported and uplifted, then we need to scaffold that experience and make sure we are co-creating that reality each time we enter into the room. That requires some level of standard language and practice."
So what’s next?
  • Fully bake in the new practices and protocols so that Fieldwork can better support artists of color
  • Share our work with our national Fieldwork sites
  • Connect to more outer borough and/or artists of color led spaces for Fieldwork
Overall we are deeply grateful to Race Forward for this incredibly ambitious effort to impact the NYC arts and culture sector - for putting in heart, muscle and brains, and for empowering us to move ourselves and our organizations forward toward equity; and to the NYC Cultural Agenda Fund for funding this ambitious effort – and for putting out the RFP that made space for the work to happen! If there is no incentive for equity work, unfortunately, most white-dominated organizations will not do it.

We also want to thank our cohort partners at DanceNYC, ARTs East New York, and Spaceworks; as well as our coach Ellen Gurzinsky for making us work harder and laugh more.

The work is ongoing and consistent. It doesn’t end; it is iterating and shifting and growing forward.

PS. Here is full scoop on what we did and what we learned.

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