FIELD NOTES | Asking Artists What They Need

Lisa Funderburke Hoffman
May 15, 2020

“Before you get what you want, gotta give the people what they need.” — Public Enemy

Dear AAC Network,

Continuing a thread in last week's newsletter, many residencies are thinking about when and how to reopen as their states ease lockdown restrictions. Although extended periods of closure have had varying economic impacts, the decision to reopen is fraught with moral implications. Jim Tankersly of the New York Times recently tweeted that of the Americans who oppose lockdowns, roughly 5% are non-white workers who have lost their job in the crisis where nearly 70% are white workers who have not lost a job in the crisis (stats from Civis Analytics). 

Who gets to make decisions and on whose behalf? There’s growing concern about who is making decisions to reopen and whether these decision-makers include the most vulnerable to COVID-19 — Black, indigenous, Latinx, and elderly people. In a rare occurrence, Doctors Without Borders, “well-known for operating in war zones and in places where health care systems have collapsed,” has dispatched a team to the Navajo Nation to help with the devastating effects of the coronavirus in the U.S.

Why should any of this matter to the residency field? It matters because we do not exist in isolation. The AAC estimates that there are more than 600 artist residencies in the U.S., with 60% operating in rural locations or on tribal lands and 40% operating in urban spaces. Residencies invite artists and partners to their campuses or sites but whose path do these constituents cross along the way? Whose communities do they have to traverse to get there? Do the individuals who you support, employ, or call your neighbor have a seat at the table when you’re making decisions that will impact them?
This is the time to interrogate how you will sustain your mission while putting life safety first. As our speakers suggested in #ResidenciesConnect this week, this question cannot be answered in a vacuum with a few leaders at the top making decisions. This must be answered with your teams, boards, artists, and neighbors. It can be done. 

When the time comes to reemerge, there should be a comprehensive safety plan that includes facility readiness, community well-being, financial planning, and, possibly, revised programming. Maybe the very first step is to pick up the phone and ask artists and your neighbors, “How are you? What do you need at this moment? What might you need in the future?”

Lisa Funderburke Hoffman
Executive Director