FIELD NOTES | Beyond Place

Lisa Funderburke Hoffman
May 8, 2020

“That despite being so human and so terrified, here, standing on this unfinished staircase to nowhere and everywhere, surrounded by the cold and starless night—we can live. And we will.” — Ocean Vuong

Dear AAC Network,

“What am I supposed to be doing now?” is a question we are consistently receiving from the field. As you grapple with canceled sessions, modified programs, financial concerns, and the logistics of reopening, consider this: A coalition of grantmakers recently launched an artist relief fund to provide one-time $5,000 grants to 200 artists. They received over 50,000 applications. Of the applicants, 11,000 responded to a survey and these were some of the findings:

  • 95 percent have lost income due to the pandemic

  • 80 percent do not have a recovery plan

  • 66 percent cannot access the resources they need to do their work

Artist residencies will be needed more than ever to address the challenges facing artists and to support recovery efforts for arts administrators and the creative economy at large.

In the meantime, ask yourself:

  • How will you sustain your mission, not just your organization? Sunny Widmann, the director of National Arts Strategies, recently posed this question reminding me that while arts organizations may not be supporting artists in place, they should consider how they can support artists in this moment.  
  • What is a virtual residency and what is virtual audience engagement? A virtual residency is not a new concept, but before you expend energy and resources on development or implementation, take time to interrogate what this actually means and who it would support. Be clear on your intentions and attend to the impact of your actions.  
  • Who has access to your online content? One thing that the pandemic has reaffirmed is the digital divide. Are you creating more access or reinforcing barriers to participation? 
  • How might you shift to support artists, creative practitioners, and culture bearers in your immediate communities?
  • Have you thoughtfully planned your scenarios for financial and human resources during this crisis? We know many residency leaders have had to make tough decisions recently, but are you aligning your strategies with the state and federal relief efforts available to your organization?
  • Are you mobilizing your board, team, and supporters to advocate for fair and just policy reform for the arts and humanities? There has never been a more urgent time for advocacy, and we must acknowledge that the philanthropic sector alone cannot bear the weight of recovery.

Everyone is experiencing this moment differently. Remember that the effects of the pandemic extend beyond empty buildings and business interruptions. Many people have lost loved ones, income, food security, and access to healthcare. And for the most vulnerable and historically under-resourced communities, the trauma is compounded. Revisit your mission and consider the traumas of the pandemic in the work you are doing now and as you plan for reopening.

If the future is beyond comprehension and in it lies trepidation, awkwardness, wonder, or risk, then we know we are still here and that our work is unfinished.


Lisa Funderburke Hoffman
Executive Director