Lisa Funderburke Hoffman
August 11, 2020

“You’re on a path and you have to be consistent and you have to be persistent.” —John Lewis

Dear AAC Network,

The struggle for residencies to fundraise for basic operations and justify expenses for processes, not products is ongoing. And now we’re wrestling with the question: How can residency leaders and boards fulfill the organization's purpose in the midst of a humanitarian crisis, a global pandemic, civil unrest in response to unrelenting assaults on Black bodies, and an economic downturn when the smallest fraction of relief funds go to residencies? Predominantly white, land rich but cash poor, residencies have been forced into new constraints and now must consider how to provide artists with time, space, and resources. All while wondering if today will be the day someone calls out your organization for racism, sexism, or harassment or questions the provenance of the land your residency sits on.

It seems to me the question for leadership staff and boards to be asking now is not what funding model can monetize or capitalize residency programming but: How do we reshape or build a residency experience to create a climate where any artist or staff member can thrive? This is not about making your residency program virtual or finding time in your schedule to host artists of a specific identity. This question is about interrogating your organizational model for the purpose of deep structural change.

Last year, Mellon Foundation invested in the AAC, providing a significant grant to support the refinement of our Residency Self-Assessment Tool to strengthen an organization’s equitable capacity, meaning the ability of an individual or organization to be equitable in their work and begin to dismantle white body supremacy. This grant enables AAC to facilitate peer exchange and deeper examination of effective residency practices that can be scaled for specific contexts. Learn more about the Residency Self-Assessment Tool here and how you can get involved.

A director I once worked with was known for saying, “We’re building this airplane while we’re flying it.” It sounded exciting at the time and this frenzied working culture felt innovative and purposeful. But it often exacerbated the tensions between our organization’s strengths, resources, and relationships and further confused the staff about who our audience was because each of us was serving someone different. Let’s be honest if we’re building a plane while flying it, we’re only serving our individual interests, which is saving our own lives and legacies and this comes at the cost of the artists we serve and the teams we lead.

How many of you are building your airplane while flying it? Are you more interested in preserving your livelihood and legacy or fulfilling the mission of your organization? Do you eschew new ideas or dialogue about abdicating power? Do you genuflect to white comfort, extoll science, or reinterpret history when engaged in topics that make you uncomfortable, like racism, ableism, transphobia, monuments, or privilege and power? It takes great vulnerability and discipline to ask yourself the beautiful question, to apply a critical lens to your leadership, your individual and organizational identity, and your planning. If you truly believe that artists and art are essential to human progress, and that residencies are part of the future, then you will consistently accept the invitation to get comfortable with discomfort.

Lisa Funderburke Hoffman

Executive Director, Alliance of Artists Communities


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