FIELD NOTES | We begin with truth-telling

Lisa Funderburke Hoffman
December 4, 2020

“Many rooms are filled with hurting people, yes, but hurting people whose hurt has been disproportionate to each other. Acknowledging that won’t break us, it might even make us.”

—Pádraig Ó Tuama


Dear Alliance of Artists Communities network -

Last month, the AAC hosted a conversation on repair to begin an ongoing dialogue about the relationship between residencies and reparations, the act or process of making amends for a wrong. In this discussion, reparations were specific to the descendants of enslaved Africans and Native Americans. As one audience member commented, “These are hard, messy, complicated conversations.” And in the midst of a global pandemic, it might feel hard to think about repair when you don’t yet know the full economic and social impact of  this unprecedented crisis.

Organizations are often uncertain where to begin the process of repair. It doesn’t start with blame or shame, it starts with the truth. It starts where we are — the land we occupy, the organizations we operate, the systems we uphold, the terms we use to describe our work, and the privileges we enjoy. These are all entangled with ideologies that have deemed Black and Brown bodies less than human, less deserving, less evolved, less excellent, less worthy. Avoidance and denial of these truths prevent us from healing. For some reason, we align around positive stories of our nation but when it comes to racial injustice and the shared histories that brought us here, the collective we changes to “not me.” If each of us, and by extension our organizations, could begin a truth-telling process, openly and genuinely speaking to how we have benefited from, contributed to, or sustained racial inequality and terror, then we can begin to interrogate our role in a healing process.


Some questions to consider:

  • What is the truth of your organization as it relates to the history of racial inequality? 

  • What role does your organization play in racial inequality, past and present?

  • How will your organization investigate and tell an unbiased truth of its history? 

  • What do you need to know? What do we need to know? Who needs to be included in the process of telling and sharing stories?

  • How has your local community contributed to or been a victim of racial injustice? 

  • What is our responsibility as storytellers now?


We cannot let these questions go unanswered while trying to create fair and just environments that expand creative capacity. In a recent member survey, on average, in the past three years, for every five artists who are selected to participate in a residency only one is Black, Indigenous, or person of color. What is in our DNA that allows inequities to persist? How do our exclusionary practices contribute to negative experiences for staff, artists, and community members?

As Nicole J. Caruth stated during the panel, “Reparations can't happen without truth and reconciliation. We have to get to the point where we are all aware and awake to the fact of Black genocide, and we all agree and understand that a crime has occurred.” Truth-telling is not about recapitulating “facts” or responding to a call-out letter with platitudes and new programs. It’s about learning the long arc of racial terror, interrogating how you’re complicit, and openly acknowledging how it has informed your organizational identity, operational practices, revenue strategy, and care for the people central to your work. Truth-telling is deep-belly work that offers an opportunity to listen deeply so that we may push beyond fear, anger, blaming, avoidance, and denial and toward something meaningful, affirming, beautiful, and restorative. Isn’t that the work we ultimately claim to do?

Lisa Funderburke Hoffman

Executive Director, Alliance of Artists Communities


Subscribe to AAC Newsletter