Prioritizing Staff and Artists Wellbeing | #ResidenciesConnect Recap

ACA Staff
April 3, 2020

On Thursday, April 2nd, Carl Atiya Swanson, Associate Director of Springboard for the Arts, joined us for a #ResidenciesConnect online member session, Prioritizing Staff + Artists Wellbeing.

Twenty residency practitioners took part in the discussion exploring how organizations can center staff and artists at a moment when the ground is shifting. The conversation was moderated by Lisa Funderburke Hoffman, Executive Director of Alliance of Artists Communities. The following is an excerpted version of the conversation. (The full recording of this session is available to AAC members upon request.)


This session is part of our #ResidenciesConnect series of bi-weekly, member share-outs that foster small-group exchanges around a variety of topics.



Lisa Funderburke Hoffman (LH): Carl, you and I were talking earlier about when working remotely there is the risk of recreating aspects of white supremacy cultrue remotely. Can you share your thoughts around that?

Carl Atiya Swanson (CS): We were talking about how white supremacist culture centers productivity – it’s damaging not only to people of color, but to everyone. I saw something that said: "We are not working from home. We are in the midst of a crisis, trying to work." I think that has been really helpful in thinking about caring for each other. How do we together take care of ourselves, our colleagues and our circles right now? 

Even before the crisis, I was trying to be conscious of not creating an expectation that people respond immediately. I use the “schedule email” function all the time – scheduling emails for during work hours, so I’m not imposing on other folks’ time if I write in off hours. We don’t want to go back to a status quo, because that wasn’t working in the first place. So thinking about how we can grow into something new.

LH: There’s a lot of real anxiety, nervousness, and deep concern for everyone right now. What measures do you have in place to navigate that?

CS: It’s hard! We are used to working where we have free access to each other. We find that information coordination is really key. We have really taken to Zoom – it’s not about the platform, but about ways to recreate being able to stop at someone’s desk. And then being intentional about having non-work-related check-ins with folks without attaching work to it. Just asking: "how are you doing?" We had our staff meeting recently and spent a lot of time just talking about work from home strategies.

LH: Springboard for the Arts has multiple sites which are now closed. How are you managing the vacant buildings and this sense of things being shutdown?

CS: There’s an emotional grieving that comes with knowing that you have a space that can’t be filled. We are all feeling grief – and being able to name that and talk about it is important. I think that this is a moment where everything is changing and that gives us a chance to evaluate if our previous norms are relevant. For example, Springboard for the Arts’ work is about artists making a living -  so how can we directly and conscientiously support that? As much as we rush to action and immediate care, we are also just taking time and being conscientious about how we are moving programming. We are thinking through our purpose more than just looking at the tasks we usually do on a given day.

LH: Do you have insight into concerns that artists and staff may have regarding the organization’s future and decision-making?

CS: I was just reflecting on the difference between March 9th and March 13th – the orders of magnitude by which things changed. One of the things that was important was being as transparent as possible with staff. Everyone is now accustomed to the fact that there are a lot of unknowns. Being clear about what we know for sure, and what we generally know but aren’t certain about – that’s been especially helpful with our residency program.

We have been communicating with artists that were scheduled for a residency in the coming months, and in mid-March we told them: this is where we are at and we don’t want you to be stuck in a place where you are not at home, so we will work with you to reschedule dates in the coming year. We are telling folks that we are going through this complicated process and there are many unknowns. But we can say: we DO know you, your work, and what you want to do, and we will stay committed to that.

I think people are looking for as much direct human communication as possible. We are trying to find the balance between being human and being in touch with everyone.



In addition to this program, we continue to collect and share relevant resources from the residency field through our FAQ for Residency Practitioners and our Residency Preparedness + Response to COVID-19 Guide. Contribute your organization's resources/documents/communications through this Google form.


SPEAKER BIO: Carl Atiya Swanson - Associate Director, Springboard for the Arts

Carl is a creative with an MBA, a strategic facilitator, an omnivorous arts-maker, and a practical optimist. Carl works as Associate Director at Springboard for the Arts, a national leader in artist resources and artist-led community development. He manages projects across Springboard's program areas, leads development and partnerships, and launched Creative Exchange, a national hub for stories and toolkits for artists and organizations to solve local challenges and create new opportunities. He regularly presents facilitates on arts leadership, creative placemaking, and strategic planning.

Carl is the founder of Cast Consulting, is a 2019 Young Cultural Innovators Fellow with the Salzburg Global Seminar and has completed training on Facilitation for Racial Justice through the Interaction Institute for Social Change. Carl has served on the boards of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network - Twin Cities, and Dissonance, advocating for mental health and wellness in creativity. He holds a BA in Studio Art from the University of Southern California and an MBA from the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife, two sons, and two cats named after Joey and Dee Dee Ramone.