EMERGENCE 2017: WHOLE PERSON, WHOLE IMPACT
SUNDAY, MAY 21, 10am – 5pm at JCCSF
Join your EAP network and community for our 7th annual convening. Emergence provides a collaborative platform for Bay Area arts and culture workers to connect, share ideas, and elevate their work and voices. This year, we will explore the impact of bringing our whole selves into our work and out into our community.
3200 California Street | San Francisco, CA 94118
Tickets and schedule coming soon!
THREE NOTES for your consideration:
- May 21st is Bay to Breakers, so keep that in mind when you’re planning travel through the city.
- We’re looking for volunteers! Wanna get free entry & help support this wonderful event? Volunteer here.
- Got an idea for a presentation, panel, or other? Submit your proposal here.
And, check out past years’ programming at http://www.emergingsf.org/emergence/
[ Call form for volunteers and program ideas: https://goo.gl/forms/L5a9SblwTo3Kd0if1 ]
On October 27, Rhizome launched a major new initiative, Net Art Anthology, with a presentation and panel discussion bringing together a group of artists who championed distinct and often conflicting approaches to net art practice in the mid to late 1990s. Our new New York correspondent, SF/NY-based artist Tim Roseborough, was there to take it all in. Here’s his rundown…
Net Art Anthology Launch
Thursday, October 27, 7 PM
at the New Museum, 235 Bowery in NYC
Luminaries like New Museum curator Lauren Cornell and Internet artist Rafael Rozendaal were in attendance for an event organized in conjunction with the launch of Rhizome’s Net Art Anthology, an online exhibition which, in the organization’s words, hopes to “retell the story of Net Art.” The Anthology commemorates the 20th anniversary of Rhizome as a proponent and archive of Internet-based art practices and is funded by the Carl & Marilynn Thoma Art Foundation.
Michael Connor, Rhizome’s artistic director, introduced the Archive in which 100 Net-Based artworks will premiere, one a week, for two years. Mr. Connor’s introduction to the exhibition was accompanied by short talks by Aria Dean, assistant curator of Net Art and Dragan Espenschied, preservation director.
The panel consisted of artists who were involved in the early establishment of the field of Net Art in the 1990s: Olia Lialina (net artist and Geocities researcher/archivist), Martha Wilson (artist and founder of Franklin Furnace), Ricardo Dominguez (artist and founder of Electronic Disturbance Theater), and Mark Tribe (artist and founder of Rhizome).
Each artist discussed their early online work as artists, curators, and organizers. As well as some of the major issues faced and addressed by the organization and the world of Internet-based art, as a whole.
Mark Tribe remarked upon the fact that in the face of the Internet’s global reach, Rhizome’s New York-centricity was a problem. He noted that focusing on New York alone leads to, as he terms it, “navel gazing. In order to combat that myopia, Tribe described the site’s efforts to employ regional editors to chronicle the scenes in other cities. Martha Wilson noted that New York has always been a center for art and culture and that it was no surprise that Rhizome’s coverage and reach would reflect its status as such.
Ricardo Dominguez noted that Rhizome networks were broad, including cities like Vienna, Berlin, and Amsterdam, he noted the “teleportation” of the body that is facilitated by the broad reaching networks of the Internet.
The notion of the body and its mediation was a recurring theme at the panel. Martha Wilson discussed what she considered the myth of cyberspace as leaving the body behind. Regarding the ongoing conversation about the value of live performance art versus the importance of documentation of that performance, or the notion that “if it was not recorded, it didn’t happen.”
On Net Art’s relation to the avant-garde, Mark Tribe noted that like video art critiqued dominant forms like television, so Net Art can serve as a critique of the privatization of public space.
Olia Lialina noted that as a Russian artist, connecting with people abroad was an invaluable value offered to her as an Internet-based artist. She savored the fact that orders could be virtually crossed via the electronic superhighway.
Mark Tribe dismissed the notion that after After Modernism, art could explore no new avenues. The Internet opened new ways of making and thinking about art, according to the Rhizome founder.
The Rhizome founder also explained that the sense of excitement he felt when starting Rhizome in the mid-nineties is hard to recall. He noted that there was a sense of stepping across a threshold and into new frontier — much like the television show, “Star Trek,” he joked, eliciting laughter from the lively and engaged audience.
Tim Roseborough, author of the artworldgeek.com blog.
Typically, most arts conferences that I attend do not include water-pouring ceremonies, pop-up coloring sessions, or group meditations. Yet not all conferences are created equal, and I recently participated in one that included all of those activities–and then some.
A few weeks ago, I flew from Portland to San Francisco to attend Emergence 2016, the annual convening of Emerging Arts Professionals San Francisco/Bay Area. Like many conferences, Emergence seeks to connect arts and culture workers to one another to share ideas and best practices for our field. Unlike many conferences, however, Emergence is grassroots, experimental, organized predominantly by people of color, and eager to tackle topics like revolution and justice, which were at the center of this year’s theme, “Crafting Equity, Shifting Power.”
As national demographics change and conversations on race, gender, class, ability, language, and more bubble to the surface of the arts sector, equity has become a hot topic for our field. As a person of color and member of Portland Emerging Arts Leaders’ Equity Committee, which seeks to spark dialogue and action surrounding cultural equity in Portland’s arts sector, I was eager to spend quality time at Emergence brainstorming ways to make our arts institutions less “male, pale, and Yale,” in the words of former Brooklyn Museum director Arnold Lehman.
Over the course of one day at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, coffee in hand and notebooks in tow, we asked difficult questions regarding power in the arts. Emergence focused on examining the practices, values, and assumptions that we tend to make within arts organizations. How did our current systems came to be? Who benefits? How can we create change? Breakout sessions like “Unpacking Privilege” and “Diversity is for White People: Arts Equity Conversations We Should Be Having” sparked provocative insights about ourselves and our institutions. Bay-area collectives such United Playaz and the Oakland Creative Neighborhoods Coalition shared on-the-ground creative tactics they are using to dismantle historical inequities. Plus, activities like personal creativity mapping and the Living Altar (“a drop-in space offering facilitated centering practices, one-on-one practitioner support, and healing circles”) challenged traditional models of learning and knowing, illuminating that there are ways of working that most “professional” spaces do not recognize or value.
At the end of the day, all 100+ conference attendees came together for one final large-group workshop, “Crafting Our Cultural Equity Frame,” facilitated by Dia Penning. It was this session that left me with the most revelatory takeaway from Emergence: that simple fact that many arts organizations operate–and indeed benefit—from a legacy of colonialism, Eurocentrism, and white supremacy.
We began the workshop by taking a deep dive into historical texts that justified European colonization of Africa, Asia, and the Americas beginning in the sixteenth century. Conquest, domination, and exploitation were primarily driven by desires to ensure European economic prosperity on a competitive global stage; to realize “the White Man’s Burden” and “civilize” non-white “savages”; and to investigate and exploit cultural “others.” Colonialism allowed European countries to completely reshape global economic relationships, ensure wealth systematically funneled to the colonizers, and ultimately gain world power.
Then, in a moment, that had the weight of a mic drop, Penning asked the toughest question of all: How are these colonialist values mirrored in the workings of your own arts organization?
After a few seconds of silence following this question of tremendous magnitude, we collected our thoughts and began discussing. Looking at the arts through a colonialist lens was a challenging but valuable frame to wield; while the interests of arts organizations seem far-removed from those of colonial empires, it is impossible to deny that colonialist thought has a legacy that still impacts us today. Looking at the origins of museums, their motivation to collect and possess objects to which they assigned value aligns with colonial strategies of resource hoarding and wealth-building. They readily built upon a curiosity that exoticized objects of non-white cultures, removed them from their cultural context, and served as “an edifice for the display and affirmation of bourgeois values” according to sociologist Pierre Bourdieu.Current conflicts around diversity and the clear lack of leadership of color at museums across the country also speak to an type of institution that has historically been white-dominant.
Despite these stark realities, we are not forever stuck in them; at the end of the workshop, Penning asked us to consider how we might change these systems and paradigms. At their most equitable, museums can hold the stories and histories of all peoples, preserving them for the future, and I am happy that there are endless examples of organizations and individuals striving towards that vision. My own institution, the Portland Art Museum, has catalyzed discussions about race, history, and power by increasingly highlighting work from groups who have historically not been represented in the institution, especially Native communities. Blogs like the Incluseum are sharing methods and practices to create diverse pathways for individuals to access and participate in museum life. Groups such as Museum Hueare sparking more conversation than ever before about how to dismantle the walls that have historically left many outside of collecting institutions. Our organizations, assumptions, and values are in a time of transformation.
We ended the workshop with the aforementioned water-pouring ceremony, calling on our ancestors to guide us as we reflected on the day. As the attendees trickled out, my brain was spinning with more questions than answers. The arts sector is astoundingly complex in its systems, history, and worldview, but to look at our field, we can start by looking at our organizations. These are some of the questions that I left with, which I encourage you to ask them of yourself and your organization, too:
- Who makes decisions?
- Who decides value?
- Who has power and why?
- How might you and your organization perpetuate a legacy of colonialism?
- What are you and your organization willing to risk to be more equitable?
During my flight back to Portland, I surveyed my notes from the conference, knowing that these are questions that I will continue to explore at the Museum and through my work with the PEAL Equity Committee. Reshaping power and cultivating equity are not easy, and they take time. However, even if they seem like gargantuan tasks, we can begin with small steps. Perhaps suggest that your next staff meeting include a grounding meditation and see what happens from there.
Rekia Boyd. Sandra Bland. Trayvon Martin. At Emergence 2016 these were but a few of the names lifted up, floating atop a sea of “Ashe’s” in a collective pouring of libations. In the tradition of Black Liberation organizing, I draw upon the practices that have sourced the resilience of my ancestors for generations—altar building, collective chant or song, and pouring water as an offering and reminder of the ongoing life that connects us all. Emergence conference attendees gathered in a large circle, joining me in a calling in of those passed on, those lost to state violence, those whose lives have become the testimony for the work we call “cultural equity” to require at base, a radical shifting of power—and to shift power requires a radical participation from all of us. During the course of the day I hosted a ritual and reflection zone called The Living Altar. The intention was to provide a space where conference attendees could ground in the body and integrate the content they were ingesting in workshops throughout the day. Forming a sacred hoop of candles and cowrie shells, I arranged a colorful altar at the south gate of the medicine wheel adorned with offerings of food, healing herbs, fresh flowers, and items from my own Afro-Indigenous lineage. Attendees entered the circle and became participants in a reverential act of writing letters to the ancestors. They inscribed their messages on the apron hem of a Black Madonna, an in-progress painting of a deified Black Mammy anointed with a halo of sunflowers. Calling in the Egun (origin: Yoruba for ancestors), participants connected to their roots, writing messages that reflected a range of gratitude, grief, confusion, and empowerment. This space transformed attendees into participants. Such is the gift of anchoring in the ritual act of ancestral reverence. It requires us to first examine the soil we are standing on, the inheritance we have been given in this skin, and the privileges and internalized oppressions thus received before attempting to build alternatives.
Skilled organizing, and by extension compelling facilitation challenges us to stretch beyond our comfort zones, confronting our preconceptions of freedom, justice, and yes—equity. How do we create spaces that bring people into authentic connection with one another? How do we provide practical tools that strengthen capacity for these uncomfortable but necessary dialogues? And once we’ve gotten people in the room, how can we keep them invested, engaged enough—across varying life experiences and identities—to move to a place of action that extends beyond the conference, training, or workshop container? These conversations reveal the Anglo-European dominant culture embedded in our work and daily praxis. It is an active choice to moment by moment resist reinforcing these oppressive norms, and conversely embody an alternative.
To truly progress along the trajectory of diversity to cultural competence to liberatory practice, requires a complete transformation in how we do this work. It’s simply not possible to squeeze a new model inside of an old construct, and yet this is often what we do for lack of familiarity with a less-colonized alternative. We insert LGBTQQIA2-S people-of-color into spaces that are still dominated by a prevailing white heteronormative framework, and wonder why these spaces have not shifted overnight to reflect the equitable, social justice experience we imagined they would bring. We offer an arts-based workshop and a “healing” space in an already packed conference agenda and check off the box for including something “holistic” and accessible. If it is truly our goal to employ liberatory practice, and not just an infusion of diversity into spaces maintaining the status quo, we need to completely reimagine what these spaces could become.
Currently, I am codifying an Afro-Indigenous framework for activism and community organizing through a multidisciplinary platform called, #DignityInProcess (learn more at www.ChE-Art.Life ). This response to the Black Lives Matter movement merges art activism, ancestral healing, and intersectional identity exploration within the Queer and Trans,* Afro-Indigenous Diaspora. Bringing together dance, ritual, storytelling, and pop-up installation, #DignityInProcess creates immersive experiences into a decolonized archetype. As #DignityInProcess has already offered workshops, performances, and art actions gathering the stories of Black, Creole, Native American multi-generational voices across the West, East, and Gulf South Coast, some foundational guideposts of an Afro-Indigenous framework for organizing emerge:
- Non-Vertical Hierarchical Structures: Maintaining the Circle (i.e. Community, Family, The Village) as the central model for all organizing, honoring that every position in the circle has something valuable to offer, and the wisdom of the collective is greater than that of the isolated individual.
- Ritual and Ancestral Healing as the framing for conversations about race and gender justice. Beginning with the lineages we carry into the room, we create space to honor the gifts and challenges we’ve inherited from our ancestors. Allowing these practices to increase resilience, presence, and capacity for deepened, sustained engagement.
- Embodiment: Understanding that experiences of both freedom and oppression live in the body. Thus all work regarding healing the impacts of racism and gender oppression require participation of the body. This presumes experiencing the body in a nondual way, where soma and consciousness are not separate.
- Intersectionality: Understanding the hierarchical nature of power and how belonging to multiple discriminated forms of identity can mean one’s wholeness is compartmentalized, invisibilizing one’s full experience. Instead we hold race and gender identity as interconnected, non-binary elements that are always in relationship with one another.
These are just some of the learnings that have emerged as #DignityInProcess unfolds, continuing to evolve and take shape. The practices I bring into #DignityInProcess have been passed down to me from the African American, Creole, Congolese, West African, Nigerian, Native American elders I have had the honor of sharing family and community with. It is this collective wisdom sharing that continues to strengthen my leadership as a Queer Mixed/ Indigenous/ Black multidisciplinary artist-activist and consultant working at the intersections of race and gender justice. I encourage us to consider centralizing these decolonized alternatives in the spaces we create to uphold cultural equity. To invite in the leadership of these powerful communities is to reimagine how together we can achieve collective liberation.
Artist’s Note: The Black Mammy Madonna is part of a #DignityInProcess: Black Madonna Series in honor of the #SayHerName campaign. This series celebrates the Black Feminine* as God in her many forms of African American, Afro-Indigenous, Creole, Afro-Latinx, Mixed Race, LGBTQQIA2-S identity. ChE’s intention for these Sacred mixed media paintings is that they eventually find a home on the altars of seven individuals sharing roots with the African Diaspora. If you would like to inquire about commissioning a Black Madonna, please contact ChE directly at email@example.com.
About the Author:
ChE (pronoun- they/ them/ their) is a Queer Afro-Indigenous artivist working at the intersections of youth leadership development, consulting in liberatory praxis, and socially engaged artmaking. As a director/ choreographer, ChE’s work is robust with gospel soul sounds and movement of the African Diaspora that leave feet stomping and hands clapping. Currently ChE is developing a framework for Afro-Indigenous activism piloted through #DignityInProcess, a multi-disciplinary platform responding to the Black Lives Matter movement through ancestral healing, art as direct action, and sustainable leadership models within the Diaspora. To follow the process visit www.ChE-Art.Life.
The results are in!
We would like to thank the 88 network members who took the survey and gave us feedback for our upcoming Emergence 2016 convening! See the Summary below. We are currently taking your input and working to deliver the most desirable event. Similarly, if you would like to be involved in the organizing and planning process, there are plenty of ways to plug in. Please email katherin(at)emergingsf.(dot)
As Dancers’ Group’s mentioned in their insightful Living Transition Plan, organizational transitions can be emotional. They can produce feelings of confusion, anxiety, excitement, hope, frustration, relief, or resentment. At the same time, a leadership change offers a fantastic opportunity for an organization’s constituents to recognize and honor its essential values and culture. It can also provide an important stretch of time for staffers to grow comfortable with the idea of change and prepare to enter the next era from a place of strength.
Over the past four years, I have had the opportunity to serve as interim director of three different arts nonprofits, and have come to deeply value the work in the same way I do international travel. I get to move to a new “country” and immerse myself in its customs and culture, learn the local language, and reflect on its inner workings. In exchange, my outsider perspective naturally generates questions and observations about the organization that can lead stakeholders to self-reflect and better define their own goals and intentions.
As Interim Director, I might introduce some unfamiliar ideas or approaches, but unless the organization is going through major turmoil, my job isn’t to provide long-term vision or institute big changes. Instead, I am there to encourage and support those who are living through—and most affected by—the transition. While staff at all levels can and should be leaders in succession planning, they also need support. Especially at smaller organizations with 15 or fewer employees, the loss of a leader can create significant extra work and stress for those who remain. But it also provides a chance for staffers at all levels to challenge or even reinvent themselves, to test out a new ideas, and to step into greater roles of responsibility. To become, in a word, more “leaderful” (a term introduced in the Living Transition Plan that has quickly entered my daily lexicon!). An Interim Director can help by listening hard, asking the right questions, and simply getting out of the way.
Right now I am wrapping up a six-month tenure at Southern Exposure, a local nonprofit that supports emerging visual artists. I just held my last one-on-one meeting with each of the four staff members, all of whom are highly accomplished, passionate workers. I asked them to revisit the list of 2016 goals they developed last fall, and reflect on the past six months by considering the following questions:
- Do you have any new insights or takeaways about your:
- Job responsibilities and overall role?
- Recent accomplishments?
- Potential (recognized or unrecognized)?
- Professional development or work style needs?
- Professional aspirations?
- Are there any new dynamics or realities that have developed during this transition that you hope continue into the future? Or any that you hope don’t continue?
- What kind of impression do you hope to make on the new ED? What actions or efforts on your part could help her form that desired impression?
I didn’t require them to write anything or formally answer each question (they have enough work on their plates already!). We just used the questions as a starting point, and I let them lead the way. The result was a series of rich conversations that left them feeling confident, empowered, and eager to welcome their new leader. They had a safe space to openly voice their hopes and dreams, I shared my observations about their strengths and challenges, and together we made a roadmap for the future. In addition, their honest feedback will inform my opening conversations with the new ED, as I can more easily share information and expectations that the staff might be shy to disclose to a new manager right off the bat. I can set the new leader up for success and provide the kind of valuable context that will enable everyone start off on solid ground.
I should note that while my outsider status has often been helpful in quickly cultivating trust and openness, an Interim promoted from within an organization can absolutely play the same crucial role in supporting staff and empowering them during the transition process. It just takes genuine listening, championing what is working well, and communicating with honesty and clarity.
Leadership transitions do not need to feel like lost time where employees are in limbo, full of anxiety and uncertainty. With the right kind support, staffers can use transition time productively to recognize and examine their own perspectives, and prepare to enter the organization’s next chapter from a place of strength and self-awareness.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Leigh Lehman has worked in the nonprofit arts sector for over 15 years. Since serving as Executive Director of 826 Valencia for five years, she has spent the last four years assisting various Bay Area nonprofits such as Headlands Center for the Arts and the David Brower Center through times of transition or leadership change. Currently, she is wrapping up an Interim Directorship at Southern Exposure. She also serves as Managing Director of the dance program Rhythm & Motion.
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