We’re in a moment where workplaces are having more serious conversations about how to become more equitable, less racist, less oppressive. If you aren’t in management, HR, or operations, it can feel like you’re waiting around for the decision-makers at your organization to implement change, however long-overdue.
Innovation is essential for supporting artists and arts organizations. If we aren’t able to adapt to changing times, to find new and better ways of working, we aren’t able to serve our community to our fullest extent.
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Huge numbers of artists and creatives are out of work as a result of COVID-19. And while we recognize that grants, fundraisers, and government aid are crucial right now, we know that they aren’t sufficient for us to rebuild our sector. We need systemic change to the ways that we work together, and in the ways that we work with clients and employers. One possible structure to build systemic change is cooperatives, or co-ops. Cooperatives are formed when groups of people pool resources and share in decision-making to share in risk and reward. In co-ops, workers are the owners.
Maybe you’ve recently published a statement in support of Black Lives Matter and committed publicly to begin working towards being an anti-racist organization. Maybe folks internally or externally are asking what changes you plan to make after seeing that statement. Maybe you think that you’ll have your staff go through a full staff training and will be “done with it.” Maybe you’re a white person in an organization who thinks that it’s not something you need to worry about because it’s something that some other department needs to figure out. That’s not enough. If we are committing to being anti-racist organizations, we have a lot of work to do that touches every organization and every department. There is a lot of rightful skepticism about statements companies are making right now, so how can we as organizations work towards making sure these statements are not hollow or performative?
In response to massive upheavals in the arts, nonprofit, and social justice sectors as a result of COVID-19, Tim Cynova (Chief Operating Officer at Fractured Atlas) and Lauren Ruffin (Chief External Relations Officer), recognized that we need to be talking to each other. In the arts and nonprofit sectors, we need to hear about how other institutions are managing crises and uncertainty, and how they are envisioning our future. So, they started talking to their colleagues.
For any organization to remain relevant in changing times, you have to be able to change. Organizations need to be able to adapt to uncertain futures, new technologies, new tools, and the changing needs of the communities you serve. You need to build a working environment where teams are able to try new ways of working and to develop new projects, and to not be afraid if an experiment doesn’t work out.
When you fundraise, you’re asking for money from outside sources to realize your creative vision. As an artist, you’ll have to figure out how much it matters to you who those sources are. Who will you seek funding from and who isn’t a good fit? If the philanthropic arm of a corporation whose work you disagree with would be willing to fund your work, would you apply for a grant from them or accept money if it was offered? Would you take money from a company that you think harms your community? You don’t want to take money from somewhere that makes you so uncomfortable that you wouldn’t even want to use it, but also, you need money in order to make your work. There isn’t an easy answer, and there’s no such thing as purely ethical money under capitalism.
The COVID-19 pandemic is shaking the structure of the arts world in an incredibly painful way. People have lost their livelihoods. Institutions (especially the smaller, independent ones) face uncertain futures, and nobody knows what the future holds. Fractured Atlas recognizes the magnitude of loss, grief, and uncertainty that artists and the arts sector as a whole is feeling right now. We also recognize that there is an opportunity for us to build new, more equitable structures.
On March 12, in the early phases of national lockdowns in the United States, a Google Doc with resources for freelance artists started making the rounds. It had links to information and resources for freelancers who were getting their jobs cancelled because of COVID-19, including emergency funding. Like other Google Docs that serve an immediate need at the right time, it exploded. The document crashed and its creators quickly shifted the Google Doc to a website. Since then, its creators have become a temporary collective, the Freelance Artist Resource Producing Collective.
During a crisis, the impulse is to help. But it’s hard to know where to start. In the case of the coronavirus pandemic, you might be pulled in a number of different directions. Should you donate to the staff funds for the coffee shops, bars, bookstores, movie theaters, and nightclubs that you would ordinarily be visiting? Should you donate to the big national fundraisers or to small, local, specific ones? Should you focus on food security or making sure that essential workers have enough PPE to keep themselves safe? How many voicemails should you leave for your political representatives?