When I started at Fractured Atlas, it was mid-February and in a world that doesn’t exist anymore. My entire experience of working here has been defined by the pandemic, by trying to meet the urgent and deep needs of our community. That is to say, the onboarding has been a little unusual.
With my heart pounding out of my chest and feeling an urge to vomit, I raised my hand and then watched as the microphone was tossed across the cavernous room towards me. There I was, shakily holding one of those foam box microphones and standing in a room of some of the most recognized CEOs and companies in the U.S. I then opened my mouth hoping audible words would form as I nervously said that I didn’t think the Conscious Capitalism movement would be sustainable if it didn’t confront capitalism’s role in perpetuating racism and oppression.
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It’s not easy for anyone to talk about money.
Someone recently asked me, “When do you think we can start pushing our teams to achieve pre-pandemic performance levels again, I mean, it’s been five months?” This past March in North America a giant remote work experiment began for many as an Adrenaline-fueled sprint. Organizations raced to get workers set up with home offices, stores sold out of computer monitors and tablets, and internet providers were inundated with rush requests to set up new or upgraded access. Coworkers helped each other learn how to use Zoom, access files on the physical server still located in their office, and move money without the ability to access check stock. The thought for many was, “let’s hunker down for a bit until this blows over. We’ll see each other back in the office in a few weeks, maybe a month or two, tops.” That moment feels like it was a lifetime ago.
So much of what seemed impossible this time last year is now happening. Police abolition is part of the mainstream discourse, all of the jobs that we were told couldn’t happen without an office might be remote permanently, and the buses in NYC are now all free. The Overton window has shifted dramatically for a number of issues over the past few months. So much more is on the table, and collectively we can all recognize new places for our society to become less racist, less transphobic, less classist, less ableist, and more equitable overall.
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.
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.