Common Field was inspired by numerous conversations amongst arts organizers about the need for a coalition to bring visibility and regular connection to the broad spectrum of independent, experimental, contemporary visual artist projects and spaces operating today. Historically, groups such as the National Association of Artists’ Organizations (NAAO) (1982-2001) and the Warhol Initiative (1999-2012), neither which remain active, provided forums for exchange, advocacy, and learning for visual arts organizers. Other art disciplines such as theater, film, performance, and media arts benefit from alliances and networks that create platforms dialogue, research and resource-sharing, and the public articulation of shared values.

Common Field’s six founders--Elizabeth Chodos, Courtney Fink, Nat May, Abigail Statinsky, Stephanie Sherman, and Shannon Stratton-- worked for organizations which participated in a capacity building program called the Warhol Initiative, supported by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Inspired by the network created by that project, these individuals wanted to share this model of exchange with artists, independent organizers and non-profit organizations facing similar challenges. The first seeds were planted at Hand-in-Glove, a two-day conference organized by Threewalls in Chicago in October 2011, which brought together local organizers to discuss sustainability, regionalism, new models, archives, and more.

In 2013, co-founders orgainzed an exploratory retreat held at Ox-Bow in Saugatuck, MI and invited 20 additional field leaders to identify needs, discuss visions and missions, explore historical precedents, and devise infrastructures that could support a larger, open body of membership. The conversation was furthered at the next iteration of Hand in Glove, hosted by Press Street in New Orleans in October 2013, and the founders worked with various field members to lay groundwork for the organizational architecture, scope, parameters, and values, including the important decision to become a self-nominating network. In 2015, a grant from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts enabled the public mobilization of Common Field, which launched public membership at the Common Field Convening in Minneapolis September 2015.