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Did you wonder why there were so many people from Seattle and Washington State at the Convening in Philly? 

In 2017, Courtney Fink visited Seattle for a community meet-up at the Jacob Lawrence Gallery. Fifty or so organizers came together to network, share ideas, and learn about Common Field. However, despite the good conversation and energy generated, this meeting didn’t result in many new members or Convening attendees. In fact, at the Convening in L.A. that fall there were just three of us. We three were very excited by our experience and thought: more people from Seattle must go!

Our theory was that travel and time costs were the limiting factor. Like many places, visual art in Seattle relies heavily on grassroots and DIY organizations, often run by artists. This creates a landscape that is culturally rich and dynamic, but also incoherent and perpetually underfunded. High costs of living make it difficult for artist organizers to find time to write grant proposals, raise money, and work on administrative tasks. Also, there’s a pernicious civic attitude that emphasizes entrepreneurial competition over collective effort and mutual support.

To try to get more people to the 2019 Convening we hatched a plan to raise money to award ad-hoc travel scholarships. We asked for help from a group of 4-5 “strategizers.” These were people from organizations that might be supporting partners of the scholarship and who had fundraising and community organizing experience. Our strategizers encouraged us to think big, suggesting we raise money for three years of scholarships, with 10-20 recipients each year, and expand the range from just Seattle to encompass the entire state. After some back-of-the-envelope figuring, we decided scholarships in the amount of $1,000 each would cover travel, lodging and expenses.

We made a lot of spreadsheets! There were lists of potential individual and institutional donors – lists of every artist-centered project and independent artist organizer we knew of and ones we didn’t but who were suggested by other people. We wrote information sheets explaining the project to donors. (We’ve shared one of these documents here in case it might be useful if you want to organize your own local scholarship effort.)

One effective argument came from a survey by one of our partner organizations, Artist Trust. They found that among WA state artists, one of the highest self-identified needs is making connections outside the area. From the other direction, we learned from Common Field that artist spaces across the country don’t know what’s going on in Seattle & Washington.

Perhaps of less interest to our donors but important to our own sense of the project was trying to shift what is valued in our communities. We think that a strong art community is one that has a robust network of artist-centered initiatives. Trying to direct donor resources to marginal, temporary, peculiar and community-specific efforts is an issue of artistic excellence as well as one of racial, cultural and social class equity. We ended up thinking about how we could use Common Field both as a way to connect our locality to a national network, and also as a focal point for local organizing exploring our common interests and collective power.

We began pitching possible donors and realized that while the project seemed to us like an obvious win-win for everyone, it was less clearly so to some donors. We revised our pitches and kept at it. In the end, a private donor gave us funds for five scholarships, our county arts agency (4Culture) put in for another five, another private donor supported two, and four other donors supported one each. We had enough for 16!

A three-person committee selected the recipients using our long list of organizations and organizers as the starting point. There was no application. Awardees first heard from us when we sent them a congratulations letter. In a field where crushing cycles of submission and rejection are the norm, receiving support in this way seemed to make people feel especially buoyantly “seen” and appreciated. At all points in our process, we tried to minimize time and aggravation for the awardees. There was minimal paperwork. We paid in advance. Some scholarships were awarded to individuals and some to groups, and we told the groups to use whatever process they liked to decide which individual(s) to send. There were no strings attached other than that they use the money to get themselves to Philly.

Here’s the list of awardees: Esther Ervin (Onyx), Kelly Froh (Short Run), Ben Gannon (cogean?), Bradly Gunn and Philippe Hyojung Kim (Soil), Benjamin Hunter (Community Arts Create), Elisheba Johnson (Wa Na Wari), Christopher Paul Jordan, mario lemafa, Don Linnertz (TwispWorks), Molly Mac and Kate Boyd (If You Don’t They Will), Monica Miller (Gallery One), Julie Chang Schulman (206 Zulu), Thea Quiray Tagle (The Alice), Asia Tail, Mary Welcome, Carol Rashawnna Williams (K-Love4Art)

Two groups that were selected decided to split the money between two people in their group. So all in all, the scholarships supported 18 Washington state folks to go. The enthusiasm convinced even more folksto go: Charlie Rathbun (4Culture, King County's arts agency), Ricky Reyes(City of Seattle Office of Arts & Culture), Shannon Halberstadt (CEOArtist Trust), Sarah Faulk (curator), Margie Livingston (Soil), Mariella Luz (artist, Artist Trust's board), and Emily Zimmerman (Jacob Lawrence Gallery). And of course the two of us were there, too.No wonder it seemedlike Washington folks wereeverywhere at the Convening!

We've held two follow-up get-togethers since then: a small one in a home so that artist-organizers who got scholarships and donors who helped them to go could meet each other; and a second larger public one, a sort of mini-convening, where arts organizers could meet each other and discuss ideas that inspired the people who went to Philly. This meeting was sponsored by the Seattle Office of Arts & Cultureand held at their new facility above the downtown train station.

A huge team of people rallied with us to make the scholarship program possible: first, Carole Fuller, our trusty fellow-organizer and champion of the project who unfortunately couldn't go to Philly with us. Our big team also included the donors to the scholarship program (4Culture, Edie Adams, Sarah Cavanaugh, Marge Levy, the Glen S. and Alison W. Milliman Foundation, Judy Tobin, and Merrill Wright); Artist Trust's board who decided to make the scholarships an Artist Trust program which meant the donations were tax-deductible; our “strategizers;” and many others who cheered us on.

Our database of artist spaces & arts organizers in Washington just keeps growing. Now it stands at 220, and we are beginning to figure out how to raise the next round of scholarship money for Houston 2020. If you'd like to see the list with websites for everyone on it, you'll find it here. We invite you to meet Washington artist spaces and arts organizers!

Matthew Offenbacher, artist, arts organizer, and Common Field member living in Seattle.

Anne Focke, writer, organizer, advisor, and Common Field board member living in Seattle.

The first photo above captures some of the Washington attendees at the entrance to the opening party. The other photos were taken at the post-Philly mini-convening in Seattle featuring regional arts organizers and posters about their projects.