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Final Audit Report & Key Findings

Download the full report

REIMAGINE POWER: An Audit of Common Field's Power Dynamics (.pdf)

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The following summary was written and provided by the lead Audit consultants, Shana Turner and S. Mandisa Moore-O’Neal in 2022 to accompany the full Audit Report they and their team delivered to Common Field in 2021. This summary is meant to express the top-level findings from the report only - the full report can be found above.

As facilitators of this process, we approached the 360⁰ Internal Audit of Power with the belief that healthy power-holding was necessary within Common Field, and also that it was possible. Healthy power-holding involves caring about how the people doing the work are impacted, particularly when the stakes are high or when there are benefits to maintaining the organization at all costs.

We conducted this audit and offered in-depth analyses and recommendations in the report with the understanding that Common Field would continue its work for years to come. We have come to learn that due to unexpected financial and structural challenges, the leadership of Common Field has made the incredibly difficult decision to sunset the organization at the end of 2022. These challenges could not be overcome without sacrificing Common Field’s staff and starting from scratch. The process and outcomes of this power audit helped to ground the organization in its commitment to value the impact on the human beings that give it life. As eloquently stated by Common Field near the top of the report, “Our hope is that the life and dissolution of Common Field will provide learnings, healing, resources, and inspirations to begin mapping new paths forward for our field.”

While we hope you engage with the full report, we have outlined key findings below.

Organizational Identity

Common Field was described as a facilitator of connections and a site of engagement with colleagues who may not otherwise find each other, bringing together “rad community artists looking to meet other rad community artists.” There is also a disconnect between the call for Black, Brown, queer and trans people to participate while the most visible organizations are primarily white and cisgender-heterosexual. People shared that the organization perpetuates class exclusion and is heavily tilted toward administrators, program managers, and executive directors of larger, resourced, well-known institutions and nonprofits.

Convenings

Many people shared that they have loved Common Field’s annual Convenings. They learned skills and information that changed their ways of showing up, and some can even trace life-expanding opportunities back to moments at a Convening.

This is true alongside other truths shared with us about the Convening’s overwhelming whiteness, class disparities, and the prioritizing of large cities as centers of social and cultural production. We also learned that early Convenings lacked language interpretation and translation, and did not effectively make plans to include disabled, older, or bigger bodies. Partner relationships were described as collaborative—but without the lens of racial, class, and gender justice, the reality of working collaboratively with Common Field actually meant that partners were exploited. In addition, we heard from volunteers, presenters, jurors, and contractors about being stretched beyond limits. Staff were characterized as people working around rigid structures without agency or autonomy, and with their heads down.

As Common Field pivoted from an in-person Convening to virtual at the beginning of the pandemic, they prioritized the organization over its members. There was little-to-no demonstration of empathy and care extended to the people of Houston who were involved in planning the Convening. Presenters experienced deep pressure to adjust to the virtual realm in ways that were misaligned with their original plans and agreements. Furthermore, presenters who received travel stipends were told to return the money. A former board member asked: “Did we have to have a Convening? Could we have just given people checks? It could have been that simple, and that is the politic at work. People are telling you ‘These are material needs we have,’ and we had the resources to give it to them but we didn’t!”

Structural Power

Common Field was founded and has been maintained on the values and tenets of whiteness, namely the valuing of an art aesthetic that centers whiteness. Through interviews with the founding members, we observed there was not much experience in actually trying different governance models nor an understanding of the tools, skills, and power analyses needed to implement and sustain these models.

There is agreement among most current and former staff that the leadership structure was very top-down, where the Executive Director made all the decisions and there was very little space to question or shape the work that each person was responsible for. This became the organizational culture, which made it much harder to challenge and dismantle. This imbalanced hierarchy was used to maintain the white organizational culture of scarcity and urgency, which had a tremendous impact on staff, temporary workers, contractors, consultants, and volunteers.

We also observed four primary ways the board contributed to this organizational culture:

1. Board members were isolated from staff members.

2. People questioned their perceptions.

3. People were afraid to lose funding for their organizations from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

4. Some people were enablers.

Reflections on Repairs and New Ways Forward

It is not every day that an organization stands humbly before their community extending an invitation to collectively reflect on wisdom gained from lessons learned and reimagine how to function. The staff and board of Common Field did and continues to do the work of receiving feedback, critiques, and ideas for pathways forward, including designing a sunsetting process rooted in care. The recommendations we made in the report were the culmination of feedback and ideas from a wide and diverse array of people from Common Field’s community, processed through our lens. The primary areas were: addressing harms caused and recommendations for restorations; redefining whose needs and priorities to center (what types of arts practitioners, geographies, and identities); and finally, recommendations for increasing equity in Common Field’s structure and way of operating.