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Sunset Announcement Important Questions (FAQs) 

On April 14, 2022, Common Field announced it will begin an intentional sunsetting process to close the organization and its programs by December 2022. Below are answers to frequently asked questions around the sunset process and links to related documents, including our sunset announcement letter and our 2021 Audit Report.

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Was the decision to sunset voted on unanimously by the Board of Directors and why?

All board members (voting and nonvoting) and the executive director are in full agreement that sunsetting is the best decision for Common Field. On March 17, 2022 the Board of Directors unanimously approved the process and path towards sunsetting for Common Field to be complete by December 31, 2022.

The board and executive director identified a set of concurrent critical financial and structural challenges for the organization in 2021, drawn both from an internal organizational audit process and a closer look at the financial framework of the organization. In fall 2021 the board and executive director became aware of Common Field’s public support test challenge while preparing to begin a strategic and organizational revisioning process for the future drawn from an internal organizational audit. At this time, leadership agreed to pause all future planning work to better understand the implications of the Public Support Test on the life of the organization.

Since that time, in making the decision to sunset, the board and executive director sought counsel from executive leaders and advisors who had experience moving through challenging circumstances, stayed in open dialog with our main funders (Warhol Foundation), and in the process, considered a number of alternative paths forward. Some of these paths allowed the possibility of the organization to continue, some paths considered continuing only the programs and membership network, and a few paths that would potentially shift the nature of Common Field’s work in unknown ways.

In all, the board and executive director made the decision to sunset centering four identified priorities, concluded in part from the key findings and outcomes of the Audit Report: Staff Support, Taking Responsibility, Being Accountable, and Supporting our Community.

What is the Public Support Test and why can't Common Field meet it?

The IRS requires all 501(c) (3) organizations to meet the Public Support Test beginning in year five of the organization’s life and onwards. The Public Support Test requires that 33.3% of all earned income within a public charity over a 5-year period is from public entities including individuals, government, and municipal agencies, and/or public charitable foundations.

Failure to meet this threshold would result in an automatic loss of charitable status and Common Field would become a private operating foundation in 2023, causing the organization to lose eligibility to receive funding from the Warhol Foundation or the National Endowment of the Arts, its two most recent primary funders.

In November 2021, current leadership identified that Common Field’s rate of public support was projected to be 8.7% by the end of 2021, with the 5-year mark for the organization ahead in December 2022.

In early 2022, it was confirmed that Common Field would have to raise at least $70,000 -$100,000 in public income earned by December 2022 to have a chance to meet this requirement. Equally critical, the leadership team confirmed that in order to maintain charitable status and move towards 33.3% public support while continuing to receive Warhol Foundation funds at their current level, Common Field would have to raise between $100,000-$150,000 each year in 2023 through at least 2026.

More information on the Public Support Test can be found here.

Why can’t the board and leadership raise this money and why didn’t Common Field plan for this like other organizations?

When Common Field was incorporated as a 501c3, its board was established as an advisory board with peer leaders in the field such as other independent or small organizational leaders that were also part of the network. In this form, the board was developed and maintained as a group of practitioners within the network and were never required or asked to prioritize fundraising in their board roles. This, in combination with the fact that the organization also did not dedicate any staff roles or time to fundraising outside of the executive director, means the organization never had the appropriate capacity or support to develop or implement a strategic fundraising plan.

To date, Common Field has not raised more than $50,000 of public support in any given year. Considering the 2022 deadline to meet the public support test, the lack of infrastructure, the limited success of fundraising for public funds, and outcomes of the Audit Report, the board and executive director agreed attempting to meet the Public Support Test in such a short time would place the organization and staff in jeopardy of closing without any planning or support in place.

Throughout Common Field’s history, it has generated revenue and contributions from a range of sources including from membership, convenings, and other programs. Unfortunately, most of those funds do not count as public support dollars as they are fees for service (not donations). Annually, when the Convening was planned in physical locations (pre-COVID), another primary source of development came from Common Field working with partners to raise funds locally from municipal, regional, or state agencies or organizations. While these funds largely counted as public support dollars, they were small in scale. When the pandemic shut down in-person gatherings, this approach for raising money was no longer viable.

Overall, the current board and executive director recognize that efforts were made to diversify Common Field’s funding over time but the approach did not seem to take into consideration the public support test in year five, leaving the organization at risk to lose its charitable status. While the current leadership cannot speculate as to how or why this critical threshold was not planned for previously, we realize that in this situation, a lack of accountability is no one person’s fault and that any path forward would need to take into consideration not just surviving 2022, but the demand for significant fundraising in the coming years.

What role did Common Field’s funders play in this process?

Common Field, both as a project in 2015-2016 and as a 501c3 charitable organization from 2017 onwards, has been primarily funded by the Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts. Founders of Common Field connected and began developing the idea for Common Field when they met and worked together through the Warhol Initiative (1999-2012) program. The foundation supported the founder’s 2011 and 2013 Hand-in-Glove gatherings and supported the launch of Common Field’s Convening and membership program as a project in 2015. The Foundation has sustained their support of the work, increasing their contribution to the organization over the years, and Common Field has been a Special Initiative of the foundation, alongside Creative Capital and the Warhol Arts Writers Grant program. The foundation was also a dialog partner with Common Field leadership about the decision to sunset the organization in 2022.

Other funders, including the National Endowments for the Arts, and local funding received in the past, were primarily focused on supporting the Convening program. The Warhol Foundation’s support provided funds for the operational and organizational costs needed to develop and produce the Convening and membership program - and in later years, a range of other programs and initiatives. In past years (before 2020), Convening ticket sales and membership fees were also a primary vehicle for raising money.

Common Field’s financial challenge is not related to lack of funding but rather the lack of planning to raise adequate public support dollars, as per the Public Support Test, to maintain charitable status in light of receiving large sums of private foundation support from the inception of the organization as a 501c3.

Since The Warhol Foundation is Common Field’s primary funder, what is the foundation’s perspective on Common Field’s decision to sunset?

The Warhol Foundation has been in close communication with Common Field’s Board of Directors and staff leadership, and has reviewed both the audit report and the structural challenges currently facing the organization that has prevented it from successful vision planning for the future. The Warhol Foundation has supported Common Field as a project and nonprofit organization since its inception, and will continue to work in partnership with Common Field’s leadership through December 2022 to understand and share the information gleaned from both the audit and intentional sunsetting process so that the lessons learned can be utilized to help proactively address similar concerns and potential harms to communities and organizations within the arts and culture fields.

What support will Common Field’s staff receive through and beyond the transition?

The work of sunsetting in 2022 will be intentional and we see each current staff member as a critical part of that process. The package for staff was developed with the idea that our current staff is best positioned to move through and finish the work ahead for 2022.

In sunsetting, all staff that remain in their current role at Common Field until October 14, 2022 will receive:

  • An additional one-time payment equal to 3 month’s pay;

  • 3 months of healthcare reimbursement;

  • A payout of all remaining vacation days and technology reimbursement payout for the remainder of the year ($100/monthly)

  • Any staff member who would like to stay employed until November 27, 2022 may do so and still receive the full payout above.

  • Any staff member that leaves before Oct 14, 2022, will receive their payout for earned vacation days and an additional one-time payment of $2,000.00.

  • For the first time in the organization’s history, all staff will receive a standard of living payment equal to 3% of their annual pay.

  • Common Field will conduct an exit interview for each staff member and provide support from board and executive director in identifying and applying for new opportunities.

How did Common Field come to the decision to conduct an Audit?

Common Field made the decision to conduct a 360° Organizational Audit with consultants Shana Turner, S. Mandisa Moore-O'Neal, and their team following the resignation of Common Field’s former executive director. The report outlines some of the reasons the board of directors asked the former executive director to depart as articulated by former staff members, board members, past partners, and presenters through interviews and dialogs.

This audit set out to understand misalignments between the organization’s founding mission and vision and its current work and practice by listening to the experience of our community. The resulting report provided our team with clarity on the value of the organization to the field as well as the harms and missteps experienced along the way. The report provided recommendations for repair, restoration, and planning work for moving the organization forward.

The full report is available for download here.

What were the key findings of the audit report? Can we read it?

Key Findings and the full audit report is available to the public here.

If the audit report states that the commitment was to repair, why are you all now going in a different direction and sunsetting?

When Common Field’s leadership began this work, we had the full intention of setting the stage for the next phase of Common Field’s trajectory. It may have been easy for us to conduct this audit and then pass the responsibility to others to fix the issues it outlines, but that is not what we are doing. Instead, we are taking the lessons we have learned and using them to hopefully chart a path forward for arts organizations and for the greater arts and culture field. By sunsetting, we are not running away from these issues, we are facing them head on. Sunsetting this organization is not an easy decision, but it is the responsible one.

During the audit process we identified a critical financial challenge that posed both a short- and long-term threat to the sustainability of the organization, while also undermining the ability for the organization to embark on planned forward visioning in 2022. We could not, in good conscience, ask an external group of people to forward plan for an organization if we were unsure that the organization can maintain its financial standing and support in the short-or-long term.

In our opinion, shifting responsibility to another group of people would be the most harmful thing we could do and would perpetuate one of the main problems that exist in the arts and culture and nonprofit community – keeping unhealthy systems moving forward, putting band-aids on deeper wounds, addressing the symptoms instead of the illness, when in reality they should be stopped. And in good conscience, we could not make this decision.

Why did the organization hire new staff if it was about to close?

Common Field had planned and approved a staff expansion for 2020 to finally right-size the staff for capacity, but due to the leadership transition and the pandemic, this process was put on hold until 2021 when an interim director was put in place to adjust the planned roles for the organization’s current and future needs. Until 2021, Common Field was severely understaffed to produce the scale of program and projects it embarked on since 2017 and before.

With the Audit Report in process, Common Field planned to build the organization from there with an expanded staff that was well supported for future planning and work together. However, given the current financial constraints to meet the Public Test Requirement, any decision other than sunsetting would not guarantee staff positions in the short or long term.

If Common Field is closing, what will be its focus through the end of the year?

Common Field will focus on 4 main programmatic priorities through the end of 2022:

  • 2022 Seattle Gathering: Change Agents
    This gathering, organized by a Seattle team of arts administrators, artists, and organizers with Common Field, envisions a path forward for cross-sector recovery and reform, centers cultural workers, and is grounded in local practices and organizations in dialogue with national voices.

  • Digital and Materials Archives Project
    The Archive Project will consist of two major activities to ensure that Common Field, its programs, and work are properly archived and available in some form to our community beyond the life of the organization (digital and material).

  • Membership Transition
    Common Field’s membership transition work will address how we can support sustaining connections amongst the wide Network of practitioners following Common Field’s closure.

  • Learnings Project and Publication
    The Learnings Project will likely take the form of a digital publication and potentially a public dialog. The publication (digital) will include voices from board members, current leadership, staff, founder(s), and other invited contributors that can speak about:

    • The history and value of this organizing work;

    • Share learnings from the life and dissolution of the organization;

    • Identifying potential futures for this work after Common Field

We will share more details about all of these programs and initiatives in May and throughout the summer and look forward to engaging with our Network and community through this work.

What will happen with Common Field’s current programming?

Common Field will keep all programmatic and collaborative commitments for 2022 including completion of the fellowship program and a fall gathering in Seattle. Both of these programs were commitments that began in 2021 or before.

Common Field is also approaching the sunsetting process as a programmatic initiative with the intention to provide tools and resources for the field when the organization closes. We will be allocating funds and resources to this work over the year as well. Our priority will be to archive and organize all Common Field’s history and work to date before the organization sunsets in December 2022 to ensure it can be accessible to the field beyond the life of the organization.

What will happen to Common Field’s Membership and its members?

Common Field’s membership program will end on October 1, 2022. The organization will no longer accept new members in 2022. In May, we will share more details with our current members about how to update their profiles for the organizational archiving process and any other details for ending their membership. We will also share more about our planned work to support current Common Field members in transitioning to other networks.

Is the organization’s budget through the end of the year available to the public?

Common Field will share its budget for 2022 publicly in May.

Who can we contact if we have questions about programming or membership at Common Field ?

Please continue to email us at hello [​at​] commonfield.org for all membership or program questions.

We ask that any questions related to sunsetting be directed to questions [​at​] commonfield.org.