Field Grant Report | Spring 2016

Common Field Pilot Field Grant 
Southern Constellation Convergence | April 30, 2016
A one-day convergence produced in collaboration between Common Field founding members Transformer, Washington, DC and Elsewhere, Greensboro, North Carolina. 

The Southern Constellations Convergence at American University Museum was produced in collaboration between Common Field founding members Elsewhere (Greensboro, NC) and Transformer (Washington, DC). The convergence assembled artists and arts organizers in DC, exploring issues related to experimental practice in the South. Two panels held during a day brought together artists and organizers to discuss their work, access to resources, and modes of experimentation in arts production in cities like Houston, New Orleans, Atlanta, Charlottesville and DC. 

Panel participants were carefully curated to include a diverse range of individuals both artists and organizers from larger field organizations to founders from more informal artist lead organizations. We included both artists and organizers from our host city, as well as a field funder from National Endowment for the Arts. We also brought onto our panel artists who organize with other regional networks--SONG (Southerners on New Ground) and Alternate Roots--as well as a representative from Common Field. Short presentations, moderated conversations, and audience questions allowed for a robust discussion around questions of Southern resource and practice. 

Exploring Alternative Practice panelists include: 
Regina Agu, Alabama Song, Houston, TX
Chris Appleton, WonderRoot, Atlanta, GA
Margaret Boozer, Red Dirt Studios, Washington, DC
Jina Valentine, Artist, Durham, NC
Sheldon Scott, Artist, Washington, DC
Moderated by George Scheer, Elsewhere, Greensboro, NC

Exploring Alternative Resources panelists include: 
Wendy Clark, National Endowment for the Arts, Washington, DC
Bob Snead, Antenna / Common Field, New Orleans, LA
Salem Acuña, Southerners on New Ground (SONG), Southern-Regional
Kristina Billonick, Pleasant Plains Workshop, Washington, DC
Trey Hartt, Alternate Roots, Richmond VA  
Moderated by Victoria Reis, Transformer, Washington, DC

The audience was a mix of artists, practitioners, students, and arts organizers. For that reason it was important to take a broad view of how artists and organizations are operating in relation to one another. DC performance artist Sheldon Scott discussed how his performances at the Smithsonian challenged a more traditional institution to embark on an experimental track, and how that further challenged his own practice. Salem Acuña, an activist and organizer with SONG, an LGBTQ activist organization, made clear the political and cultural stakes of Southern practice, calling upon artists to drive cultural transformation from within a transigent social and political environment. Bob Sneed of Press Street, and co-founder of Common Field, spoke to the importance of a field network in connecting his organizations hyper local work to a national discussion. Regina Agu, one of the artists in the exhibition and a founder of artist run space, Alabama Song in Houston, spoke to the challenges of sustaining and protecting an autonomous space for Black and Brown artists within Houston’s larger arts ecology, their need for funding, and her own personal desire to build from an artist project to a sustainable organization.

In general, this convergence, meet-up, and exhibition was a fairly complex program. The integration of a Common Field meet-up into a larger programming platform was can be a good way to articulate critical communities issues with a diversity of voices at the table. The most important thing about the convergence was being committed from the outset to curate diverse perspectives that include artists in different media, activists working in the field, funders who support artists, and organizations and institutions at different scales to deepen the knowledge and resources present in the room. One important element seems to be to know where and when the conversation is going to happen next.

This convergence is presented in tandem with the exhibition Southern Constellations at the American University Museum. Curated by Elsewhere, Southern Constellations features a selection of works from their collection created by artists who participated in Elsewhere's residency and southern curatorial initiative. Photos can be seen here: https://flic.kr/s/aHskyhUfpe. Southern Constellations was the 3rd exhibition in the Do You Know Where Your Art Comes From? series, curated by Victoria Reis, Executive & Artistic Director of Transformer, in collaboration with Tim Doud, Associate Professor of Art and coordinator of the Visiting Artist Program at American University. 

The next Southern Constellation Convergence will take place at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University on Saturday December 17th, 2016 in conjunction with the Nasher's Southern Accent exhibition.

The Southern Constellations Convergence was a pilot Field Grant issued in Spring 2016.  To apply for future Field Grants, visit commonfield.org/fieldgrants.