A Dispatch from The Field’s National Convention

Last month, I participated in The Field Network’s National Convention in sweltering New York City.

View from the Williamsburg Bridge

There I met artists from New York, Miami, Salt Lake City, Houston, Philadelphia, Houston, Washington DC, Atlanta, and Chicago, all of whom are administrators or facilitators of The Field in their cities. I participated in Field sessions, showing the piece that I’ve been developing in the Field sessions here and receiving reflective feedback from a whole new group of people with a wide range of perspectives. And I saw their work too, and heard about programs in their cities, and challenges that they have faced as passionate volunteers for The Field, just like me. I returned to Seattle inspired and rejuvenated as an artist and as a member of this organization. Here is just a few of the things that I’ve been mulling over since the conference:

Seattle does things our own way. What we call reflective feedback, most other cities call “Fieldwork.” I was asked to describe the difference between them and I’m not entirely sure that they believed me when I said that they are the exact same thing. Many cities offer a fully produced, public performance, either annually or at the end of each session. In Seattle, we tend to keep it loose, inviting friends and bringing food depending on the interest of session participants. I found a lot of the Field leaders in other cities were really concerned with the artistic growth of their members over the course of their sessions, while I tend to think of our role as offering a process and leaving the artist to find their own growth within it (the same way that they receive and incorporate feedback in our sessions).

So does everyone else. In New York, they offered Fieldwork Plus, a session where the artists can, if they choose, step out of the guidelines of reflective feedback (ahem…fieldwork) to ask specific questions or frame a context for their work. In Salt Lake City, Field members get together once in awhile for breakfast just to connect as a community. In Miami, a city with a vibrant and well supported visual arts scene, they offer their sessions to performing artists only so they can give a little more to artists that are less supported in their community.

We are not alone. One of the strengths of the conference for me was that the organizers focused on our growth and development, not only as Field leaders, but as working artists who, like all artists, are struggling for resources and ideas to make our work happen. We spent time talking about different modes of feedback, strategic planning for our organizations, writing artists statements, and bartering goods and ideas as a way to function without a lot of cash. I learned that my challenges as an artist and our challenges as an organization are not mine—not ours—alone and we have not even begun to scratch the surface of what we can offer each other.

Plus, I won’t be complaining about Seattle summers for a good long while.

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