Innovation, Adaptation, and Invitation: Alternate ROOTS’ Journey Through the EmcArts Innovation Lab

Battles over immigration, privatized prisons, violence against people of color, stand your ground laws, the end of the Voting Rights Act, Moral Mondays and the Dream Defenders, concentration of wealth in an increasingly small group of people…

This is an urgent time for our country, indeed for our world.

Just as it was a specific, historical context out of which we were born, Alternate ROOTS has a distinct potency for responding to this current moment in time. The arts have a way of penetrating through people’s routine defenses against privilege, race, class. The arts reach people in ways that rational arguments don’t.

We are a network of members of great artists. That is our power.

In order to do so, however, we must have the most effective strategies, systems, and policies in place. If we aren’t fulfilling our mission the best we possibly could be, then what?  If our network doesn’t mobilize itself toward movement building, aren’t we forfeiting our greatest potential?

At this point in the arc of our history, ROOTS is experiencing a wealth of esteem in the field and enough resources not to have to struggle as it has in the past. For now. It’s time to leverage this opportunity.

Let’s face it, despite all the amazing work of the organization and our members, we’re not always living into our mission the way we could be. We can do better at meeting this historical moment that is our opportunity to serve and to grow.  Whether it’s a business meeting that gets bogged down in process or a communication that goes awry, we’ve all felt it. Right now, we have roughly 200 voting board members, many of whom are active, many not.  Much of our business is delegated to the Executive Committee and staff, but those groups are not always empowered to lead on behalf of the entire organization, separately or together.

For nearly a year now, Alternate ROOTS members and staff have been exploring our membership and governance structures under the guidance of the EmcArts Innovation Lab.  You may remember some of the places where you’ve been involved in the process, including the survey we sent out to the full membership last summer, our report out at ROOTS Week, and updates in our newsletter.

To date, there have been several gatherings of members in different phases of the project.

Phase 1, the pilot phase, involved two gatherings in Summer 2013 that included a range of participants from founding members, Kathie deNobriga and Linda Parris-Bailey, to newer members like Imhotep Dlanod and Morgana Wallace-Cooper.  As a result of those sessions, we arrived at the following statement of our adaptive challenge:

As the need for our services grows, as our community churns and becomes more diverse, and as the systems of our organization become more nuanced, we need organizational membership and governance structures that are more clear, adaptive, and nimble, honor multiple forms of participation, promote network building, and champion creative expression as a pathway to equity.

That language was submitted with our successful application, which led to Phase II.  With Phase II, we convened a core team and have just wrapped up three day-long meetings. Team members include: Dudley Cocke (Founding Member, KY), Dan Brawley (Board Chair, NC), Ashley Minner (ExCom Member & Innovation Ensemble Chair, MD), Carrie Brunk (ROOTS friend and organizer, KY), and Ariston Jacks (ROOTS member and artist, AR), as well as our full staff: Carlton Turner (Executive Director, MS), Keryl McCord (Managing Director, ,GA), Ashley Davis (Community Partnerships Specialist, GA), and Shannon M. Turner (Manager of Programs & Services, GA).  Our EmcArts facilitator is John Shibley (Maine).

You might notice that a number of participants in this process are from younger generations or have newer relationships to the organization.  The ages of the founders in 1976 were about the same as those who today are crafting a vision for the next twenty years. We are consciously passing the baton. It is imperative that younger artists and cultural organizers drive this process of innovation, of change. It is their future on the line.

Phase II produced this purpose statement:

Right now, our structures and practices lack the necessary clarity, strategy & equity to align with our mission.  This project will allow us the space and time to analyze and clarify our current practices and envision potential points of transformation and create a plan for action. As a result, all people entering the organization can more easily grasp the mission and vision of ROOTS and can join in our collective work toward a social order of justice, permeated by love.

Here’s a summary of work from Phase II:

Phase II, Day 1: Tuesday, January 21, 2014

  • Developed the purpose statement

  • Established research parameters into ROOTS documents (by-laws, strategic plan, policies & procedures manual, etc.) and into other organizational structures / case studies

  • Established research parameters into ROOTS data (membership, ROOTS Week participants, recipients of programs) and called for a “decision-making matrix” based on existing governance documents

Phase II, Day 2: Friday, February 28, 2014

  • Revised the purpose statement

  • Discussed the difference between organizational values, principles & practices

  • Reviewed research from documents and data and other writing submitted by team members

  • Established differences between ROOTS Week and ROOTS as a whole organization

Phase II, Day 3: Friday, March 14, 2014

  • Reviewed our “Case for Change”

  • Discussed potential new membership & board structures and how they might better serve the organization

  • Reviewed Innovation Ensembles and how/whether they’re serving broader leadership / governance

  • Prepared for Phase III

Phase III

March 30 – April 4, the EmcArts Innovation Team spent time in Airlie, VA digging deep into Alternate ROOTS’ governance and membership structures. We shared the space with two other arts service organizations, Theatre Communications Group (TCG) & Dance USA.

There were long days of discussions.  When we say we dug deep, trust us.  We dug deep.

On the first day, we revisited and revised our purpose statement:

Right now, our structures and practices lack the necessary clarity, strategy & equity to live and accomplish our mission.  This project will allow us the space and time to analyze and clarify our current practices and envision potential points of transformation and create a plan for action. As a result, all people entering the organization can live and enact the mission and vision of ROOTS and are able to move collectively towards a social order of justice, permeated by love.

We realized that this work gave us the opportunity to focus in on our mission and strategic plan, increasing our collective ability to serve the mission and have the strategic plan continue to guide us.

This work is about advancing opportunities for current members and more people not yet involved to engage with the organization, as well as creating governance structures that propel ROOTS and its members forward.

To this end, we have some ideas about simplifying the membership structure, making it easier for people to find and join ROOTS, and being more strategic as we build the Executive Committee. We’ll be sharing all this with you in the next months, and looking forward to your help in refining these ideas.

Our next point of departure will be the Executive Committee retreat happening in late April. From there, the ExCom will craft materials to be brought forward to the membership for consideration.

Expect to hear from us this spring, including personal calls, videos on the website, conference calls, surveys, and other engagements.

We invite you to communicate with us at all points along the way. Please send an email to info@alternateroots.org or call the office at 404-577-1079.

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Alternate ROOTS supports the creation and presentation of original art that is rooted in communities of place, tradition or spirit. We are a group of artists and cultural organizers based in the South creating a better world together. As Alternate ROOTS, we call for social and economic justice and are working to dismantle all forms of oppression—everywhere.