Reimagining ROOTS Week

A.R. SS Transformation X1 by Ariston Jacks (Little Rock, AR & Baltimore, MD)

Article by Carlton Turner, Alternate ROOTS Executive Director (Utica, MS)

ROOTS' new office. Photo: Ashley Davis (2015).

ROOTS’ new office. Photo: Ashley Davis (2015).

ROOTS has had an amazing winter. We reorganized our staff structure and welcomed three new staff members, as well as a new baby (courtesy of Ashley Davis). After more than 20 years, we closed our office in the Little Five Points Community Center and have just recently opened our new office in the M. Rich Center for Creative Arts, Media and Technology in downtown Atlanta. We raised a record $1.35 million dollars to support the work of ROOTS and ROOTS artists over the next three years.

It has been a full winter. One full of transition. As we move into spring, we look towards the future: we are preparing to mark a milestone of 40 years as an organization and are diving deep into a strategic planning year.

There is much in the works within ROOTS — it is a very different organization today than the one I started working for almost 11 years ago. It is also a very different organization than it was in 1976. For 39 years, Alternate ROOTS has been working towards this place of stability and increased capacity to better support our members. As we plan ROOTS Week 2015, we continue to hold our organizational legacy, mission, and vision for the future at the center of our work.

Like Alternate ROOTS, our hallmark event, ROOTS Week,  has experienced historic growth. Last year a record number of artists, activists, and cultural workers participated in the event — more than 230 people attended, most for the entire week. Although we love the growth, we also understand the need to be both intentional and strategic with how we grow. We want ROOTS Week to remain a strong aesthetic experience while also being healthy and sustainable. We want to be able to utilize the abundance of resources that converge on ROOTS Week in a way that lifts our organizational mission — to support the creation and presentation of art in all its forms, while addressing issues of systemic oppression.

A Call to Action: Transformation

We want to fully utilize this opportunity to share work, to share ideas, to engage and grow in our understanding of art as a tool for personal, social, and systemic change. We want to dig deep into this year’s theme of Transformation and explore what it means and how it looks in practice. We want to more fully realize the vision laid out in our strategic plan, of moving Alternate ROOTS from a place of service to a place of service, action, and reciprocity.

To realize this vision, there will be two changes to ROOTS Week this year. The first shift is about ensuring that ROOTS members are given priority to register. ROOTS Week is becoming recognized as a national resource; artists and cultural workers across the country are seeing it as a place where they can advance their work. The event is growing at a rate that exceeds the limitations of our space and it is important for us to ensure that all members who want to attend have a spot at ROOTS Week.

ROOTS WEEK Registration

We will launch ROOTS Week registration Mid-May; the first ten days of registration will only be open to members. We’re asking all members who plan to attend ROOTS Week 2015 to register during the members-only period, and make a $25 deposit down to secure your spot and commit to bringing your energy, spirit, and creativity to the gathering. Even if you will be applying for scholarships, we ask that everyone puts $25 down.

We have a finite number of spaces at ROOTS Week and once we are full we will close registration. We do anticipate a waiting list for this year’s meeting, so we encourage you to register early. Once this ten day members-only period is up, non-members will be able to register. Details about payment plans for members and non-members will be spelled out on the registration form.

Reimagining ROOTS WEEK Programming

The second shift involves how ROOTS Week programming is curated. This year, performances, learning exchanges, and dialogues will be organized around the three themes shared by our current Partners in Action cohort — immigration, environment and economy, and cultural equity (with an emphasis on #blacklivesmatter). All three of these areas connect to our overarching event theme, A Call to Action: Transformation.

This year, instead of holding an open call for performance and learning exchange proposals as we have done in the past the staff and ROOTS Week ensemble will select presenters and performers whose work relates to these themes. There will also be an opportunity for registered participants to share their work at ROOTS Week. When registering, there will be a place on the form for members to indicate that they have a workthey would like to share and how it may connect to one of the week’s themes. Although the latter is not a prerequisite for performances. 

We are shifting our curatorial practice to avoid situations where people apply to perform or present at ROOTS Week and only attend if they are accepted. First and foremost, ROOTS Week is about building community. We are curating the week’s programming from among those already committed to coming because we want people who are performing, presenting, or facilitating to be fully engaged in the whole week, and not feel like they’re coming to a gig.

This new way of curating ROOTS Week directly reflects one of our strategic goals: that we “cultivate a culture of reciprocity where ROOTS relies on the experience and information of the membership and the members can look to the ROOTS office for a deeper level of support and engagement.” It also speaks to our new understanding that we are all Resources for Social Change and that this principle is “embedded in all programs, threaded through all of our actions … and codified into the fabric of ROOTS.” Additionally, this shift meets another of our strategic goals — that we position the Partners in Action projects at “the center of our collective learning.” Using these projects as the week’s thematic framework provides us with tangible case studies that will help us more deeply understand the issues our communities are grappling with, the work artists are doing in communities, how creative people are coming up with solutions, and how we can support each other in building a movement that eliminates all forms of oppression, everywhere. We want to be more intentional about driving a deeper sense of ownership and understanding about the field in our region, led by our members.

ROOTS Week 2014. Photo: Melisa Cardona (2014).

ROOTS Week 2014. Photo: Melisa Cardona (2014).

As ROOTS Week has grown, we feel that we’ve been over-programming it and are finding that the best conversations are happening in private. This doesn’t support our collective understanding of the work. We want everything — the workshops, professional development opportunities, and performances — to inform the dialogue. For example, we might  spend a day in workshops and dialogues about immigration, and then witness how those issues show up in performances or exhibitions, in dance, song, painting, sculpture, and story. This new direction for ROOTS Week programming will allow us to have larger, deeper, more focused conversations. Instead of dipping our toes in a lot of different waters, we’ll be submerging ourselves in the deep, healing work that our Call to Action envisions.

In addition to focusing on Transformation and these three sub-themes, we will dedicate a good amount of time to strategic planning and solidifying programming for our 40th anniversary. For folks who have work to share outside of these themes, you’ll still have the magical space of Late Night. We’re excited to announce that we’ve invested in new light and sound equipment to better showcase the artistry of our members. It’s also important to know that, thanks to a grant from the Mellon Foundation, over the next three years we’ll be hosting six regional gatherings that will extend the intention of ROOTS Week throughout the year and region. These events take a little pressure off our signature event to be ‘everything,’ for us.

This year marks Alternate ROOTS’ 39th Annual Meeting and Artists Retreat. Over the years, the structure of what is now known as ROOTS Week has included a variety of approaches, from open space technology to a more hybrid style of curated and open events. ROOTS has a history of shifting our structures and programming to meet the particular needs of the moment and ROOTS Week has always been about experimenting with form, content, and design. The changes outlined here present another opportunity to test a new way of working, a new way of gathering. In true ROOTS tradition, we are resisting the impulse to lock ourselves into any one form, and empowering ourselves to constantly strengthen our practice and more fully embody our mission.

With the input of our members, we will closely evaluate these changes and report back on how well they helped us meet our strategic goals. As always we invite you to engage, as members, in the development of our programmatic work. Wendy Shenefelt, our new part-time ROOTS Week Programs Associate is working with Programs Director, Ashley Davis to organize the event. If you are interested in helping in this work, please reach out to them at or 404-577-1079.

Continuing Dialogue

We will be holding a ROOTS Lounge Live to discuss these changes on Wednesday, May 6. For those in the Atlanta area, we we invite you to join us at the new ROOTS office, 115 Martin Luther King Jr Dr Suite 200, Atlanta GA 30303,  (click here for directions). From 6-7 PM we’ll have a social hour with light refreshments and at 7 PM EST we will begin a town hall style conversation, which will be live streamed so that members across the region can witness it in real time. If you can’t be physically present, and have questions you would like answered during the event, please email them to by Tuesday, May 5th at 5 PM EST.

We are hoping for a strong turn out at this ROOTS Lounge Live, and look forward to seeing many more of you at ROOTS Week this August!

In peace and solidarity,

Carlton Turner, Executive Director

with the support of:

Ashley Davis, Programs Director
Rebecca Mwase, ExComm Vice Chair
Robert “Bobby B.” Martin, ExComm Chair

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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.