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Looking Back on 2020 & Organizational Accountability

Dear friends, 

Where do we go from here? January 21st is Inauguration Day, and on it the USA will welcome a new President. This year has been fraught with some of the most complicated moments in our nation’s history, but somehow against the brink of chaos and a pressing need for community mutual aid, we continue to move forward. Part of any moment of social change is also cultural change, and SPACE has sought to speak truth to power, bring people together, forge new senses of community, and explore the important storytelling we need for the future. That is the role SPACE plays in our region and we will continue to better the organization with new tools, new faces in our midst, and (re)new(ed) values. On January 21st, we may have a new President, but we still raise our voices for justice against police brutality/the state execution of unarmed or disabled black folks, the discrimination or murder of trans folks, and the many systematic inequalities our society still enforces and exploits. SPACE stands for equity and justice. And sometimes that means we have to take a look in the mirror to examine the ways in which we have been complicit in larger systems of normalizing these injustices as well. 

Within our country, our institutions, and even within ourselves there is an ongoing battle about the path forward towards a more just future: is it through moderate incrementalism or radical change? The answer to dismantling, healing, and changing our world is probably somewhere in between the two, but I think we can all agree that staying put where we have been is not an option. 

If you have been wanting to know more about what’s happening behind the scenes at SPACE, I’m writing to report out some of our internal work this past year. In addition to trying to raise the level of care, professionalism, empathy, and resources we can offer those we collaborate with externally in the community, we have been setting new goals for ourselves as a staff. As this organization has grown from a DIY self-organized space into a larger institution with new levels of responsibility, accountability, and privilege, we continue to examine ourselves and commit to community responsibility. 

There are over two dozen action steps we are undergoing in a multi-year DEIAJ (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Accessibility, and Justice) plan towards a new future of what this organization can look like. These range from building safety and accessibility for our artists, systematic improvements for staff workplace needs, a historical examination of the work we have done in our early years, renewed prioritization of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ voices in every level of our organization, and progressive equity-oriented financial goals as we stabilize our organization through this crisis. Our board, staff, volunteers, and artists (present and future) welcome your feedback and we hope if you want to share past stories or ideas for new work, that you’ll call, email, or use our Community Feedback Form we started earlier this year to tell us what’s on your mind. 

In 2017, SPACE hired an organizational consultant, Cathy Kidman, who led a thorough organizational review and community assessment of our past work, our organizational needs, and made specific calls for diversifying our organization. In winter of 2018/19, we began an internal staff and intern monthly meeting called “Equity-Intentional Space” that was rebooted this June by Associate Director Lia Wilson and Office & Studio Manager Jocelyn Leighton as a weekly standing meeting for our staff. 

Out of that workgroup, we have assembled a working draft of a multi-year plan that will be merged into our strategic plan with our board this coming February during an online organizational retreat. Recent new additions to our board have included accomplished community activists and mediators, legal expertise on fair land and public resource use, abolitionist researchers, consent educators, and passionate art champions who are building a better art community for all of us here in Portland and beyond.  Additionally, in 2021, two of our former board members, Jessica Tomlinson and Cyrus Hagge will be re-committing and engaging our Advisory Board with new community members, and new goals for the group. 

The closure of our venue leaves us with a group of exemplary part- time staff and only two full-time staff members, and no shifts for our live event and production staff to take it. With awareness of our capacity (and whiteness), we have resolved to hire outside consultants to further build an anti-racist, feminist, equity-rooted organization. Once that equity work is integrated into a new strategic plan, we look forward to sharing the compiled document publicly for feedback this spring. 

We also attend to show further financial transparency about how this organization works. SPACE has always been an “alternative” art space, or as I like to think of it: an institutional incubator, a place that does not fit into the molds of other institutions. Our staff, board, and volunteers aspire to broader goals of organizational financial stability and we continue to put roots down as we pay off our mortgage. However, we are also trying to forge our own path that creates an institution that is simultaneously rooted in equity and justice. And we know that budgets are documents that truly share our institutional values.

SPACE has surely made mistakes along the way in the pursuit of those goals and our current staff has developed ways to document those errors, be accountable to them, be transparent about them, and most recently, solicit restorative justice resources and processes to properly reckon with them.

I’m so proud that SPACE has been growing upwards, but our most aspirational goals are admittedly still far away. SPACE will work towards systemic change in our organization, but that also requires all of our constituents to be advocates in our broader world for systemic change on all levels of society. Fortunately, that is advocacy work we can do, and have done, through our arts programming. We’re excited to host community conversations with support from the Cohen Foundation throughout the winter and spring that will tackle some of the most pressing issues in our backyard, professional world, and facing global peers. 

I am still processing these questions when I come to work each day: How do we continue to create safe, pluralistic spaces in our field that challenge our thinking, and help us unlearn systems of oppression? How do we integrate equitable practices and intersectionality into our daily lives? Artists are natural futurists and healers, and I deeply believe that they will lead the way through these hard questions. 

To forge progress often means to not revel in your successes, but to work through your failures. I know that I am learning so much along the way. On behalf of our staff and board, we look forward to always moving forward with accountability, humility, and optimism. Onwards.


Kelsey Halliday Johnson
Executive Director 

SPACE Reader

Please see our updated pandemic policy for fall 2021. Indoor events at 538 Congress Street start in October!