Trisha Barua

We’re expected to work with our community partner for 20 hours per week over two months, which is equivalent to one month of full-time employment. Based on my previous full-time experiences, after I start a new job, it takes a month for me to find my bearings. While I would like to have high expectations for what I can accomplish over the summer, realistically speaking, I anticipate that the project will end soon after I feel confident in what I’m doing. Perhaps this should cause anxiety, but I’m more concerned with my community partner knowing how to handle a project that’s ultimately theirs, not mine.

I’ve been more focused on my community partner than a specific project. I entered Mellon Public Scholars having established a relationship with EastSide Arts Alliance, yet I only had the amorphous goal of helping them “build capacity.” In April, I emailed EastSide staff about my skillset (qualitative research, dialogue facilitation, event planning); academic interests (ethnic studies, visual culture, Oakland politics, gentrification); and public scholarship goals (engages public space, public art, EastSide’s constituents). I asked about their top three research needs, with the hopes that they would intersect with my skills and interests. I wanted to develop a project with a tangible deliverable (online archive, report, event, exhibit, interviews) that adds to their existing work. Based on informal conversations with staff, I knew that they had needs. Still, I couldn’t determine where I’d be most useful and hesitated to invent a project without explicit direction on what it means to complement their work.

I recently found out that I would be their consultant for a research and evaluation plan required by a funder. The plan centers on building demand for contemporary and experimental performance among people of color in East Oakland. Because EastSide plugged me into an existing project, there are already parameters established through the grant guidelines and EastSide’s programmatic goals. I don’t necessarily view this plan as “my project.” Instead, I am lending my skills and time to EastSide so they can progress with their research and evaluation objectives. Because I don’t “own” the project, I am absolved of accountability for the plan’s long-term sustainability.

When EastSide gave me the title of “evaluation consultant,” I realized that in addition to thinking about what I can do for them over the summer, I can consider what EastSide is doing for me. While I play the role of the “expert,” I am also gaining expertise. Because the plan necessitates working with other non-profits, I can expand my professional and community network. As I consider pursuing an alt-ac career, I will have a document that demonstrates arts administration experience. Yet I’m not sure if I would find this sort of administrative work fulfilling in the long run. If I don’t like it, I have at least supported an important community organization, and if I enjoy the work, I have a better sense of my employment prospects, which would surely be more expansive than one month’s full-time work.