[Anansi Budget Consensus] ARC: MVP
Published on November 16, 2022 by Kadallah Burrowes
While originally conceptualizing the Anansi Revolutionary Catalyst: Musical Vanguard Prototype (ARC: MVP), the original intention was to bring together a group of artists that would collectively create the event. The hypothesis was that by distributing power and responsibility (rather than working within the traditionally centralized structure of director and producer as benevolent dictators with consultants and performing artists as voiceless laborers) we would ultimately create greater resiliency in the case of unexpected obstacles in the human and relational realms. Equally important, it would be more enjoyable and creative of a process to work with friends and co-conspirators with differing super powers which would hopefully create an even more impactful experience for attendees.
Due to the time constraints presented by The Music Center during the pre-production phase of the project while we were working directly with them to produce the event, we were required to defer this original plan. However, the project was given new life when that particular iteration was sunset (due to the very human obstacles our distributed approach attempted to head off) and those time constraints were no longer necessary, so the original plan was set back in motion. With this reincarnation, ARC stopped being just the “ANANSI Resonant Conscendo,” a one off event centered around tele-performance, and once again became “ANANSI Revolutionary Catalyst,” a slow burning process of forming a distributed, porous pro-Black art collective.
To begin, six individuals that have been involved with the larger ANANSI project at various stages were brought together in an introductory call. In this conversation, folks became acquainted with each other, the shared history of the project, and the partnership with The Music Center. During this call, A9C-388 proposed a collective budgeting exercise to allocate the funds from The Music Center with the goals of: fairly paying contributors for their work so far, setting aside enough money for a small scale prototype of the event commissioned by The Music Center, creating a Peace Chest of funds for future projects and experiments, and—just as importantly as distributing funds—working together for the first time in this particular formation on a concrete objective. Folks agreed, but it was decided that in the meantime, the core contributors to The Music Center collaboration should be paid out their agreed upon base pay as soon as the funds were made available, which is what happened on October 6th, 2.
While A9C-388, [MONRHEA], and Mia Imani had all done collective budgeting exercises together in pairs in the past, in preparation for this conversation, A9C-388 refined the process further into a notion template that will hopefully make it easier for people to run the consensus making exercise with no experience in the future. After creating the template, as the conversation steward, A9C-388 populated a new notion document from the template with the necessary context:
- Overall Direction included a synopsis with information about ANANSI and The Music Center collaboration.
- Discussion was populated with brief histories of the ANANSI project as a whole as well as the entire collaboration with The Music Center. Another section was added featuring the proposed budget for the full project when we were working with a budget of $60,000 rather than $25,000 and in partnership with The Music Center to use their facilities (which included constraints on labor and equipment usage). Finally, there was a section that featured breakdowns of who had done what labor.
- Under Divergent Ideation, they added three proposed budgets: one that tried to strike a balance between retroactively paying out contributors, saving funds for a prototype, and keeping some cash for a Peace Chest; one that maximized payouts to contributors while also setting aside funds explicitly for incubating and documenting the ANANSI project up until now; one that paid out very little for contributions to The Music Center project and instead put the majority of money into a future prototype and the Peace Chest. Finally, they added a blank template that could be used in the conversation if the group decided to start from scratch.
To accommodate for people’s differing schedules and potentially cut down on time spent orienting during the meeting, the collective budgeting document was sent out in advance of the conversation to give people time to read through the context, add comments, and propose their own budgets under Divergent Ideation.
The original time proposed by A9C-388 for the conversation ended up not working for the majority of the people in the call, meaning critical mass was not reached. When it became clear that this time would not work, [MONRHEA] took initiative to suggest a time that worked for her, which ultimately worked for almost everyone else as well.
Leading up to the call, Pola informed the group that she would not be able to make it on the day of the call and would ultimately be stepping away from the ANANSI project as a whole. In her message she indicated that she was satisfied with the compensation she’d received as base pay, and that was taken into consideration as an asynchronous contribution to the consensus exercise.
- A9C-388 (Steward)
- Martin (Note Taker, Time Keeper)
- Vorbi Ogg
- Mia Imani
- Pola (Absent with Async Participation)
- Divergent Ideation
- Collaboratively Modify Proposal
- Assess Support
- Finalize Decision OR Circle Back to Steps 2/4
The calendar invite was set to 120 minutes, while the agenda was set to 90 minutes for the explicit purpose of creating a bit of a time buffer given that past iterations of this exercise tended to go over long enough that a follow up conversation was needed.
We began by Grounding. As people joined the call we set aside time to check in with each other as human beings, rather than as workers—sharing laughs, venting things stressing us out, holding space for each other. After this Martin led the group through a quick grounding meditation to bring us energetically into the same space. Following the meditation, Martin volunteered to participate as Time Keeper and Note Taker, while A9C-388 (as the catalyst for the meeting) acted as steward.
A9C-388 began the Discussion portion of the call by giving a brief overview of The Music Center collaboration and the history of the ANANSI project so far. Following that moment of sharing context, but still within the Discussion section, the conversation became more of a round table with everyone sharing their thoughts around their priorities for the money based on the shared context. These points included:
- Compensating emotional labor
- Paying people for the work they’ve already done, from a foundation of trust
- Paying Black artists
- Emergency fund
- Future prototype of the event
- Future experiments
From there, we went into Divergent Ideation where we went through the various proposals that A9C-388 had put together prior to the conversation, offering different perspectives on how to tackle the priorities that everyone had shared. While discussing the proposals, they introduced for the first time the concept of the Reparations Bonus, a 24.4% bonus for all Black contributors to the project to combat the growing wage gap between Black and white workers in the United States inspired by the social justice commitments of The Nearness based on data reported in Economic Policy Institute’s *State of Working America Wages 2019.*
From there, the Convergence step brought us back into a round table mode, where we reflected on the proposals that had been brought forth as well as began to get into the more nitty gritty details around the best way to reflect our ideals and honor our priorities (something quite qualitative) through the hard (quantitative) numbers of the budget. Some questions we asked ourselves were:
- how do we pay Black artists in a way that reflects the pro-Black orientation of the collective without becoming exclusionary?
- what is the fairest way to implement a reparations bonus, particularly when allocating retroactive payment?
- what obligation do we have to The Music Center to put on a prototype of the Conscendo (tele-performance) event?
- what are different price points for a Conscendo?
As we switched from the more abstract Convergence phase into the more concrete Collaboratively Modify(ing) Proposal phase, Mia Imani joined and [MONRHEA] temporarily left. In this time we recapped the conversation thus far and settled on a course of action for reaching consensus asynchronously in the case that [MONRHEA] was not able to return.
From there, we got into the finite details of budget line items. We began from the template of the “Payout Minimalist” proposal, not as a reflection of the ideals, but in that it gave us the most clean numbers to work with. Before [MONRHEA] left, she, Vorbi Ogg, and A9C-388 talked through what an MVP would cost at a minimal cost point, so we kept that as the amount in the Prototype category and added the difference to labor.
From there, the people who were present on the call made specific requests for retroactive compensation for their labor on the project so far, and a bonus was allocated to Pola, in part to honor our declared priority of honoring care work. We then decided to divide the remaining money left in the Labor pot between the people who had been present on the calls for the consensus making exercise, both to recognize their time spent, but also as a retroactive payment for past unaccounted for contributions to the development of the ANANSI project. A9C-388 and Vorbi Ogg recused themselves from these payments, with the intention of creating a larger payout for the others involved. Finally with everyone’s base pay allocated, all the Black collaborator’s reparations bonuses were taken out of the Peace Chest (save for A9C-388’s whose had already been allocated in the original proposal).
* This line item is mislabeled as LABOR, when its really a payment for the website hosting. Additionally, A9C-388 left the following comment on their Open Collective invoice:
When I went to go download the receipt for the site, I discovered that right now I'm being charged monthly rather than annually, so I'll need to change the subscription type, specifically for this reimbursement. The site is also not really public facing right now (it is accessible, but we've talked about specific changes that we want to make before publicizing it). So I'll continue to pay for the monthly charge out of pocket until the site is updated and ready to see the light of day, then resubmit the reimbursement invoice with receipt attached. (Good motivation to get that documentation up)
With the final budget decided line item by line item, we entered into the Assess Support phase and received unanimous consensus in our first round of assessment, but without all present. We then congratulated ourselves and began to speak about the process and future projects. [MONRHEA] was able to hop on again before we ended the call, and we did another round of assessing support at which point we reached full agreement again, this time with critical mass given that Pola had previously recused herself. We ended the call with a plan for next steps, more chatting and a final heartfelt farewell.
Finally, we followed up the call by reaching out to Pola for her final thoughts and a request for her vote within a certain time frame should she want to participate in the decision process, which she responded to quickly, giving us final full agreement by all involved parties!
Overall, this was the most successful consensus exercise run by the ANANSI crew by a few metrics. First, it was the first time that we had come together as a group to work together, so just getting it done should be considered an accomplishment. Second, this was the largest amount of money we’d allocated, ultimately paying out more than twice the combined amount of funds we’d previously allocated. Third, this was the most timely exercise we’d ever run, meaning we didn’t need to schedule a follow up call for the final decision because we (almost) stayed within the bounds of the budgeted time in the calendar invite (we would have, save for the extra grounding conversations up front and post-consensus chat at the end). Finally, in the spirit of distribution, while past exercises that we’d done had primarily been people in the same city with one facilitator in another timezone, for this conversation we were nearly all in different cities.
Other major wins from this conversation were the creation of the Peace Chest and the allocation of the Reparations Bonus. These are two very powerful precedents to set, giving us all a sense of pride, ultimately making the entire process worth it, even if just to say that we accomplished these two things. The Peace Chest represents a very real financial commons that can be accessed and allocated at any point through this same process of collective decision making, while the Reparations Bonus is a direct model for how pro-Black and pan-African collectives, companies, and co-ops can actively advocate for change in a way that is felt immediately by those involved. It offers a way for such groups to also continue to work with non-Black people, while also putting our money where our mouth is in terms of support. Ultimately, we hope this practice allows us to continue to collaborate in a non-exclusionary way, living out our pro-Black values without being anti-anyone else.
Throughout this process, it was also great to see how quickly we adapted to the need for asynchronous decision making. We had people participate through email that couldn’t make it into the conversation, ad hoc practice for onboarding people who weren’t able to join until mid-way through the process, and on the fly protocols for handling voting when people needed to leave unexpectedly. From this experience, we’d like to develop and test a more explicitly async consensus process.
As for places for improvement, A9C-388 still remained the defacto “boss” in this exercise given their experience with the praxis and the fact that they are the centralized, common denominator that brought the other people into the conversation. This was manifest by the amount of time and labor they spent organizing the exercise (preparing documents, scheduling the call, facilitating the conversation, sending out communications before and after), the amount of time they spoke during the call, and the fact that they created all the original proposed budgets that formed the basis for how the final budget was designed, even if it wasn’t adapted from one of the original proposals outright. Additionally, we must note that due to schedule constraints the conversation was unintentionally male-dominated. While all the men and AMAB enbies were able to participate for the full time in the synchronous call, all female participants either joined in mid way through, left for a period of time, or weren’t able to attend the call at all.
- Make visible during the calls (and take better documentation around) how much time each person speaks (a feature built directly into Jitsi) to help cultivate a practice of calling in and recognizing how much time-space we’re taking up.
- Explicitly divide up the conversation (both in the agenda and live) to ensure that more people’s voices are heard.
- Actively develop explicit protocols for asynchronous decision making that honor and account for the additional labor that is placed on marginalized members of society to create avenues for meaningful contributions to the conversation that carry the same weight as the perspectives shared during synchronous interactions.
- Vorbi Ogg has become a new admin, now that Pola has stepped down. This was decided through an asynchronous consensus process. (Update Pending)
- Monthly community calls will begin in December. Reach out if you're interested in participating.