This is what trust looks like on the IDEX team.

What IDEX is learning from artists about trust within grantmaking

IDEX’s artists-in-residence program demonstrates the role of the present moment, courage, and improvisation in social change

By Rajasvini Bhansali, Executive Director, and Jennifer Lentfer, Director of Communications, both of IDEX

We can admit that many of us entered with trepidation into IDEX’s artists-in-residence program.

With a career in nonprofit and global development, we’ve become skilled at analyzing, strategizing, planning, reflecting – all things that artists do. But Sharon Bridgforth and Dr. Omi Osun Joni L. Jones – accomplished interdisciplinary artists in the theatrical jazz aesthetic, scholars, and incredible humans that they are – are bringing something profoundly different to our philanthropy table. Through the gifts of presence, vulnerability, courage, and improvisation, they are accompanying us as we learn how to trust more fully.

We are continuing to unpack, understand, and integrate all that we’ve learned from our work with Sharon and Omi (from whom will continue to learn), but here are just three ways that we’re learning about trust in this experience:

1) Trust in ourselves and our bodies

Dance, spoken word, visual arts, narrative, performance – every single IDEX staff laid our souls bare. Not just to each other, but to strangers. To stop and consider that many of us did not consider ourselves “creatives,” this was astounding to all of us! How did we get there?

We started through movement, so we could access the stored intelligence in our bodies, the wisdom that is beyond cerebral. Omi showed us that freeing the body helps free the spirit and we were invited to get inside of our brokenness. “Your broken heart is the place of magic, of healing, of transformation,” reminded Sharon. 

To tell the truth, to dig deep, to go to sometimes dark or painful places, to craft personal experience into something one can share – is the source of art. This courage and this deeper connection to ourselves, our experiences, our stories, lays the groundwork that enables trust.

2) Trust in each other

Underneath so many workplace conflicts is a longing for greater trust. One of our guiding principles in this creative process was to see each other anew and be curious about each other as artists. In practicing that curiosity, there’s deeper honesty, authenticity, and rigor because our egos had to melt.

For us now, once our most intimate stories have been shared, crafted, and performed, there is no going back to a defended way of living or working.

The process of opening ourselves up in such a safe and open space, has already enabled some innovative and introspective moments as we’ve been looking at our strategy and plans in new ways. Already, our meetings and planning sessions are flowing easier. Even new staff at IDEX have come away with so much trust in their brave and loving colleagues.

3) Trust in the process

What are you feeling?

What is this feeling about?

What does it have to do with your work at IDEX?

These are three inquiries that Sharon offers while guiding us through the creative process of art making, truth telling, and community building. Social change if fraught with uncertainty and ambiguity, but by “trusting the process,” as we are reminded, we learn to learn, to show up, and to embody what we know to be true.

Omi offered a piece of advice that has stuck with many of us, “You are never finished.” As she explains, perfection is impossible (and static), so each moment is an opportunity to examine choices and feelings, and to listen and learn. In this way, never being finished is another gift.

4) But most importantly…Trust in our partners

IDEX partners work on a daily basis with great courage and such commitment to human dignity under very difficult circumstances, to solve the most intractable challenges facing their communities. We, in solidarity as partners with them, are finding many ways to practice our own vulnerability and courage muscles through our artists-in-residence program!

And a healthy organization—one that is filled with people going deep, telling the truth, working together—is much more likely to create healthy partnerships with those fighting for food sovereignty, climate justice and alternative economies on the ground around the world.

Through our artist-in-residence program, we at IDEX committed and recommitted to great joy in all we do, as a tribute to our partners, our ancestors, and to our collective strength.