Headlands Center for the Arts


When people talk about Headlands, it’s not uncommon to hear about the “magic” of this place — the hard-to-put-your-finger-on, feel-it-in-your-bones sense that something wonderful is happening. We love hearing this, because the magic here doesn’t just happen. It’s created. It doesn’t reside in the landscape, or even in the staff and artists that work here. It’s in how we nurture each of those pieces and bring them together thoughtfully and intentionally. That’s our magic. 

This magic isn’t something you can hold on to with absolute certainty, but that’s what makes it so wonderful. It can’t, nor should it, always stay the same. We’re not interested in “same.” At Headlands we have always supported radical thinkers — the artists that are pushing the bounds of their practice, building new futures, and giving voice to the stories that need telling. And over the past many months, amidst a world filled with change and uncertainty, we’ve been thinking deeply about how we as an organization can approach our magic in new ways by embodying this forward-thinking innovation that we so admire in our Artists.

Headlands values risk-taking and the room to fail — and to learn from those failures — as key to the artistic process. We believe vehemently that creativity needs space, time, and resources in order to thrive. Importantly, we also believe that these values are not exclusive to artists. As a staff and board, we too must cultivate the systems of support that we provide to artists in order to create a culture of transparency and equity. Under the guidance of Leverage to Lead, a consultancy group Headlands began working with in early 2019, Headlands’ Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity task force has been identifying concrete steps that the organization will be taking toward this goal. We will share these steps with you in the coming months in order to hold ourselves accountable to this work, and to you, our community. 

Thinking critically about our values has also provided guidance for creating organizational stability in this difficult moment, and setting a path toward a strong future. In 2018 we put in place a bold master plan to lead Headlands and our campus through the subsequent six years. With the onset of the pandemic, and with our doors closed to the public since mid-March, we, like many organizations, are facing a radically altered outlook. The fundraising landscape that we find ourselves in is filled with unprecedented challenges. Knowing that these are likely to persist for some time, we made a difficult but necessary decision to accelerate the timeline of that master plan, consolidating our campus and programming. As a result, and as we work to honor our postponed 2020 Residencies, we are contracting the Artist in Residence program to summer sessions only starting in 2021. Additionally, we will be returning Buildings 960 & 961 to the National Park Service and drawing our Affiliate Artist program to a close. The 2020-21 cohort (to be announced early November) will be the program’s last.  

These decisions were not taken lightly. We recognize that the closing of the Affiliate Artist program is a loss, but one necessary to meet this moment — a moment that simultaneously requires prudent financial decision-making, and bold, new approaches to the ways in which we serve our mission and our Artists. 

Headlands is getting bold by narrowing our focus, going deeper, and, in the process, innovating how we support artists. 

In 2021, Headlands will launch two new programs focused on delivering more of what artists have told us they need and want: more time, more resources, and more individualized support. 

The Bay Area Fellowship is a two-year program for local artists in which Fellows work closely with program staff to design their individual experience. Fellows receive an annual stipend of $15,000, health insurance, and access to resources intended to support professional and project development. Each cohort will overlap a year with the subsequent cohort, thereby creating a deeper connection among Fellows, and with other Headlands artists. 

The Threshold Fellowship builds on the early successes of Headlands’ Thematic Residency program, which brings together artists and experts from across sectors to explore critical issues. Fellows will receive an annual stipend of $10,000, time and space at Headlands, and additional monetary and administrative support in the form of programmatic development and activities. In addition to continuing to hold Thematic Residency convenings, this program supports participants in an ongoing way, enabling the exploration of complex issues such as climate change, racial justice, and palliative care in a more longitudinal fashion.

Rather than a prescriptive, one-size-fits-all approach, what Headlands seeks to provide through these programs is a more equitable experience for those we serve. We’re flattening the traditional power dynamics that exist between organizations and artists, leading the way for a new model and understanding of artist support. This means, of course, that we don’t exactly know what each fellowship will look like — and that’s a good thing! As we better align our programs with the realities of the artistic process and imagine the creative avenues that will be explored, projects that will be undertaken, and ideas that will germinate, we can’t help but feel excited. 

Through these programs we’ll also be fostering an intentional creative community. Artists will have a deeper, sustained relationship not only with Headlands, but with each other, and with the broader Bay Area arts ecosystem. And for the next two years, we’re giving a real jump-start to that community by working primarily with Bay Area- and California-based artists — including within our Artist in Residence program. The arts community worldwide has been delivered a significant blow from the pandemic, but with 67% of California artists now unemployed and the average artist in our state reporting a loss of $23,857 in income, we’re committed to playing our part in efforts to revive and rebuild the arts right here at home. 

A new Headlands is forming. We’ll still be the place where artists can give shape to their wildest ideas, and where the power and importance of creative thought are manifest. But now, there will be a more equitable structure for supporting that work from the inside out — one that values individual needs, and works collectively across staff, board, and our broader community to meet those needs. This will be our magic. And through it, we’ll tackle the defining issues of our day with creative gusto. We’ll nurture the words, movements, sounds, and images that will give color and vibrancy to our future society. We’ll uplift the visionaries our world requires.