TOOL / Sensing Community Needs in the Pandemic
Our living document begins with the critical question, Is it time to get creative? We were compelled in writing it by the contradictory forces of the pandemic: the urgent desire to do feminism in the pandemic, and the overwhelming impulse to do nothing, to radically question productivity, outputs, and keeping busy. Our efforts to enter into conversation with artists and activists to account for our times was nourishing and necessary. But as we moved into the fall, and into an academic calendar framed by remote teaching, we also had to ask, How do we resist the pull of event planning? Of imposing the labour of doing feminism on our community, when everyone feels so threadbare? What’s feminist about doing nothing?
We felt both exhilarated and exhausted by the special journal issues on the pandemic, by new books written over the first stage of confinement, by virtual residencies and online exhibits, remote roundtables and seminars that one could now “attend” around the world. What new and extended community was being imagined? How were we nourished by this activity? How were we also exhausted by it? What new forms of care could be fostered in this flurry of activity and lassitude?
Our community needs check-in emerged out of this predicament, and drew inspiration from the work of Oglála Lakhota artist Kite (http://kitekitekitekite.com/), who was in residency at the FMS in the Fall of 2020. During her time with the FMS, Kite brought together collaborators and co-conspirators, along with the larger Montreal community, to imagine an “Artist’s Almanac”, a research and organizational project to imagine backwards from a future where artists have access to the resources they need and want. (https://feministmediastudio.ca/an-artists-almanac-roundtable-with-suzanne-kite/.
Our Community Needs check-in invitated the FMS community (and potential new community members) to enter into conversation to imagine how the Feminist Media Studio might work from the ground up, providing resources, activities, and potential forms of sanctuary for feminist artists, scholars and activists during the long and enduring pandemic conditions. We specifically meant to undo the anticipatory thrust many institutions had (the FMS among them) to organize events based on the imagined needs of participants and community members. Rather, we meant to open the space to collectively share and identify real needs, constraints, affects, and desires.
The event was organized around two governing questions, meant as prompts for thinking together about our current personal and collective states of affairs:
- What is one thing you don’t want to be doing but are doing?
- What is one thing you do want to do but aren’t doing?
The prompts center on the question of doing, embodying the paradoxical tensions of doing/not doing at the heart of Doing Feminism in the Pandemic. They aim to identify BOTH the activities, tasks and obligations that are leading to our collective and differential exhaustion, AND open the space to dream of what one would want to do absent these pressures. Appraisal and imagination. Identification and idealization. The prompts sought to open up a conversation on how we might imagine other ways of doing and being in the pandemic, as intersectional feminists.
The Community Needs check-in had a second goal, performative in nature: to produce a collective map of our obligations and aspirations as a trace of the costs and possibilities of doing feminism in the pandemic, as a road map of our impasses, and a chart of potential ways out of those impasses in and through feminist practice. In collecting our collaborative musings, we were building an artefact of the pandemic, a document to mark the pressures and perturbations of our moment. The Community Needs mind maps serve as guides and potential road maps for others seeking to elaborate community needs and support networks within their communities.
The meeting itself was held via Zoom [see technological acknowledgement], moderated by three members of the FMS. We formed two sets of breakout rooms around each of the two prompts, and moderators took notes onto a shared whiteboard to report back to the larger group. In sharing discussions from the breakout rooms, we were able to echo each others’ discussions and observations, to identify guiding threads, and to synthesize and properly attune ourselves to our community’s needs.
Following the meeting, we synthesized the notes into two mind maps, each organized around the two prompts. What we found were the material conditions undergirding our sense of precarity, obligation, pressure and confinement, and the effects of these conditions on our capacity to imagine doing feminism otherwise. What we imagined together was a road map for more informal and shared sites of collaboration and co-creation, and new forms of recognition for what we do, individually and collectively, on a daily basis in the pandemic.
We see these maps as fluid and shifting, bound to the participants who attended the event, the institutional nature of the Feminist Media Studio, and the time at which we checked-in. But we see the exercise as a vital experiment for us as an institution with the stability and resources of the university behind us, to nurture community members’ needs, particularly in times of ongoing duress and precarity.