An Open Letter To Future Co-Conspirators
Dear Friends, Fellows, & Friends-to-be,
Our desire to reinvigorate artists’ postsecondary education set this project in motion. Though we started it alone, we soon realized that many artists shared the same desire. We’d been feeling disappointed by the lack of collectivity in arts education, and the lack of opportunity after graduation. As a collective offering learning platforms, we asked ourselves: What else do artists need? How do we build a program that can sustain our own growth as artists, while supporting artists in the long run? How can we create a platform that is rooted in care, mentorship, and horizontal growth, while privileging friendship? These questions prompted us to create the Cyber Fellows program in 2021.
Common obstacles in artists’ postsecondary education include affordability, access, diversity of curricula, diversity of educators, and opportunities to support their creative practice beyond graduation. These challenges resonated with many more artists than we were able to support in our first iteration of Cyber Fellows. The pilot year of the program gave us a glimpse into future possibilities for creative education. This new vision of creative education offers an opportunity for reflection, sharing, and feedback.
YTB met while completing our MFAs, and during our time together, we valued the comradeship with our cohort; receiving mentorship from artists with blossoming careers; having access to community, studio space, and rigorous feedback; and opportunities to practise expressing our own thoughts through writing and presentation.
Yet, in the eight years since graduating, we’ve often asked each other: was getting a degree worth it? The answer is still up for debate: the spike in the number of artists with graduate degrees has strangled the path to teaching in postsecondary institutions as a means of supporting yourself as an artist. Only the few can hope to find employment in academia upon graduating, and the replacement tenure and tenure-track positions available to contract sessional instructors means that only the lucky few can hope to make a stable living from this career path. But is gainful employment the end goal of humanities postsecondary education? If the answer is, “No, the value of gaining knowledge should be sufficient,” then why graduate? If the only reward on the other side is a piece of paper and a job in arts administration that pays 40k annually, then why plunge yourself further into debt?
SO, WE LISTED WHAT WE WISHED OUR DEGREES GAVE US MORE ACCESS TO:
- Help with budgeting
- Pitching and proposing projects
- Opportunities to learn from a diverse group of creative practitioners working outside of academia
- More information about potential career paths outside of teaching
- Creating reading lists and curricula for independent study
- Ongoing support, community, and connection after graduation
FROM THESE LISTS OF NEEDS, WE IDENTIFIED A KEY INSTITUTIONAL DYNAMIC THAT WE WANTED TO SHIFT:
NO TEACHERS, ONLY STUDENTS –
Everyone is always learning. While some people know more about some things than others, we all learn more when we teach each other what we know. We know this from our own experience: we learned from and taught our peers in our MFA cohorts, and we’ve relied on these informal peer-education networks since we graduated. This approach to learning and teaching avoids replicating the hierarchical power dynamics within arts education, and arts institutions in general.
Our Cyber Fellows program grew from our desire and commitment to meeting these identified needs through peer learning. But we’re not done. This project is bigger than us, and we want to keep building community while growing in a gentle, sustainable, rhizomatic way. It’s important to us to also highlight that we are not alone in this, and that we are part of a constellation of contemporaries who are also imagining future possibilities for creative education and working to create space to learn together online.
If you want to receive updates about our explorations in peer-learning, sign up for our mailing list. Send us an email if you have ideas and suggestions for what you want to see. Below, we’ve made a manifesto of the educational conditions we aim to create. They are layers of compost for a fertile soil. Do you have anything to add?
NOW THAT WE HAVE SEIZED THE MEANS OF EDUCATION, CAN WE ALLOW OURSELVES TO…
- Share everything openly
- Compile libraries and reading lists
- Form group chats, email chains, and discussion boards
- Share our ideas in accessible places
- Ask ourselves “who is excluded?” and take immediate steps towards including them
- Re-examine ideas we accepted early in our education
- Question definitions of productivity
- Redetermine definitions of success
- Write our own contracts
- Gather together
- Argue respectfully
- Find and create spaces for creation
- Grow gardens
- Prepare food together
- Meet weekly, monthly, annually, and whenever we run into each other
- Start discussions that spill over allotted times and sprawl out of meeting rooms, into hallways, message threads, parks, and sidewalks
- Find our own teachers
- Be our own teachers
- Dream dreams so enormous they keep us awake at night
- Make plans
- Prepare to-do lists
- Be flexible with deadlines
- Go back to the drawing board
- Prepare for a future all our own
- Find stability
- Get fairly compensated for our labour
Emerging artists start their careers without the comprehensive set of career-development tools they need to thrive. Students finish art school with the ability to make and talk about their artwork. But when it comes to promoting themselves and finding a way to earn a living, they have been taught outdated skills that worked for a previous generation when everything about the art market, the job market, and the economy was different. This is especially true during the economic crisis catalyzed by COVID-19.
Each cohort of emerging artists faces different challenges, and it’s hard to predict what those challenges will be. We will collaborate with emerging artists to create a platform responding to what they want to learn, and what they wish to teach their peers.
We are centred on providing what’s needed. When you respond to need, it’s important that you’re not the only one responding—otherwise you’ll never fulfil the gap. We hope to continue to attract like-minded arts practitioners who are working towards building something similar. Perhaps we could build something together that can foster an abundance of sustainable opportunities through collectivity and the sharing of our resources.