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An Open Letter

two different coloured hands outstretched grasping for each other.

Dear Friends, Fellows, & Friends-to-be,

We started this endeavour alone, but we soon realized we were far from companionless in our longing for a reinvigoration of artists’ postsecondary education.

The problems we identified: affordability, access, diversity of curricula, diversity of educators, and opportunities to support creative practice beyond ‘graduation’ from education institutions, resonated with many more people than we were able to support in our first iteration of Cyber Fellows. We have come to a juncture where we have a glimpse into how creative education could be. It offers an opportunity for reflection, sharing, and feedback.

We met while completing our MFAs, and, in the 8 years since graduating, we often ask each other; was it worth it? The answer is up for debate: the spike in the number of graduates in higher education in the arts has strangled the path to teaching in post-secondary institutions as a means of supporting yourself as an artist. Only the few can hope to find employment in academia once graduating, and the replacement tenure and tenure-track positions with contract sessional instructors means that only the lucky few can hope to make a stable living from this career path. It’s valid to question whether the purpose of humanities postsecondary education is gainful employment at the end, but if the answer is ‘no, the value of knowledge should be sufficient’, then why graduate? Why plunge yourself further into debt, if the only reward on the other side is a piece of paper and an arts admin job that pays 40k annually?

We began by listing the things in graduate school that were valuable to us:

  • A cohort,
  • Mentorship from artists with blossoming careers,
  • Access to community,
  • Studio space,
  • Rigorous feedback,
  • Plenty of practice expressing our own thoughts through writing and presentation.

Then, we listed things we wished we had 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 career paths outside of teaching,
  • Input into reading lists and curricula, ongoing support, community,
  • 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 still a learner, some people know more about some things than others, but we all learn more when we all teach what we know.

This came from our own experience learning from our peers in MFA cohorts, and relying on our networks once we graduated. This change is a vital part of our goal to not replicate the hierarchical power dynamics in arts education and arts institutions in general.

From these identified needs, and this commitment to peer learning, Cyber Fellows began. But we’re not done. We understand that this project is bigger than us, and we want to build community around this idea and keep growing in a gentle, sustainable, rhizomatic way.

If you want to hear more updates about our explorations in peer-learning, sign up to our mailing list. Send us an email if you have ideas, suggestions, and things you want to see. Below, we’ve made a sort of list/manifesto of the educational conditions we would like to create. They are layers of compost for a fertile soil. Do you have anything to add?

Now, 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, discussion boards
  • share our ideas in accessible places
  • ask ourselves “who is excluded?” and take immediate steps towards their inclusion
  • reexamine ideas we accepted early in our education
  • question definitions of productivity
  • redetermine definitions of success
  • write our own contracts
  • gather
  • argue, respectfully
  • find and create space for creation
  • grow gardens
  • prepare food together
  • meet weekly, monthly, annually, 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 of our own
  • find stability
  • get fairly compensated for our labour
  • begin

Emerging artists start their careers without a comprehensive set of career-development tools they need. 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 things 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 has different challenges, 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 know and what they wish to teach to their peers.

The YTB team

two hands, one light brown and the other darker brown, grasping each other