RESHAPE (Reflect, Share, Practice, Experiment) is a 3-year project aimed at developing new organisational models for a fair, sustainable, solidary and geographically balanced arts ecosystem in Europe and in the South Mediterranean countries.
Forty artists and art professionals (we call them ‘Reshapers’) are working in small groups on developing answers and proposals around 5 complementary topics such as value of art in social fabric, fair governance, solidarity funding, trans/post national practices, and art and citizenship. In addition to these workshops in small groups, all Reshapers work together for a week in the form of an ‘Intensive’: one was held in Cluj in November 2019, and a second was planned for 9 to 13 March in Zagreb, Croatia.
Sixty-five participants from 26 countries were expected to follow the ‘Intensive’ programme in Zagreb: 40 Reshapers, the facilitators of the five trajectories, 13 partners and 3 advisers and guest speakers. The programme would consist of internal meetings (trajectory meetings, partner meetings, meetings between facilitators and plenary meetings) as well as meetings with local cultural practitioners in which they share their innovative organisational practices in the form of presentations and workshops. These are meant to be a source of inspiration.
On 2 March, one week before the Zagreb Intensive, a number of participants expressed concerns about the spread of the Corona Virus in Europe: could infections not spread in such a group, would participants be able to return, what about uncertain quarantine measures, will borders be closed, and there were concerns about the participants’ health and that of their families. On the other hand, participants were looking forward to meeting and working together. Partner and local organiser Pogon had invested months of work in preparing the programme. All flights, train and bus tickets as well as hotel accommodations had been booked and paid for.
At an emergency meeting open to the entire RESHAPE community on Thursday evening 5 March, a decision was mutually taken to cancel the physical meeting and the public programme in Zagreb, and to schedule a remote meeting for some 65 participants for the same dates.
In taking this decision, the diverse opinions on the matter, the differing contexts of the participants, and their individual and deeply personal approaches to dealing with this crisis were taken into account.
Postponement was not an option since the participants believed it was crucial to continue working and not allow this crisis to jeopardise the tremendous effort, dedication and creative work that had already been put into RESHAPE. Participants felt that the coming crisis would require more creative and collective thinking than ever.
Alternatives such as some participants travelling to Zagreb and the rest following remotely were considered unfair. Being based in different countries, with different policies and medical capacities, leaving the decision whether or not to come to Zagreb to each person, would amount to relying on privilege.
Deciding collectively to work between 9 and 13 March remotely was an act of solidarity between all participants.
This left us three days to convert the physical meeting into a digital meeting, to cancel travel and accommodation arrangements as well as all arrangements with speakers, workshops and meetings with the local art scene.
On Friday 6 March, Project coordinator Milica Ilić communicated the following to all participants: “We will use this opportunity to explore alternative and creative ways to work remotely. A number of people in the community have volunteered to help in the process of transforming our meeting into a non-physical gathering. We will be informing you of the methods and tools we will use for this. Please let us know by direct mail if you would like to join this task group.”
None of the partners, facilitators or Reshapers had experience with large-scale remote gatherings: 65 persons over a period of 5 days. There was fear and discomfort with respect to the unknown, but also excitement at the opportunity to experiment and take on this challenge together.
How to moderate 65 people in a remote environment? How to move from a plenary meeting to break-out sessions and back to a plenary? Conversational style, ambiance and body language are different in a digital environment. It’s difficult to concentrate in front of a screen for more than an hour. Everyone will be at home, some with their children and partners. And how to deal with the fun and playfulness necessary for community building?
During the weekend of 7 and 8 March, facilitators Katarina Pavić, Shelagh Wright and Peter Jenkinson prepared proposals for the first and the second day of the Intensive. On Sunday morning their proposals were discussed by a group of partners and facilitators.
It was decided to retain the originally planned Zagreb schedule for the RESHAPE internal meetings: the plenary meeting with updates and feedback on the trajectory work in smaller groups, connecting the trajectories, a plenary meeting and workgroups on storytelling, meetings within each trajectory, partner meetings and daily meetings between facilitators, as well as a plenary wrap-up and the next steps to be taken.
The public programme with encounters and discussions with local Zagreb artists was cancelled as were the keynotes by experts. The idea to weave some of the insights from the local Zagreb cultural scene into the remote programme, in order to ensure a variety of outside experiences and voices, was dropped because it was too difficult to rethink them into a remote form on such short notice. Pogon proposed adding parts of the local Zagreb programme to the final conference to be held in Ljubljana in January 2021.
The lectures and keynote speakers were also cancelled. Unlike working and discussing together online, it is hard to follow lectures online. Also, many lectures by guest speakers such as Pascal Gielen, Renata Salecl and Vincent Liegey can already be found online. The organisers did not want to exhaust participants with more online material.
The focus for this RESHAPE Remote Intensive was placed on the internal work: on the further development of prototypes in each trajectory, and on the interrelations between them. This was a useful decision for the process.
We decided to focus on getting accustomed to the virtual setting during the first plenary session of Monday 9 March. Starting with presentations and progress reports on the first day of the remote Intensive would be too much too soon. It would put a lot of pressure on the Reshapers to do presentations without understanding the new environment. We decided to take time to ‘warm up’: 3 hours including 2 short breaks (working in virtual environments requires breaks after 50 minutes). The plenary meeting with updates and feedback on the trajectory work was scheduled for Tuesday 10 March. The session on prototyping as a way of storytelling was planned for Wednesday 11 March.
We would be using Zoom Pro, a reliable cloud platform for video and audio conferencing, chat, and webinars. Moderating the conversation and moderating the technical aspects are separate tasks performed by different persons.
It’s important to include play in this digital
environment, to ensure that meeting is more than just talking. We
considered funny pictures, games, writing jokes, making playlists,
creating short performances and partaking of online drinks. A meeting
could be started by showing our respective environments and the weather
outside. These are important to community building.
Finally, we agreed to be flexible and make room for the unpredictable. Facilitators would speak each day to monitor the progress of the digital process. Partners would meet via Zoom on Wednesday and Friday as scheduled.
The Intensive started on Monday 9 March with a plenary meeting from 2 to 5 pm. Some 60 participants took part in this Zoom gathering: five Reshapers were unable to make it due to difficult situations at home.
At the time of this Intensive, many Reshapers – artists or art and cultural workers – were dealing with the many ongoing cancellations due to borders being closed and public events being cancelled. The loss of investments and income put pressure on the meeting and confirmed the urgent need to ‘reshape’.
At the first introductory session, Milica Illić reminded us of the collective decision to work remotely taken out of solidarity, and the opportunity to reshape our way of working based on care and trust when circumstances prevent us from meeting physically. Having already worked one year and completed two workshops for each trajectory, the entire week was dedicated to refining the work within each trajectory and to producing cross-trajectory feedback. This feedback stimulates the process in each group, the relationships between the proposals and the development of an integrated publication.
Marijana Rimanić explained how we would be working together in this environment, using multiple digital rooms for the different types of meetings: plenary, per trajectory and cross-trajectory. This was followed by an introduction to Zoom (camera and microphone, mute/unmute, chat, screen sharing, as well as raising your hand and lowering it when finished).
At the second session, Rarița Zbranca explored the finer points of using the remote environment in order to increase participant comfort and to brainstorm on what is possible in this space. One of the ideas that emerged was dressing in pink on Tuesday. Sam proposed a performance on Friday.
At the third session, Rarița Zbranca reviewed the week’s programme and how it would take place remotely: the plenary sessions and the smaller workshops, the use of Zoom combined with Google Drive documents to work on collectively, and the Miro tool in which the results of work sessions can be presented.
Participants were asked to write down their expectations for the week in two words, hold them in front of the camera and type them in the chat box: order and chaos, explore and learn from each other, come together, action and drawing, focus, caring, learning and listening, working in new ways, stable connection in unstable times, solidarity, content no framing, response ability, disobedience, light in darkness, digital neurons of collectivity, solidarity again, advantage, challenge, innovation creativity, digital hospitality, cultivate positivity, learning writing backwards, collective creative action…
The session ended with online drinks.
The session of Tuesday 10 March dealt with the progress in each trajectory and included cross-trajectory discussions. It was moderated by Davor Mišković of art space Drugo More in Rijeka, Croatia. Davor Mišković is also a Reshape adviser.
The original idea of a plenary session with short presentations, followed by feedback between trajectories in smaller groups (world café format), was transformed into a plenary session on Zoom lasting one hour. Each trajectory gave a 10-minute presentation on the progress of their prototyping, based on the following questions: Tell us where you are and what have you been working on? What obstacles are you facing right now? What might be your next steps?
Katarina Pavić, Shelagh Wright and Peter Jenkinson proposed 10 parallel break-out sessions for 6 participants each during the weekend: 5 groups on each of the topics moderated by the facilitators of each trajectory, and 5 groups moderated by a partner. Each participant would be assigned to a group to ensure the right mix. This appeared to be too complicated, so it was decided to organise only 5 parallel break-out sessions on each RESHAPE topic, with 10 to 12 participants each, moderated by the facilitators of each trajectory. Participants could freely choose their session by putting their name in the break-out session of their choice in a Google Drive document.
Each break-out session consisted of the facilitator of the RESHAPE topic and a number of Reshapers from that group, Reshapers from other groups, partners and advisers. The discussion was structured using the following questions: What have you heard/seen that you find particularly interesting/relevant/useful? What do you need to better understand the shared ideas/proposals/research? How could this be useful to your practice/to your organisation?
The discussion in small groups was of high quality and was seen as very productive for the facilitator and the Reshapers.
The plenary presentations went smoothly: some shared the documents they were working on with the group via the ‘share screen’ option.
Zoom functionality facilitates dividing a plenary group into break-out sessions, followed again by a plenary meeting, by putting the right names into the right groups beforehand. All participants remain in the same Zoom session and are automatically transferred to the right group after a short break. Many problems arose concerning the shift from plenary into break-out sessions: these were addressed by Milica Illić, which prevented her from participating in one of the groups. A dedicated technical coordinator is necessary in large groups with complex subgroups, separate from the moderation and coordination tasks.
The cross-trajectory discussions were an ideal warm-up to the storytelling session by Joris Janssens and Sofie Joye of Wednesday 11 March.
The Wednesday session of 11 March ‘Reshaping the narratives’ was scheduled between 2 and 5:30 pm. The session aimed to place the prototypes of the 5 trajectories into the Reshape narrative of change, with the goal of detecting relationships between trajectories and preparing everyone for a sensitising narrative in the form of a publication in the autumn intended for the broader arts sector.
Joris Janssens and Sofie Joye had devised a live meeting with a plenary introduction of 30 minutes, followed by working groups for each trajectory and one working group for partners and advisers, followed by a final plenary look at the work of the different groups. They planned to work with the transition dynamics “X-curve” proposed by the Dutch Research Institute for Transitions (DRIFT), which enables a visual representation of a transition trajectory by mapping the current pressures, and imagining a preferred future arts ecosystem. These pressures and ideas were to be harvested via sticky notes and put into a white paper.
This format was transformed into a digital working session. After the plenary meeting via Zoom in which Joris and Sofie explained the X-curve, participants were divided into 6 working groups that were programmed in advance in the Zoom platform: participants and facilitators of each trajectory formed 5 virtual meeting rooms. A 6th virtual meeting room was reserved for partners and advisers. As hosts of this meeting, Joris and Sofie were able to use Zoom functionality that allows the hosts of a discussion to visit the different meeting rooms to monitor the process.
Each group defined the pressures and solutions via keywords or short sentences, which were noted down using a Google Sheets template, and then transferred as digital sticky notes. The questions were: What are the dominant unsustainable practices? How do they persist? How can we stop them? What prototypes did you develop in your group? Any other radical or inspiring experiments? What could help accelerate these prototypes and experiments? Where do you see sustainable practices accelerating? What are the sustainable practices and values in your system? What do we need to stop doing?
During a 30 minute break, Joris and Sofie transferred the notes from the Google Sheets of the 6 groups to digital sticky notes, which were placed on a virtual X-curve for each group in MIRO, a digital whiteboard. At the plenary session all participants had access to the 6 digital whiteboards.
After this session, Joris and Sofie made one collective whiteboard with the X-curve in which the answers of the 6 groups to the different questions were clustered and merged into an overall image.
This exercise was easily implemented using Zoom (plenary and parallel workgroups), Google Sheets and Miro. Writing digitally in Google Sheets has the advantage that the process related to virtual sticky posts is digital from the start. The exercise also facilitated the prototyping process in the different trajectories.
The closing Session ‘Wrap up and next steps’, held from 4 to 6:60 pm, was moderated by Silvia Bottiroli of DAS Theatre. Silvia Bottiroli is also a RESHAPE adviser. The form was a normal Zoom session with all Reshapers, facilitators, partners and advisers present.
It was structured in two parts: (1) recognising and discussing the current crisis and what it means for all of us and for the RESHAPE process, not knowing how the crisis will evolve, and (2) looking back on this ‘Intensive’ and the issues and insights that emerged in the groups (facilitators, Reshapers and partners).
The session ended with the sharing of short answers to three questions that were written on paper, displayed on the screen and written into the chat box.
- Look back at what happened this week (what was best, what was the hardest) and choose one take-away from the week?
- What did we learn this week about working together, what might be explored further in the future?
- What are we grateful for?
The result was an amazing and moving outburst of ideas and reflections that confirmed this week’s success in working together remotely.
There are positive and negative aspects to working remotely for a week in a large group.
- Greater concentration was possible in moderated sessions since participants needed to mute and unmute to speak: the focus was on listening and thinking before speaking.
- The moderator is able to mute and unmute, and can place participants in subgroups.
- The combination of video conferencing and online tools such as Google Documents and Sheets as well as visualisation tools such as MIRO worked perfectly.
- Sessions could be recorded.
- Working in front of a screen is exhausting and difficult to do for an entire day.
- Obstacle of the screen: there is less attention to non-verbal communication.
- Large groups need to divide up the moderation task and the technical follow-up task of moderating (mute/unmute) and splitting up the groups.