Other Spaces of Collective Dreaming – The Story Behind Cyber Fellows
Cyber Fellows is an artist residency for emerging artists that highlights collective work and peer learning. Funded by the Canada Council for the Arts, Cyber Fellows grew out of a collaboration between Younger than Beyoncé Gallery (YTB), Gudskul Ekosistem, Flux Factory, and Pulse Lab (Dr. Paula Gardner and Research Assistants Katie Huckson and Mairead Stewart). Twenty-one residents were able to participate in this fully virtual, international pilot residency to learn from one another about what it means to co-create a sustainable art ecosystem, to build community, and to motivate each other.
This residency was born from a desire to support artists graduating remotely during the stay-at-home measures effected by the COVID-19 pandemic. YTB Gallery dreamt up and initiated the Cyber Fellows project as a peer learning incubator. Cyber Fellows also aimed to become an accessible and flexible alternative to traditional graduate art programs. By engaging in a supportive and collaborative community, participants could develop important skills as artists.
In addition to building community, Cyber Fellows focused on building novel spaces online for artistic expression. The organization and peer structure of this residency was determined by consulting with community experts and through active research. YTB brought in partner organizations Flux Factory, and Gudskul, and to provide unique insights and strategies in supporting collaborative, community-driven research and learning.
During this planning phase, YTB Gallery, with the support of Katie Huckson and Mairead Stweard of Pulse Lab, conducted interviews with people from Flux Factory and Gudskul, as well as connecting with professionals and organizations internationally. These interviews offered insight into peer-learning and approaches to collaboration. Huckson aggregated the interview data to develop a report that would inform the planning of Cyber Fellows. Utilizing the expertise garnered from interviews, collaborators from YTB, Pulse Lab, Flux Factory, and Gudskul collaboratively drafted a syllabus for Cyber Fellows in the form of a living document that Cyber Fellows participants could later add to and adjust.
Once a syllabus was drafted and the initial planning was complete, a call for proposals was also co-created by organizers from YTB, Huckson and Stewart of Pulse Lab, Flux Factory, and Gudskul, and shared widely. Many provocative, complex, thoughtful applications were received. From these, the first cohort of Cyber Fellows was selected. These residents would meet at the start of this pilot to build community, discuss shared values, and connect with YTB mentors.
Throughout the Cyber Fellows residency organizers from YTB and Gudskul often took facilitation roles in bi-weekly meetings and breakout group activities and discussions with the Cyber Fellows. However, given the collaborative and peer-lead nature of the program, residents and organizers also shared roles and tasks of (virtual) hosting and facilitation, notetaking, graphic recording, and running group activities. During the planning phase, Flux Factory realized they wanted to take on a research project of their own and their role shifted from organizers to Cyber Fellows residency participants.
Under the supervision of YTB Gallery collective, Huckson helped YTB to develop and support the Cyber Fellows program based on the needs of residents as they worked on projects and research. The full process of developing the Cyber Fellows platform, from idea to online presence, can be found on their website.
In September 2022, Huckson, alongside Pulse Lab collaborator Mairead Stewart, conducted interviews and compiled a research report on feedback from participants in the Cyber Fellows pilot program. This research report detailed the experiences of the Cyber Fellows participants and provided organizers with feedback that can be integrated into future programming.
The feedback from Cyber Fellows participants evidenced that the program was generally a positive experience. Although some groups noted experiencing challenges during the residency, with issues such as time management or interpersonal conflicts, participants had mostly positive relationships with their mentors and organizers and appreciated the support provided throughout the residency. The feedback showed that breakout groups and smaller working group sessions were preferred over larger working groups with the entire cohort. Participants tended to value more intimate group settings, allowing them to connect with other fellows and discuss their research projects and interests. Generally, most Cyber Fellows participants were satisfied with the timing, structure, and budget of the pilot program. However, the feedback report also includes suggestions made by participants for improvements which may be implemented by organizers in future iterations of Cyber Fellows.
YTB is currently taking time to reflect, prepare, and fundraise for the next edition of Cyber Fellows. Visit the Cyber Fellows website to learn more about the work done by the fellows, the residency itself, and all the collaborators involved in the project.# Front Page, Current Projects, CyberFellows, Dr. Paula Gardner, Katie Huckson, Mairead Stewart, People
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