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“Together, We Dance Alone”: Building a Collective Toolkit for Creatives in a Pandemic

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Abstract

How can design thinking respond to moments of crisis like covid-19 with sensitivity, in ways that transcend disciplinary and cultural divides? How can collective paralysis foster collective action? This article explores the possibilities and limitations of co-designing mutual aid in times of crisis through the case study of #covidcreativestoolkit, a crowdsourced compilation of free resources, from digital gathering and organising tools to syllabi, that aimed to support creative practitioners who needed to go digital in a crisis.
Amade up of recursive loops of cause
and eect. Such encounters “rewire
our imaginations,” the science ction
author Kim Stanley Robinson argues
[3]. As such, they light res of possibility
inside us—the kind of collective
sonic booms that can enable, ever so
briey, alternative ways of living-with
to emerge. The theorists Stuart Hall
and Doreen Massey have described
these as the cracks that dismantle
and transform the systems of unequal
power that structure our society [4].
How can design thinking respond to
such moments of crisis and opportunity
with sensitivity, in ways that transcend
disciplinary and cultural divides? How
It seems to me that, if we can talk
about such a thing as the tasks of
resilience, then today these tasks
will share that quality of taking
responsibility: not an impossible,
meaningless responsibility for the
world in general, but one that is
specic and practical, and may be
dierent for each of us.
—Dougald Hine [1]
As the twin towers smoldered on
September 11, 2001, the electronic
music composer William Basinski
produced The Disintegration Loops,
a recording of decades-old tapes
crumbling into decay alongside live
footage of that fateful day’s sunset in
ruins [2]. In doing so, the collective
paralysis of a historic disaster became
something timeless—and 20 years later
Basinski’s piece continues to compel
people to come together and share it in
spaces of eulogy and renewal. Creative
responses to crises like this, which
ask us not only to consume but also to
reect and rebuild, remind us just how
interconnected we all are, our lives
Together,
We Dance
Alone
Building a Collective Toolkit
for Creatives in a Pandemic
Kat Braybrooke, University of Sussex and King’s College London
@INTERACTIONSMAG68 INTERACTIONS JULY–AUGUST 2020
can collective paralysis foster collective
action?
These were the kinds of questions
that consumed my attention as the
Covid-19 pandemic descended upon us.
I work on projects such as CreaTures,
the Mozilla Festival, and Superrr [5],
which bring people together to imagine
new socioecological futures across the
arts and cultural industries. The more I
spoke to the creative practitioners with
whom I have collaborated, however—
artists, makers, designers, hackers,
curators, and educators—the more
I started to realize just how hard-hit
many of them would be by the persistent
uncertainties of the virus and its
ramications.
Those with precarious livelihoods
are faced with two emergencies at
once: The rst, a health crisis; the
second, economic instability. The data
on this is already striking: Museums
and archaeological sites from Egypt to
Asia have had to close their doors and
furlough sta for months, and a report
by the Fairwork Foundation indicates
that half of the world’s estimated 50
million gig workers have already lost
their jobs [6]. In the U.K. and Europe,
a majority of arts, heritage, and culture
charities are under signicant threat,
and over 60 percent of makers surveyed
by the Crafts Council [7] report a loss
of income of over £5,000 in the next
six months. In the U.S., a census of
freelance art workers [8] by Art Handler
found that 90 percent do not have paid
leave, and 80 percent are worried about
rent. An open letter to museums and
galleries [9], meanwhile, is making
the rounds to express concern about
increasing layos targeting precarious
sta at cultural institutions like MoMA
and LA MOCA. Most worryingly, we
are seeing creatives across all sectors
state that they lack access to the support
and help they need.
The Covid Creatives Toolkit (http://
bit.ly/CovidCreativesToolkit) emerged
from these uncertainties as a mutual-
aid eort aimed at oering some of
that much-needed support, by helping
creative practitioners who needed to
quickly migrate their practice onto
digital places and spaces as a result
of the virus. My collaborators and I
noticed that many of the kits, guides,
and other resources that were currently
being populated with artists, designers,
and creatives in mind remained
geographically skewed toward North
American perspectives and did not
allow external contributions. For these
reasons, we wanted to oer an open
resource focused on free oerings with
a global reach that could be maintained
by creatives themselves. Starting from
an open call and a tweet asking for
help, the kit’s contents were compiled
by 30 curators and countless unnamed
contributors worldwide, who came
to it from across the arts, technology,
community, academia, and gig work.
As such, the toolkit has become
a living archive that articulates
what co-creation as a form of care
making can look like in a crisis.
Public contributions to the kit have
varied widely, from mutual education
and collaborative digital gatherings
aimed at challenging social isolation,
such as the Uroboros Festival,
ANTIUNIVERSITY, and Disruptive
Fridays [10], as well as lm lists,
meditative browser extensions for
BAME communities, and digital
dance parties to promote well-being.
The eight featured chapters of the
toolkit, from “Digital Gathering
Spaces” to “Digital Tools for Creation
and Support” to “Digital Well-being,”
are wide in scope and oer ongoing
documentation of the resources that
creatives most need as the pandemic
progresses. Chapter 8, for example,
features much-needed data points
on how Covid-19 is impacting
creatives. Initially suggested by
an anonymous contributor, it has
evolved into one of the kit’s most
valuable oerings. Another primary
focus of the kit emerged from public
requests for leads on organizing and
bargaining for collective rights, with
INTERACTIONS.ACM.ORG JULY–AUGUST 2020 INTERACTIONS 69
IMAGE B Y KAT BRAYBR OOKE
were facing imminent threat to their
livelihoods… but when the invitation
came to contribute to curating the
toolkit, I immediately agreed, with
thanks. T his was because it clearly
embodied openness and humility; it
was not asking people to do things
for particular outcomes. Rather,
it held the space to share, but with
care. This means acknowledgment
of the diverse needs of many different
creative practitioners in vastly different
situations; calling out to those who
may not be thinking about what a
toolkit might offer to them as a reader
or contributor; and ensuring that if
they want to, their voices are explicitly
heard.
—Jaz Hee-jeong Choi,
Director, Care-full Design Lab,
RMIT School of Design,
Melbourne, Australia
I really enjoyed the process of curating
the Creatives Toolkit, and particularly
the speed and ease of collaboration with
the other curators. Information (and
misinformation) about Covid has been
spreading at an unprecedented scale, and
communities need support to make sense
of it. The curators of the various response
kits and guides are fundamentally
sensemakers: T hey scan, lter, and
organize the informational landscape as
an act of collective care, emphasiz[ing]
form a dierent kind of being together, of
sharing dreams. How can we continue to
forge a popular conscious ness while being
physically apart?
Tiany Sia,
Writer, artist, lm producer,
Hong Kong
As a Korean on an extended journey
back to Australia just as the borders
were closing around the world, I was
acutely aware of the rapid changes in
people’s perceptions and behaviors in
response to Covid-19. Many, including
myself, find themselves in between
the need to do more of everything, like
talking about and making or designing
things, and do less of everything
we had been doing collectively to
date, and perhaps try to listen and/
or reflect instead. For this reason,
I refused to participate in or share
calls for immediate actions, especially
those calling for “doing more” from
creative practitioners, many of whom
Like Basinski’s Disintegration Loops, the
Covid Creatives Toolkit is a product of
its time, a reminder of how Covid-19 has
rewired our imaginations.
contributions from organizations
that take action against exploitative
practices such as the UVW Designers
& Cultural Workers Union and
FrenaLaCurva [11].
The Covid Creatives Toolkit has
also beneted from the eorts of a
decentralized curatorial team, made up
of creatives around the world who have
volunteered their time to help compile
it. Here are some reections on the
co-creation process from ve of those
curators, in their own words:
It is such a strange time for everyone, and
some people might be able to cope with this
lockdown and anxiety better than othe rs.
Many digital creatives are uent in using
network tech to feel connected, but in many
cases there is a need to have an anchor or
a new routine to keep grounded (while the
ground is shifting ) and to have a strong
base to continue be creative. I believe that
this is what the Covid Creatives Toolkit is
providing—a resource for everyone to feel
anchored.
—Kasia Molga,
Design fusionist,
Margate, U.K.
Digital communication is insucient in
many ways, but to envision ne w forms
of community, we must practice care
and mutual aid—in its multitudinal
forms—across long distance. Not just in
these times , but in this next long century.
Resistance against a vir us is a global eort.
Activism bends around these circuits,
and at best, manifests as transnational
eorts , sharing digital resources, methods,
and tools. Creative prac tices must follow
suit. And digital life expands not just as
modes for where production happens;
we have to trust in the new ways of
togetherness. For the Covid Creatives
Toolkit, my contributions were mostly
focused on c inema. How can we watch
together ac ross time zones? How can we
share work, experimental lms , which
were other wise kept in the annals of e mail
archives or shown at festivals? Through
cinema upon these new channels, we must
IMAGE B Y TIMUR TUKUS BAYEV / SHUT TERSTOC K.COM
@INTERACTIONSMAG70 INTERACTIONS JULY–AUGUST 2020
A RESPONSIVE KIND OF DESIGN
elements that resonate with the lived
experience and needs of a community.
—Eirini Malliaraki,
Alan Turing Institute,
London
I see a unique role for online forms
of gathering that are structurally
multidisciplinary. Like a bazaar, they
are organized around the realization
that people coming together from
dierent backgrounds have more to oer
to and consequently more to gain from
each other. Compared to their oine
equivalents, online community eorts
need to work extra hard to establish
and maintain trust. What makes people
dedicate time and attention to an online
space? How does a communal space
embody trust and where does it come
from? Can it be earned or transferred?
I feel that through the personal
approach in curation and sharing, the
Covid Creatives Toolkit did a great
job at building on existing networks of
trust and is an excellent example of a
framework for collective value creation
via distributed contributions.
—Philo van Kemenade,
Storytellers United,
Hilversum, Netherlands
Decentralized co-creation also has
its limitations, however. The Covid
Creatives Toolkit has required the
dedicated attention of many people
volunteering their time to manage its
contributions and disseminate it widely
enough to include diverse perspectives.
It has been a challenge to gather non-
English content that does not originate
from Europe or North America, and
the limited translation capacities of
Google Docs mean it is less replicable
than I had hoped. Free resources like
the Creatives Toolkit are also left with
far too few options for hosting their
content on easily accessible digital
spaces. As a result, projects of this
kind must use free tools provided by
proprietary digital platforms, which
gather revenue from the data traces of
their own users. We also currently lack
the socia l infrastructure to collaborate
with others creating similar toolkits
elsewhere—and curators like Eirini
Malliaraki have rightly asked why we
cannot foster resilience not only within
the many dierent communities aected
by Covid-19, but also between them.
These experiences illustrate how
the process of taking care, dened
by Maria Puig de la Bellacasa as
“those doings needed to create, hold
together, and sustain life’s essential
heterogeneity by creating relation, in
ways that recognize interdependence”
[12], can emerge through co-creation
in times of crisis in ways that build
solidarity—and also how that process
may be both messy and complicated.
Like Basinski’s Disintegration
Loops, the Covid Creatives Toolkit
is a product of its time, a reminder
of how Covid-19 has rewired our
imaginations. It is a reection of the
mutual-aid networks built around it,
and the challenges they face. In the
words of the Zapatistas, it is a “world
where many worlds t.” By coming
together in a time when so many
of those involved are isolated and
vulnerable to new forms of precarity,
mutual-aid toolkits teach us that
the claim of knowing something is
inconceivable without acknowledging
the multitude of interdependencies
that have made that knowledge
possible. As the anthropologist Arturo
Escobar puts it, “All creation is
collective, emergent, and relational; it
involves historically and epistemically
situated persons—[and] never
autonomous individuals” [13]. I
believe it is in these collective worlds
upon worlds in all their messiness that
the real work of design thinking as a
viable form of future-making begins.
For it is in such spaces of collective co-
creation that we learn who we really
are as a species and as a biosphere, and
who we really want to become.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
I would like to thank the following
people in particular for volunteering
their time to co-create the Covid
Creatives Toolkit as its curators
and allies: Marc Barto, Katy Beale,
Andrea Botero, Tanya Boyarkina, Jaz
Hee-jeong Choi, Hanna Cho, Sophie
Dixon, Tracy Gagnon, Janet Gunter,
Lara Houston, Sophie Huckeld,
Philo van Kemenade, Jamilla Knight,
Helen Leigh, Ann Light, Thor
Magnusson, Eirini Malliaraki, Mauree
Aki Matsusaka, Kasia Molga, Dina
Ntziora, Mirena Papadimitriou,
Annika Richterich, Anika Saigal,
Anouska Samms, Tiany Sia,
Andrew Sleigh, Alex Taylor, and the
CreaTures network of researchers
and practitioners, who are developing
creative practices for transformational
futures across Europe, for their
support and inspiration. I would also
like to thank the many who continue
to make suggestions, share, and
maintain the toolkit. As Innervisions
puts it: “Together, we dance alone.”
Endnotes
1. Hine, D. The dark shapes ahead. Jul.
10, 2012; http://dougald.nu/the-dark-
shapes-ahead/
2. A recording of T he Disintegration Loops
is available at https://williambasinski.
bandcamp.com/album/the-
disintegration-loops
3. Robinson, K.S. The coronavirus is
rewriting our imaginations. The New
Yorker. May 1, 2020; https://www.
newyorker.com/culture/annals-of-
inquiry/the-coronavirus-and-our-future
4. Hall, S., Massey, D. and Rustin, M.,
eds. After Neoliberalism? The Killburn
Manifesto . Vo l. 53. Lawrence & Wishart,
London, 2013; https://www.lwbooks.
co.uk/soundings/kilburn-manifesto
5. See http://creatures-eu.org/; https://
www.mozillafestival.org/en/; https://
superrr.net/community
6. https://fair.work/fairwork-releases-
report-on-platform-responses-to-
co v id-19/
7. https://www.craftscouncil.org.uk/
articles/crafts-council-survey-of-impact-
of-covid19-on-makers/
8. http://art-handler.com/covid-19.jpg
9. https://docs.google.com/forms/
d/11z1w w u3m eYdLeYoz GI _O C zoExpx K-
DiH0DmkrXn5qr4/viewform?edit_
requested=true
10. See https://www.uroboros.design/;
https://2020.antiun iversity.org/;
https://www.disruptionlab.org/fridays
11. See https://www.uvw union.org.uk/
design-culture-workers; https://
frenalacurva.net/
12. de la Bellacasa, M.P. ‘Nothing comes
without its world’: Thinking with care.
The So ciological R eview 60, 2 (2012),
197–216.
13. Escobar, A. Des igns for the Pluriv erse.
Duke Univ. Press, Durham, NC, 2018.
Kat Braybrooke is a spatial anthropologist
and designer whose wor k explores the critic al
implications of creati ve communities and
spaces in places like Europe and China, with
a focus on issues of social and environmental
justice. She is currently a research fellow
on the CreaTures project at the University
of Sussex, and visiting researcher at the
King’s College London Department of Digital
Humanities.
k.braybrooke@sussex.ac.uk
DOI: 10.1145/3406027 COPYRIGHT HELD BY AUTHOR. PUBLICATION RIGHTS LICENSED TO ACM. $15.00
INTERACTIONS.ACM.ORG JULY–AUGUST 2020 INTERACTIONS 71
... And I think that's what museums are having to ask themselves at the moment." By forcing cultural heritage providers and producers alike to 'take everything online', the pandemic further exacerbated the prevailing challenges [12]. Project participants working at museums in London and Tokyo were keenly aware of these contradictions, yet also cited feeling a lack of agency in knowing where to start when it came to digital inclusion -a challenge that had drawn many of them to participate in the first place. ...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
What does it mean to invite vulnerable communities to the table in times of crisis not just as subjects, but as co-designers, in ways that facilitate nourishing and care-full relations? In this paper, we present the case of an online design sprint involving two groups of diverse participants in London and Tokyo as the Covid-19 pandemic unfolded. This modified design sprint model, which we describe as a ’care-full design stroll’, integrated co-design approaches with ethics of care to offer remote cultural experiences aimed at addressing inequalities of access and inclusion faced by the arts and cultural sectors in Japan and the UK. We analyse data from ethnographic observations, interviews and surveys in both nations to illustrate the challenges and opportunities of facilitating design sprints on- line. Our findings show how care-full co-design, underpinned by concepts of thinking-with and working-alongside, can be facilitated in online-only and/or limited terrains, in ways that nourish cultural organisations and their publics in times of great uncertainty. We conclude with a set of six design principles which provide practical recommendations for the effective facilitation of future care-full co-design sprints for groups working in a variety of settings.
... The COVID Creatives Toolkit [3] , meanwhile, was a crowdsourced mutual aid project that emerged in the early days of COVID-19 to offer much-needed support to creative practitioners who, as the virus unfolded, found themselves needing to migrate their practice onto digital spaces, and quickly. My collaborators and I noticed that many of the other kits, guides and other resources at the time were geographically skewed towards North America, and discouraged public contributions (Braybrooke, 2020). Our aim was to offer an alternative, a regularly updated list of free and open source options on a public Google doc that would be collectively curated by creatives themselves. ...
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In the aftermath of 18 months of covid-19, how can our world build new ways forward out of the ashes of the old when its most creative minds – artists, makers, crafters, tinkerers, practitioners, educators – are faced with not one or two, but instead three global emergencies at once? A devastating virus with no clear end in sight; the economic and social instabilities it brings along with it; a planet and its six million species on the brink of climate catastrophe. The word ‘ecology’ is derived from the Greek word oikos, for home. How can we create when our home is sick?
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What is the significance of caring for thinking and knowing? Thinking and knowing are essentially relational processes. Grounded on a relational conception of ontology the essay argues that ‘thinking with care’ is a vital requisite of collective thinking in interdependent worlds, but also one that necessitates a thick vision of caring. A speculative exploration of forms of thinking with care unfolds through a rereading of Donna Haraway's work, specifically of its take on feminist discussions on the situated character of knowledge. The notion of thinking with care is articulated through a series of concrete moves: thinking‐with, dissenting‐within and thinking‐for. While weaving Haraway's thinking and writing practices with the trope of care offers a particular understanding of this author's knowledge politics, the task of caring also appears in a different light.
The dark shapes ahead
  • D Hine
Hine, D. The dark shapes ahead. Jul. 10, 2012; http://dougald.nu/the-darkshapes-ahead/
The coronavirus is rewriting our imaginations. The New Yorker
  • K S Robinson
Robinson, K.S. The coronavirus is rewriting our imaginations. The New Yorker. May 1, 2020; https://www. newyorker.com/culture/annals-ofinquiry/the-coronavirus-and-our-future
Designs for the Pluriverse
  • A Escobar
Escobar, A. Designs for the Pluriverse. Duke Univ. Press, Durham, NC, 2018.