Coming Together as Artists in Challenging Times

As Columbia College adjusts to distance learning, Interactive Arts and Media faculty continue to lead the charge in providing students with innovative approaches to classwork and remote resources. This post comes from Joshua A. Fisher, Assistant Professor of Immersive Media:

If this were any other year, our students would be gathering in the hallways of 916 and 1104 S Wabash. Their spirit of collaboration would spill onto the street to meet the receding raw Chicago winter. If this were any other year, but it is not. Yet, our students persist. Our faculty lead through their teaching and our community endures. Though this year is different, our students continue to grow into the next generation of interactive storytellers and animators.

This work is supported by the creative and productive relationships built between faculty, students, and staff. It can be tempting to shut down when times get tough. There is a lot of madness in the world right now. Though the existential stress of the moment may cause us to turn inward, it is in these moments that we can pull together to learn, grow, and push past obstacles. As artists, we need each other’s perspective and knowledge to grow.

During the last five weeks, I have been meeting with students one-on-one for 30-minute sessions on Zoom. We discuss the homework, any coding issues they might be having, and that week’s recorded lecture. We talk about game development, design, and more. We get the particulars out of the way. After that, we talk about life—our contemporary moment—and what it means. We discuss dharma, family, accountability, and pecans. We discuss the neat and varied stuff of interactive arts. Even though frame rates drop and the audio cuts out, for 30-minutes, it is like we are back in the classroom. In the blue glow of the Zoom meeting there is a warmth.

There is more to these conversations than catching up on work and life. What we discuss, how we talk about it, is a reflection of humanity. As artists, we take that reflection and actualize it, we make it real, through our art. Stories of courage, strength, misfortune, and generosity are found all over the world. I also hear them from my students every day, every thirty minutes. Together, we bear witness and share in this tragedy. How we respond as artists can help others.

As storytellers who use animation and interactive media, we are used to collaborating with others to bring our vision to reality. In many ways, as practitioners of digital media we are uniquely suited to reflect on the present moment. The next great interactive story will be created about this experience when it is all over. As artists, we might ask ourselves and one another what we might say. How would we want to portray the present moment?

These answers are already being informed by conversations between students and faculty. It is easy to imagine a team of our IAM students competing in some future Chicago hackathon to produce that experience. So, even though we cannot be together to collaborate, we can imagine and reflect with one another. As a community, we rise as artists.