Behind-the-Screens at the MFA Spring Intensive

MFA Program Coordinator Megan Jacobs reflects on connecting within the MFA Program in the Age of Virtualization

As we are coming around to a full year since the pandemic changed life as we know it, I have been reflecting on the nature of how we interact with one another.

For so many of us, the pandemic has made it so that we have to engage in an online format with people we knew and spent face-to-face time with pre-pandemic. This has been challenging, to say the least. But what about forging new relationships in the virtual space?

As the Program Coordinator for the MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts and Writing at CIIS, I was hired post-pandemic, which means I have a cubicle assigned to me in a building in San Francisco that I have never once sat in. It means that I have gotten to know all of my coworkers through their email signatures and message threads. And it means that my entire relationship with the artists currently in our program have been 100% virtual as well. I was afraid it would be difficult for all of us to connect with each other in meaningful ways, and wondered if we would be able to feel each other’s energy through the screen.

We recently hosted our 5-day intensive in a virtual format for the second time, and coming out of the experience, I realize that I needn’t have worried.

During a virtual lunch, as a group of us prepared to head into another zoom room for class, one student said to everyone, “I’m gonna go into the kitchen and make a quick cup of coffee before class. Anyone want a cup?” Even though I was alone in my apartment, the offer (jokingly made) really touched me and made me feel our togetherness. It’s incredible how much caring can be communicated and connection felt through the smallest gestures.

In a workshop presented by artist and performance-maker Erika Chong Shuch during the Spring Intensive, I participated with the cohort in approaching art-making as gift-giving, a spinoff of Shuch’s For You Project.

Shuch is interested in performances made with specific individuals in mind, and she invited us to prepare a gift for someone in the cohort after leading us through a few exercises to get to know something about one another and get our creative juices flowing. When we presented our gifts to each other on the last day, there were tears alongside laughter, anticipation, and such thoughtfulness and vulnerability that I really didn’t notice how alone I was in my apartment.

If I had to pull out a single theme from the Spring Intensive, it would be the transformation of fear. So many conversations circled back around to some version of finding a way to harness and work WITH it, which is something I admire very much in this eclectic group of artists.

The pandemic is reflecting what artists already do naturally — they take the scary, the ugly, the ambiguous, the fear, the frustration, etc. and transform it into something new. Something diluted, amplified, thought provoking, or beautifully distorted. Something that says something true about how we feel.

More than ever, reflecting on the way we have all been moving through the unfamiliar and at times frustrating pandemic time, it is clear to me that there is so much to be optimistic about. If we can find ways to connect, to move one another, to forge new relationships, and to forge ahead in our pursuits, despite all annoying obstacles, inconveniences, and less-than-ideals, I know we will emerge from this pandemic period stronger than ever.

It is clear to me that people are resilient. You can’t tamp us down for long. We want to flourish. So we will adapt, and flourish again.

Megan Jacobs is the Program Coordinator for the MFA in Interdisiplinary Art at CIIS. Follow the MFA@CIIS Medium page or MFA@CIIS on Instagram for more great content from people in our MFA community.

Blog of the MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts and Writing program at California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, CA, U.S.A.

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