Thank you Forward Slash Story

A few weeks ago, Lance and I sent an announcement to our Forward Slash Alumni. Here is part of the message to everyone:

From Christy: Before Kenya, I reached out to Lance and said that after much reflection I have decided to not continue with Forward Slash Story. I love Forward Slash Story, and it is one of my proudest achievements. I have worked hard to iterate and design an unusual experience for creatives. But as the years have gone by, I have begun to value even more the process of creation too. Lance and I value different things regarding the creative process and so I realised it was time for a change. I said I will be doing Kenya (of course), and I’d like to end with an all-alumni event in 2019.

From Lance: At first I thought I would continue with Forward Slash Story (with Christy’s blessing), but decided that it didn’t make sense for a variety of reasons. My workload at Columbia, outside of the University and personally is taking more of my time these days.

The all-alumni event in 2019 unfortunately isn’t going to happen now, as the financial assistance Lance received from Columbia over a 5 year period has come to an end.

We’ve loved the opportunity to travel the world with you and greatly appreciate everyone sharing their times and talents. Over a five year period we visited 4 amazing locations, challenged each other to make great works and developed friendships that will last a lifetime. We will continue to communicate via email and social media however our trip off the coast of Kenya will stand as our final organising of a Forward Slash Story physical gathering. We look forward to hearing what you’re all working on, finding ways to collaborate in the future and to sharing the journey of making things at the edge.

I have been wanting to follow up with a longer blog post about F/S, it’s design, and the all wonderful participants, team, and venue hosts. The goal of putting together a comprehensive post has delayed any message from me, and so instead I’ll share what I want to offer as a parting gift.

F/S is one of the projects that I am most proud of. It started as an idea I had while mentoring at a lab years ago in 2009 or 2010 I think it was. I said to Lance, “what about a lab for mentors?”. That is how it began, in the context of being a mentor at labs where people who are in the fringes or in a “new” area of exploration are always in a position of explaining what they see to others. It felt one-sided, one-way. I was yearning for a reciprocal environment, where everyone there is nurtured.

A few years later, Lance contacted me and said “let’s do it”. I was super excited. Lance secured some small funds from Columbia University’s through the Digital Storytelling Lab he co-runs. And suddenly it was alive!!

Rather than a lab that focused on projects, the focus is on the people. Develop the artist and you affect all their projects. Build a community, and you affect all their projects.

We put out a call, had a huge response, and selected from there. It has been like that every year: lots of wonderful people around the world to choose from, and many wonderful people not able to come because of our 20 people cap. We sometimes had less because people had to withdraw at the last minute, and there wasn’t time for new people to step in. We invited people to reapply, and a few got in on the second application.

The curation policy I’m guided by includes aiming for Female- and Non-binary identifying participants as well as male-identifying; from different countries; employing different artforms; a range of experience (from veterans to early career folk); people from the locations we were holding the lab; at least one wildcard (which means someone we’re not sure where they fit)…and so on.

Moving the locations to different parts of the globe was important, to help with access. We didn’t have enough budget to offer flights to people, so having the location vary so it is closer and further away is helpful (we held the labs in Hamptons, USA; Costa Rica twice; Indonesia; and Kenya). Some participants, in Scotland and Australia, were able to secure industry travel grants for the lab, which was great.

The Design

I won’t be talking about all aspects of design. I’ll just mention some key elements here. The design began as more top-down, with lots of activities at the beginning, social activities, and play. But one bit of feedback from Gabe I think it was, informed my next iteration. He said he wanted to find out more about the other participants (beyond the social activities), like a showcase etc.

So in the second iteration, I included (among other changes) talks about their practice. No matter what the prompt though, some of the talks veered into showreel pitches rather than peer shares. So something dramatic was needed.

One year, when Grant mentioned he wanted to make things with everyone, I introduced a collective sequential pervasive game. Everyone was divided into teams, and each had to make a pervasive (live game experience) that connected to the team before and/or after. 20 people had to play it, in 5-10mins. So we all went through and played an continuous 60 minute game connecting each others as we went. That was fun!

But then I also turned the talks on the their head and introduced instead “The Acorn Artist”. This was to encourage participants generating interactive experiences that give us into an insight into their practice, through the experience of making together. The instructions are below:

“The Acorn Artist”

Just you and the core of something you want to pass on that others may grow from. You can take us through a hands-on workshop on a creative process you use, get us to experience the way you make, or a project-making exercise. But remember, there is only a short amount of time, and you’re not using a digital projection.

  • 20 minutes
  • No projector or screening
  • Minimal space
  • Paper, pens
  • Other small props you may bring
  • It can involve moving to another location (to be decided when at the venue, not before)
  • It may change according to the context you find yourself in
An Acorn Activity at Lamu, Kenya

There are so many activities that all the participants did over the years, and all the other ones I haven’t mentioned that were designed. But my desire to be comprehensive stops this post from living, so I must let it go.

A final activity I designed that I’d like to share is the one that opened every F/S. With this ritual, I wanted everyone to connect, to have consensual reciprocal vulnerability at the beginning, with objects, gifts, as a revealing prompt, and group shared experience. There is a magical connection that happens when the stranger stories connect.

“Stranger Gifts”

Bring something small of yours that has a story to it you can tell, to pass on to someone — whether it be a stranger on the street, a fellow participant, or even yourself.

Here how it is run:

  1. Everyone secretly passes their gift (wrapped or unwrapped, it doesn’t matter), to the facilitator who places it in a bag. [Note: when people are travelling to a location, it is important the gift is small so it fits in luggage easily.]
  2. Everyone comes to together in a circle. (Only those that bring a gift can participate. If they forgot, then before-hand they can make something, or choose something from their belongings to offer).
  3. The facilitator walks through the centre and places the gifts, spreading them across the centre space.
  4. Everyone is instructed then to take their time walking around and looking at the items. When they feel drawn to something, they can pick it up and stand back to the circle again. [Note: some wait until there are ones left, allowing the crowd to choose for them.]
  5. Once all the gifts are accepted, we then invite people to speak in this order: 1) A person who took a gift comes forward and briefly describes what they think they have, and what drew them to the gift. 2) After the gift recipient talks, then the gift giver reveals themselves. They then tell the story of the gift (and perhaps what it is).
  6. This continues until all gift stories are told.

I pass on these two activities as my last gift to those that couldn’t come to F/S. Thank you to all of those who were a part of this experience. It has been an honour to create for you and with you.

Full lists of participants, and teams, at the Forward Slash Story website!