The day after the July 24 virtual gathering of Surrey Muse, a spontaneous email discussion took place among some of that evening’s featured artists and organizers. It was begun by Poet Joanne Arnott in the form of a review titled Surrey Muse Virtual Gathering July 2020. We decided to reproduce the review and share the ensuing email discussion to bring attention to different aspects and impacts of our sudden need to convert to online platforms from real life arts organizing. Sharing this may inspire more conversations to help increase our understanding of the current COVID-19 situations so we can find happier solutions.
Joanne Arnott, Jónína Kirton, Mariam Zohra D., Steffi Tad-y and Fauzia Rafique participated in this discussion that took place from July 25 to 27. There was a suggestion to edit out any unrelated observations, but you’ll see that it would not have been easy or fruitful. You are welcome to return to it in leisure or skip down to the summary.
I attended my first “watch party” last night, and gained a renewed respect for the technical aspects of online gathering (how challenging they may be). I was able to watch an entire movie on Netflix, between the intended launch time and the actual, three hours later.
In my own home, it took multiple tries to record my bit, 20 minutes of poetry, initially upbeat and (a week later) sad. What made the difference was the passing of Daniel David Moses, alongside the themes of my recent work (death and friendship).
I was using a camera/mike acquired by one of my sons a decade before, and abandoned due to lo res everything. The household cat goddess, Sophie, likes to speak back when she hears me apparently talking to myself. In the end I removed her to one of the upstairs bedrooms for a time.
There were other glitches in the transmission, primarily in audio quivers during Mariam’s introductions of some of the guests.
Nonetheless, it was a fine night. I am happy to share it.
I felt some of the joy and surprise that the irl* Surrey Muse gatherings have long provided, though irl we would also be sharing food and (some of us) cigarettes.
Joanne Arnott (poetry, friendship + death)
Jónína Kirton (memoir, mixed race families)
Tariq Hussain (song + storytelling)
Steffi Tad-y (poetry)
Steffi was the “open mic opener.”
Fair warning: while Steffi’s poetry was very much aligned with all that came before, the subsequent presenters were on a different path (all hell breaks loose).
If you love the smooth, this ends at 1:21:30.
If you would like to cleanse your palate of all that with a little cacophony, stay tuned.
My personal favourite across the presentations was Tariq Hussain, with his quirky songwriting and easy storytelling.
Like Jónína, I am rooted in Treaty One territory, and like Tariq, radio was a profound influence in my younger life.
My dad was a guitar player, known for it. While he was not a professional, he did inspire his wives and the majority of his nine children to pick up guitar. One of my fondest memories is a particular mother’s day, when my elder sister Marni and I, and my two eldest sons, each picked up the guitar and shared a song. I felt deeply affirmed– in spite of all– the guitar family continues to cascade through the generations.
My thanks to Surrey Muse, Fauzia Rafique and Mariam Zohra D, for bringing together diverse artists on a regular basis, irl or online as the moment commands. Thanks to Aaron Paquette for the beautiful art infusion.
*in real life
That was wonderful to read Joanne. I love the musings about the challenges of recording at home, especially the goddess cat. Moving online has been fascinating. I am learning a lot and see how great it can be but am also aware of the limitations especially if you don’t have the equipment, or a silent room in which to present. The assumption that we have the funds to pay for equipment is prevalent out there and an often overlooked barrier. A few years back I was blessed with a new computer due to the Writers Trust assistance when my health was diminished (neurological from neck pain) so I needed to move away from a laptop to a large screen and get a mouse that didn’t bring on carpal tunnel so much. Having the tools we need as artists is something I think about a lot as I work with many low income writers who cannot afford things like track changes etc and yet have wonderful work to bring to us. There has been a big focus on educational opportunities but what about the tools or equipment once you are there. I keep wondering if there is somewhere for them to get the funds to get what they need. Most are Indigenous. One in particular is really struggling and in the middle of writing stories about her Indigenous grandmother and the stories she shared. I would so love to see her and all who need updated equipment have access to what they need. Time to level the playing field…
Hi Jónína, yes, i really enjoyed reading Joanne’s review of the event. We may reproduce it on Surrey Muse webpage, after getting Joanne’s permission, of course.
About the tech situation. It is tough for individuals, and it is tough for small organizations such as Surrey Muse. In our gatherings, we wanted to create an exclusive space for readings and discussions and so we didn’t even encourage cameras and videos. And since March, that’s all we have- cameras and videos. My appreciation to Mariam Zohra D. for responding to the emerging tech needs so we could continue presenting our monthly program.
It is a steep learning curve and a challenging situation for us where at least six of our regular members can not participate because they prefer not to use different social media platforms (and i appreciate their stand). That leaves only a couple of people, volunteers, of course, to respond to this constantly evolving situation. On top of it, we have to work with residential area bandwidth and speeds, and free live-streaming softwares to present the video LIVE. Free softwares do the thing, but not quite. There are more glitches, more compatibility issues causing more unforseen delays and presentation problems.
We need to figure it out soon, can not have another ‘spirit dampening’ experience when the content is so powerful.
It feels better after saying it. Thanks for listening.
Photo by Hafsah Durrani
Fauzia, Please know how much I appreciate all your efforts. Since COVID, most days I find myself in over my head with this switch to virtual events. I am more and more aware of the need for good equipment and how this again leaves those of us in the lower income ranges at a disadvantage. And then I am finding there is also age… I am not able to learn new systems very easily. My mind is like a sieve… it leaks out the back of my head. I cannot keep technical info but then how many computer systems etc have I had to work with since 1973 when I first began working at the bank. Every job had its own systems. Maybe my memory bank is just too full…:)
Even so we produce beautiful work and I thank you, Mariam and all who assisted, for hosting us, for all the work you do.
Dear Fauzia, Thank you for giving a fledgling writer a chance to read for Surrey Muse!
I’m so honoured to have shared that virtual stage with all of the performers. And to have the chance to continuously share it on record at Surrey Muse’s Youtube library. I get to experience everyone’s performances again! Thank you so much.
My whole family in Manila was able to watch me read for the first time, and I’m so thankful to you and your team for making it happen. Thank you for this gift of community and possibility in the time of COVID.
In awe and gratitude for all of Surrey Muse’s efforts. Thank you, Fauzia! All my best, Steffi.
Steffi, that’s wonderful. That’s the definite upside of all the tech challenges and exhaustion the organizers endured, the argument in favour of the format.
Fauzia, of course you can re-post if you like, opening with a disclaimer/reality check from your own and Mariam’s point of view, which I acknowledge I callously overlooked in favour of my own experience.
Sometimes we channel humanity
sometimes we speak for community
and sometimes we’re just a bit self-involved
mea culpa. xojoanne
Mariam Zohra D.
Good Afternoon everyone, I wanted to speak to the technical aspect, it seemed that during streaming, because of my laptop’s video card (being not so powerful I suppose) and our own bandwidth speed in the house for uploading, plus the freeware streaming software (as fauzia pointed out) any video that was made high quality (for example I didn’t use the laptop to film myself this time, but that backfired on me since we were streaming) in turn came out way more choppy in the streaming, but will look very good in just the post of the file itself.
I have experienced it too many times where because of lack of tech it makes for a most dissatisfying presentation (especially for multidisciplinary artists) tho so much work was put into it. I think that’s why it slipped out when I typed “We Love You Jonina” when I realized Jonina had a bit of tech trouble there too. Well, the virtual show Will get better and better, it takes a lovely group of people to allow that to happen through the wicked learning curves ::::)))))))))
Thank you all for a wonderful show!
Oh and so happy to know Steffi that your family watched in Manilla; seems we did have an international audience, Teth Sin (an open mic presenter) watched the show from Tunisia!
This is so good to have this discussion.
Steffi, your LOVELY message picked me right up, thank you so much. We all needed it for sure.
Joanne, i didn’t see it that way. It is a profound review that connects the event with some of its context, and it points to some, what seem like, ‘secondary’ issues of delay in the virtual delivery, and it is apparent in it that it is a new situation for us all. Saying that we were late, when we were actually late, in the fun ways that you have said it, seems totally appropriate to me. Also because we have faced delays each time except for one event in five; one month, it was even postponed to the next evening. Your review opens up the discussion on these issues, and that’s why it’s a good idea to publish it at Surrey Muse.
As well, i share your nostalgia about Surrey Muse gatherings in real life, about enjoying our bad smoking habits (I had ‘found’ Joanne smoking outside a literary event in Richmond in 2010-11, while i was looking for a light and/or a cigarette, and she had generously obliged). The samosas, discussion on each featured presentation, warmth, hugs, smiles and laughter. I loved your comments about music presentations in the virtual Open Mic session- indeed they are a very different beat than the earlier part, ‘all hell broke loose’, yeah! This is another example of the changing shape of Surrey Muse events from real life to virtual.
With Jónína’s ‘leveling the field’ thing, Steffi’s point about ‘reach’, and Mariam’s information about the multi-faceted tech problems she faces, we are already into it.
I loved reading all these comments and Joanne, that essay is wonderful. I felt invited in. It did not feel self involved but rather a sharing that many could relate to. I love this kind of writing. I am the curious sort and want to know the lives of others.
Fauzia, please feel free to use anything I have said. I think this is another one of those important conversations. I keep thinking of all the folks I know in the DTES, in SROs with no access to a computer as they used to go to Carnegie or the library. This COVID virus has revealed even more inequities re access to food etc as some hoarded food/toilet paper – while others had to wait for their welfare cheques or pay cheques before they could shop for food or toilet paper.
Below is a summary of the above
Physical Location of Artists, Organizers and Participants
Perhaps the most exciting change regarding virtuosity, pointed to by Steffi Tad-y, is that it frees both artists, organizers and participants from our geographic limitations. Now, we can feature an artist from anywhere in the World, an event can be organized from anywhere in the World, and people can participate in a virtual event from anywhere in the World. Earlier, at Surrey Muse, we would bring in out-of-town featured writers and artists via Skype, but to have people participate from out of town is a huge step up for us.
At another level, it is a strange situation where each month we experience both loss and gain since few of the Surrey Muse regular participants are able to attend, the people who nurtured it for the past whole decade are suddenly not there- Helga Parekh, David Macilwain, Sana Janjua, Randeep Purewall, Nefertiti SheLa Morrisson, Val Parks, and more. Yet we are delighted to see new people participate each month from diverse locations. For Surrey Muse, it means we will continue to organize events at both levels- in real life and virtual.
NEEDS: More equipment, more software, more skills training, and more volunteers.
Access to Technology
As Jónína Kirton points out, only the people who have access to computing devices, internet services and the required skillset can feature, organize or participate in a virtual event, and we know that this leaves many people out. To ‘level the playing field’ we need to find conventional and unconventional methods of support for individuals and for small arts organizations.
NEEDS: Find funding sources to provide equipment and training to low-income writers and artists, and to support small arts organizations.
Learning Curves and Other Challenges
Since March of this year, we have faced and we have experienced many learning curves in all areas of our lives, health, finances, careers, politics, technology, arts, and more. Learning curves are here for both individuals and organizations, and they are equally ‘sudden’ for both featured artists and their host organizers. Earlier, all a featured artist had to do was to get to the City Centre library in Surrey by 5:30pm with their reading/presentation material- and woohoo, that was it. Now, all of a sudden, they are required to record their presentation to make an audio/video file and then send it to us, and if you have done it, you know its not that simple- even without those noisy cat goddesses, it can be challenging, especially for the uninitiated or the unwilling.
On the part of Surrey Muse, we would just get to the venue, re-arrange chairs in an informal semi-circle from a classroom or conference setup of tables and chairs in Room 405, each of us independently did what we were supposed to do. It was a lot more work by a lot more people using very different sets of skills, and the gatherings were amazing each time.
Virtual gatherings take a lot less people to organize IF proper hardware, software, recording equipment, internet speed, bandwidth and accessories are available and some of those people have the required skills and training to use them. Mariam Zohra talks about the challenges she faces while compiling, editing and uploading the videos.
NEEDS: Presentation skills enhancement workshops for writers and artists to record themselves, and to overcome inhibitions related to technology and cameras.
– To find existing resources for individual writers/artists and small arts/literary organizations to support them with computer systems and training. If you are aware of any, please send us a message at: firstname.lastname@example.org
– To lobby decision makers in Metro Vancouver to ‘level the playing field’ by providing required funding resources to individual writers/artists and small arts/literary organizations.
– To help organize a series of workshops to hone the presentation skills of writers and artists so that most of us become good at presenting, video/audio recording and dissemination of our work.
Discussion curated by Fauzia Rafique
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