Following the presidential election last November, the School of Visual Arts Library staff felt moved to come up with programming for our community that addressed the heated political climate in America. In March 2017 the SVA Library hosted a series of public events simply titled Resist! that showcased different mediums through which our students, faculty and staff could and were already taking action. Events in the series included two film screenings, a political art workshop, a Wikipedia edit-a-thon, a CryptoParty, a poetry reading, and a game night.
An initial idea for our politically-themed programming was to hold a “mini conference” of sessions and speakers over one to two days. This format quickly gave way to a looser timeline of one to two weeks, which allowed for more scheduling flexibility on both the part of our event partners and potential attendees. Four library staff members, including our director, Caitlin Kilgallen, associate director, Rebecca Clark, digital services librarian, Phoebe Stein, and instruction/periodicals librarian, David Pemberton took part in planning the events.
The first two events in the series were held on March 15th. In the afternoon, a screening was held of the film Captured, a documentary about the people and places behind the creative energy of NYC’s Lower East Side neighborhood in the 1980s and 90s. The Tompkins Square Park riot of 1988 featured prominently in the film. The director, Clayton Patterson was on hand to introduce the film and hold a post-screening Q&A. That evening, volunteers from the Interference Archive visited the library to talk about their popular propaganda parties and discuss how independent artists and designers can collaborate with community organizations to create and distribute material that conveys a political message. After the discussion, a workshop was held for participants to work through the process of imagining and planning their own propaganda party.
On the second night of the series, the library hosted a CryptoParty focused on personal digital security and operational security for activism and direct action. Two volunteers from CryptoParty NYC were on hand to lead discussions about general security precautions for email, web browsing and messaging, and more focused digital precautions for activist networks and journalists.
For our fourth event, the library hosted an Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon, dovetailing with other A+F events taking place all over the world in the month of March. Two training sessions, led by librarian Phoebe Stein, were held for new editors to become familiar with Wikipedia’s best practices, and then participants were free to use the library’s resources to add information and citations to articles. Our edit-a-thon saw 12 editors add one new article and over 2,000 words to 20 different existing articles about women artists.
Our second film screening took place on March 20th, in partnership with SVA’s MFA Social Documentary Film department. Students from the program presented their activist films from the modern era of protest, including Standing Rock, the Women’s March, the NYC Yemeni Bodega Strike, and Funeral for the Presidency. They also screened sneak peeks of their other films, followed by a reception.
On the evening of Tuesday, March 21st, four prominent New York City poets, Patricia Spears Jones, Lydia Cortes, Sheila Maldonado, and Bakar Wilson shared their work and experiences at a reading introduced and moderated by librarian David Pemberton. For posterity, this event was filmed and posted to SVA’s YouTube channel; view it here.
The last event in our series, a game night, was held on the evening of Friday, March 24th. This event was a partnership with another SVA department, MFA Design for Social Innovation. Students in that program had designed tabletop games addressing social issues for a class assignment, so holding a game night was the perfect chance for students to see their games in action. Three different games were played by small groups, followed by discussion of the game play and issues raised by the games.
Overall, the event series was very successful. Individual events were attended in varying numbers, but anecdotal reports from attendees were overwhelmingly positive. All of the events were open to the public, and at most of the events we provided food and drink, which we find are one of the keys to attracting attendees. For library staff, planning the series was a great way to reach out to external and internal partners and to forge relationships with SVA departments that can at times be very siloed. To see others photos of the events, search the hashtag #resistsva on Instagram.