Reshaping Zagreb Intensive: How We Switched From Physical to Digital

RESHAPE (Reflect, Share, Practice, Experiment) is a 3-year trajectory aiming at the development of new organisational models for a fair, sustainable, solidary and geographically balanced arts ecosystem in Europe and South Mediterranean countries. Forty artists and art professionals (we call them ‘Reshapers’) are working in small groups on answers and proposals around 5 complementary topics like value of social fabric, fair governance, solidarity funding, trans/post national practices and art and citizenship. Apart from these workshops in small groups, all Reshapers work together during a week in the form of an ‘intensive’; one was organised in Cluj in November 2019 and a second one was planned from 9 to 13 march in Zagreb, Croatia.

Sixty-five participants from 26 countries were expected to follow the program of the ‘Intensive’ in Zagreb: 40 Reshapers, the facilitators of the five trajectories, 13 partners and 3 advisors and guest speakers. The program consists of internal meetings at one hand (trajectory meetings, partner meetings, meetings between facilitators and plenary meetings), and meetings with local cultural practitioners who were to share their innovative organisational practices in the form of presentations and workshops on the other hand. These are meant as a source of inspiration.

On March 2th, one week before the Zagreb Intensive, some participants expressed their concerns about the spread of Corona Virus in Europe: could a group infect each other, would participants be able to return, what about uncertain quarantine measures, will borders be closed, and worries about own health and the health of participants’ families. On the other hand, participants were looking forward to meet and work together. Partner and local organiser Pogon did invest months of work in the preparation of the program. All flights, train and bus rides, and hotel rooms were booked and paid for.

During an emergency meeting open to the whole RESHAPE community on Thursday evening March 5th, a common decision in mutual agreement was made to cancel the physical meeting and the public program in Zagreb, and to keep the schedule for a remote meeting for about 65 participants.

The diverse opinions on this matter, the diverse contexts participants come from and their individual and deeply personal ways to deal with this crisis were taken into account in this decision.

Postponing was not an option since participants believed it was crucial to continue working, and not let this crisis jeopardize the tremendous amount of efforts, dedication and creative work which was put into RESHAPE. Participants felt that the coming crisis would need creative and collective thinking more than ever.

All alternatives, like some participants would travel to Zagreb and those who did not want to travel would follow remotely, was considered unfair. Being based in different countries, with different policies and medical capacities, leaving the decision whether or not to come to Zagreb to each person would involve relying on privilege.

Deciding collectively to work between 9 and 13 March remotely was an act of solidarity between all participants.

There were three days left to turn this physical meeting into a digital meeting, and to cancel travel and accommodation and all arrangements with speakers, workshops and meetings with local art scene.

Project coordinator Milica Ilić wrote on Friday 6th the following message to all participants: “We will use this opportunity to explore alternative and creative ways to work remotely. A few people in the community have volunteered to help in the process of transforming our meeting into a non-physical gathering. We will inform you on the methods and tools we will use for this. Please let us know by direct mail if you would like to join in this task group.”

None of the partners, facilitators or Reshapers had experience with large scale remote gatherings: 65 persons for a period of 5 days. There was fear and discomfort for the unknown at one hand, and the opportunity to experiment and take this challenge together on the other hand.

How to moderate 65 people in a remote environment? How to move from plenary meeting to break-out sessions and back to plenary? The codes of a conversation, the sphere and body language are different in a digital environment. It’s difficult to concentrate on a screen during more than one hour. Everyone will be at home, some with their children and partners. And how to deal with fun and playfulness which is necessary for community building?

During the weekend of 7 and 8 March, Katarina Pavić, one of the facilitators, worked out some proposals for the first and the second day of the Intensive, together with facilitators, Shelagh Wright and Peter Jenkinson. Their proposals were discussed on Sunday morning by a group of partners and facilitators.

It was decided to keep the schedule of the Reshape internal meetings which were planned for Zagreb: the plenary meeting with updates and feed-back on the trajectory work in smaller groups, connecting the trajectories, a plenary meeting and workgroups on storytelling, meetings within each trajectory, partner meetings and daily meetings between facilitators, and a plenary wrap up and next steps.

The public program with encounters and discussion with local artists from Zagreb was cancelled as well as the keynotes by experts. The idea to weave some of the insights from the local Zagreb cultural scene into the remote program, to ensure a variety of experiences and voices from outside, was dropped because it was too difficult to rethink them into a remote form in such short notice. Pogon proposed to add parts of the local Zagreb program during the final conference in Ljubljana in January 2021.

The lectures and keynote speakers were also cancelled. Contrary to working and discussing together online, it is harder to follow online lectures. Also, one can find many lectures of guest speakers like Pascal Gielen, Renata Salecl and Vincent Liegey online. The organizers didn’t want to exhaust participants with more online material.

The focus of this Reshape Remote Intensive was put on the internal work: on the further development of prototypes in each trajectory, and on the interrelations between them. This was a useful decision for the process.

We decided to focus on becoming used to the virtual space during the first plenary session of Monday 9 March. Starting with presentations and progress reports on the first day of the remote Intensive would be too quick. It would put a lot of pressure on the Reshapers to do presentations without understanding this new environment. We decided to take time for this ‘warming up’: 3 hours including 2 short breaks (working in virtual environments needs breaks after 50 minutes). The plenary meeting with updates and feed-back on the trajectory work was scheduled on Tuesday 10 March. The session on prototyping as a way of storytelling was merged planned on Wednesday 11 March.

We use Zoom Pro, a reliable cloud platform for video and audio conferencing, chat, and webinars. Moderating the conversation and technical moderation is difficult to combine by one person, should be looked after separately.

It’s important to play in this digital environment, to meet differently then only talking. We were thinking about funny picture, games, writing jokes, making playlists, create short performances and online drinks. We could start a meeting by showing the environments we are in and show the weather outside. They are important for community building.

Finally, we agreed to be flexible and make room for the unpredictable. Facilitators would speak every day to monitor the progress in this digital process. Partners meet via Zoom on Wednesday and Friday as scheduled.

The Intensive started on Monday 9 March with a plenary meeting between 2 and 5pm. About 60 participants showed up in this Zoom space, five Reshapers could not make it concerning the difficult situations at home.
Many Reshapers - artists or art and cultural workers - were dealing during this Intensive with the many cancellations due to closing borders and cancellations of public events, which progressed day after day. The loss of investments and income did put pressure on this meeting and confirmed the emergency to ‘reshape’.

During the first introductory session, Milica Illić reminds us about the collective decision out of solidarity to choose for remote working conditions, and the opportunity to reshape our way of working based on care and trust when circumstances prevent us to meet physically. After one year and two workshops for each trajectory, the entire week is dedicated to the refinement of the work within each trajectory and cross-trajectory feed-back. This feed-back stimulates the process in each group, relations between proposals and the development of an integrated publication.

Marijana Rimanić explains how we will work together in this environment, in different digital rooms: plenary, per trajectory and cross-trajectory, followed by an introduction to Zoom (camera and microphone, mute and unmute, chat, sharing screen, and raise your hand and lower your hands when finished).

During the second Session Rarița Zbranca explores the details of using this environment, to make participants comfortable, by brainstorming what is possible in this space. One of the ideas was to get dressed with pink color on Tuesday. Sam proposed a performance on Friday.

During the third session, Rarița Zbranca went through the program of the week and how this would happen remotely: the plenary sessions and the smaller workshops, the use of zoom combined with google drive documents to work in collectively and the Miro tool in which results of work sessions can be made visible.

Participants were asked to write down their expectations of this week in two words and hold them in front of the camera and type in the chat: order and chaos, explore and learn from each other, come together, action and drawing, focus, caring, learn and listening, working new ways, stable connection in unstable times, solidarity, content no framing, response ability, disobedience, light in darkness, digital neurons of collectivity, solidarity again, advantage, challenge, innovation creativity, digital hospitality, cultivate positivity, learning writing backwards, collective creative action...

The session ended with online drinks.

The session of Tuesday 10 March dealt with the progress in each trajectory and cross-trajectory discussion. It was moderated by Davor Mišković from art space Drugo More in Rijeka. Davor Mišković is also Reshape advisor.

The original idea of a plenary session with short presentations, follow by feed-back between trajectories in smaller groups (world café format), was transformed into a plenary session on Zoom during one hour. Each trajectory presented the progress in their prototyping in 10 minutes, based on the following questions: Tell us where you are and what have you been working on? What obstacles are you facing right now? What might be your next steps?

Katarina Pavić, Shelagh Wright and Peter Jenkinson proposed during the weekend 10 parallel break-out session for 6 participants each: 5 groups on each of the topics moderated by the facilitators of each trajectory, and 5 groups moderated by a partner. Each participant would be assigned to a group to ensure the right mixes. Since this seemed to complicated, it was decided to organize only 5 parallel break-out sessions on each reshape topic, with 10 to 12 participants, and moderated by the facilitators of each trajectory. Participants could choose on free basis by putting their name in the break-out session of their choice in a google drive document. Each break-out session consisted of the facilitator of the reshape topic and some Reshapers of that group, Reshapers from other groups, partners and advisors. The discussion was structured via the following questions: What have you heard/seen that you find particularly interesting/relevant/useful? What you need to understand better the shared ideas/proposals/research? How could it be useful for your practice/for your organisation?

The discussion in small groups was of high quality and felt very productive for the facilitator and Reshapers.

The plenary presentations went very fluent, some shared the documents they were working on with the group via ‘share screen’ option.

Zoom has this function to divide a plenary group into break-out sessions, followed again by a plenary meeting, by putting the right names into the right groups in forehand. All participants stay on the same Zoom session and are automatically transferred into the right group after a short break. There were many problems with the shift from plenary into break-out which were solved by Milica Illić, which prevented her from being part in one of the groups. A dedicated technical coordinator is necessary in large groups with complex subgroups, apart from the moderation and the coordination.

The cross-trajectory discussions was an ideal warming up for the storytelling session by Joris Janssens and Sofie Joye of Wednesday 11 March.

The Wednesday session of 11 March ‘Reshaping the narratives’ was planned between 2 and 5:30pm. The session aimed to bring the prototypes of the 5 trajectories into the Reshape narrative of change, aimed to detect relations between trajectories and aimed to prepare everyone for a sensitizing story towards the broader art sector in autumn via the publication.

Joris Janssens and Sofie Joye conceived a live meeting with a plenary introduction of 30 minutes, followed by working groups for each trajectory and one working group for partners and advisors, followed by one final plenary look at the work of the different groups and. They planned to work with the X curve of Drift, which enables a visual representation of a transition trajectory, by mapping the current pressures, and imagine a preferred future arts ecosystem. These pressures and ideas were to be harvested via sticky notes to put on a white paper.

This format was transformed into a digital working session. After the plenary meeting via zoom, in which Joris and Sofie explained the X-curve, participants were divided into 6 working groups which were programmed in advance in the zoom platform: participants and facilitators of each trajectory form 5 virtual meeting rooms. A 6th virtual meeting room was reserved for partners and advisors. As hosts of this meeting, Joris and Sofie could step into different meeting rooms to check the process. Zoom allows the hosts of a discussion to do so.

Each group defines the pressures and solutions via keywords or short sentences, which were noted down in Google Sheet template, and then transferred as digital sticky notes. Questions were: What are the dominant unsustainable practices? How they persist? How can we stop them? What are the prototypes you conceived in your group? Other radical and inspiring experiments? What could help accelerate these prototypes and experiments? Where do you see sustainable practices accelerating? Which are the sustainable practices and values in your system? What do we need to stop doing?

During a 30 minute break Joris and Sofie brought the notes from the Google sheets of the 6 groups, into digital sticky notes, which were put on a virtual X curve for each group in MIRO, which looks like a digital whiteboard. During the plenary session all participants discovered the 6 digital whiteboards.

After this session, Joris and Sofie made one collective whiteboard with the X curve, in which the answers of the 6 groups on the different questions were clustered and became one overall image.

This exercise worked out perfect with Zoom (plenary and parallel workgroups) Google Sheet and Miro. Writing digitally in Google Sheet has the advantage that the process on virtual sticky posts is digital from the start. The exercise had also a productive effect on the prototyping process in the different trajectories.

See also blog by Joris Janssens.

The closing Session ‘Wrap up and next steps’ was moderated by Silvia Bottiroli from DAS Theatre, from 4 to 6:60 pm. Silvia Bottiroli is also advisor of Reshape. The form was a classical zoom session with all Reshapers, facilitators, partners and advisors present.

It was structured in two parts: (1) to recognise and discuss current crisis and what that means for all of us and for the reshape process, not knowing how the crisis will evolve, and (2) look backwards to this ‘Intensive’ and the issues and insights which live in the groups (facilitators, reshapers and partners).

The session ended with sharing short answers on three questions which were written on paper and shown before the screen, and written into the chat.

It was an amazing and moving outburst of ideas and reflections which confirmed the success of this remote week of working together.

There are positive and negative aspects on working remotely during one week in a large group



See also blog by Marijana Rimanic.

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