Herein lies, the concluding portion of Houghton Kinsman’s conversation with Alexandra Ross and Jessica Holdengarde (see the first part of the conversation here). What follows below is a focused discussion on the administration, organisation and infrastructure necessary to participate and host an engaging Art + Feminism node.
To carry on from where we left off last time, just go back to your point about organising these edit-a-thons, how does it work from the practical/administrative standpoint? Were you in contact with Art + Feminism in New York?
AR | Yes. Basically, once we registered as one of the edit-a-thon nodes around the world we had to decide to do it either on the day of the 5th of March – the worldwide event – or like some have decided on the 3rd or 4th of March. They sent us an ‘organisers package’, and they found a way to team us up with a Wikimedia specialist in Cape Town. That is how we got in contact with Douglas Scott. We had a one-to-one: getting to know him and he let us know that he would handle the training of the technical aspects, like how to edit pages etc. That would have been too daunting. Also, there were two online editing training sessions on the Art + Feminism website, and a video conferencing session in which they asked us – as organisers – what questions we had. Shortly after all this we planned the first session, which consisted of lots of emailing!
JH | And, creating RSVP lists, putting up posters around Michaelis, creating Facebook pages and then reaching out to people…
Were there any infrastructural stipulations required in order to host the workshop? For example did they require you to have a certain number of computers, supply free internet access, etc.?
AR | Yes, there were. You needed to have a good Wi-Fi connection. You needed enough computers for your participants. They also wanted us to have a Wikimedia specialist or at least somebody that is trained to a particular level on Wikipedia to help out with training. Especially, if you weren’t au fait with it. But, they could hook you up with that if need be. That said, there was no limit to the volume of people. The more trainers you had, the more people you can have I suppose. We decided to have between fifteen and twenty-five. However, Douglas felt that twenty-five was big and that twenty would be better. And, that’s how it kind of leveled out in the end.
JH | Also, what was really great was that Wikimedia ZA provided funding for the catering. And, there was also funding from Art + Feminism. Both were really helpful. Plus, it’s been great that Wikimedia ZA gave up their free time to teach us.
This is great because I know how busy both of you are and so by making these networks easy and accessible to tap into, it must have been very helpful?
AR | What made it easier is that this is the third edition of Art + Feminism edit-a-thons. It now has a legacy, so you can go to their website, check it out and you can read about what it stands for. If we had been doing the first edition, I think it would have been much harder because people really would have had a lot of questions. Questions about what we are doing and it would have meant that it needed to be contextualised in a very different way.
JH | Plus, they now also know how to prepare you for the node that you are hosting. They have an excellent online training programme, they send you a package for the node etc.
AR | They were also very good about getting in touch with us. And, they were open to our questions. For example, we asked them if they had a policy on the presence of males, and they said that we have to decide on our own terms. What they did say was that we needed to create a safe space. So, they offered us child care for the first meet up on the 5th of March. This itself was really so important for freeing up the time for women to participate. However, all that said, after the training it was really over to us and there was a lot of ground work!
JH | Because, each node takes on its own identity. Each iteration and each country has different ideas about art and feminism. So, we had to decide what we wanted ours to be. Our answer was that it be continuous and to keep editing. Therefore, there has been a lot of emailing. Alexandra is the queen of emails!
AR | Indeed, many emails! Because on the one hand there needs to be a personal touch. To show that this isn’t just a passive, rock up, sit down, get a training session and walk off. Rather, it’s to show that we are starting a conversation. That conversation can then be conveyed and continued and our voices can get smaller as others feel more enabled and have a greater agency within the project.
Speaking of agency, who did you ladies reach out to?
AR | I reached out to a few mailing lists in order to spread the word. I’m not sure how far that extended, but I certainly tried to include different research groups.
JH | And, then we also sent out a lot of personal emails to people we know and to the greater Michaelis and CCA community.
AR | All with the invitation to extend to their networks.
JH | Because I think – at least for me – I didn’t want it to be restricted to people from these two institutions. We wanted it to be accessible to all. This is why we had logins and free access to the campus for people who didn’t belong to Michaelis or CCA.
And, I suppose it is the most convenient starting place to test the waters…
AR | Exactly! They have all the computers, they have a projector, the Wi-Fi, etc.
JH | And, we should say that Michaelis has been really supportive of this, to allow us to use that space. It has been really encouraging to see their support in this way.
And, I think as a result, the attendance on the second Saturday is testament to this inclusivity. I think back often to the screening of the Creative Time Summit you organised Alex and how that was gravely underutilised, so it was great to see such passionate interest in this program…
AR | Yeah, it is funny you mention that. That Creative Time screening was advertised through Vula to all students and staff. It was disseminated through the same channels as these edit-a-thons, but people only really dipped in and out. I think the difference between the two exemplifies the importance of one-to-one emails. It just helps create an emotional connection before even stepping in the door.
JH | I agree! Even in the second meeting, I could see people becoming personally connected to each other and to the project they were working on. The first meeting contained a lot of learning and was a bit overwhelming, but that groundwork was really important for the second session. That said, the editing, these personal connections and seeing things change were the really exciting parts of the experience.
Building on these achievements, how do you envision the future of this Cape Town-based Art + Feminism node? Do you want to remain – and I use the word tentatively – in control?
AR | If we were in control and we dropped the ball then it would lose its momentum. And, that is definitely not the way to go.
JH | However, administration needs to exist. This part we are willing to keep running. But, if I think of the word campaign I see it as a group of people coming together and then running it. Even in the first session I remember asking others to make the poster for the next event, and them being quite happy to do so. Therefore, working in smaller groups and in line with shared interests is what I think will happen naturally.
AR | Also, we have a spreadsheet now of those that have attended with contact details. We have the list of artists who need Wikipedia pages or have pages that need to be edited. Both of which will become a shared document, for people to join the group and then do their own research. And, as a forum, Art + Feminism is addressing the issue of women being subcategorised on the pages of Wikipedia. However, we don’t have to limit ourselves to that. We need to find our own voice, our own forum, or template that can apply to anything that is marginalised and that exists within Wikipedia. Therefore, even though we are doing it in a feminist form, hopefully we can get others excited to work on other particular, marginalised areas.