“Remote Possibilities”

A new Hurford Center program, born of the disruption of the pandemic, allowed a group of Fords to spend the summer learning about the arts and humanities’ evolving roles in our contemporary moment, with particular emphasis on digitization and combating structural racism.

Responding to student plans disrupted by the COVID pandemic, the John B. Hurford ‘60 Center for the Arts and Humanities (HCAH) created a new program this past summer, sponsoring eight Fords to participate remotely in the Summer Research Seminar “Remote Possibilities: Imagining the Arts and Humanities in a Digital World.” This program broadly considered the arts and humanities’ evolving roles in our contemporary moment, with particular emphasis on digitization and combating structural racism.

“We created the program for students who had not been able to proceed with their original summer plans due to the pandemic, while giving an opportunity for paid research and exploration of the arts beyond graduate school opportunities,” said Noemí Fernández, program manager of HCAH, and organizer and originator of the new summer research program. “The program met virtually every weekday for six weeks, from June 29 to August 7, before students would branch off to focus on their own individual work for the day.”

Fernández explained that the work of the program’s participants was split up into three main distinct segments. The first segment effectively acted as an internship at HCAH. 

“Here, participants took a real deep dive into the programs, structures, and functions of a real arts and culture organization,” she said. 

Additionally, participants engaged in programming with speakers and at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, to garner a larger perspective of how humanities institutions in Philadelphia were adapting to today’s changing landscape.

The program’s second segment was a team component, in which four groups of two participants each would examine four areas nationwide and how they were adapting to the landscape created by the pandemic and the movement for racial justice in the United States. Participants researched large, public university systems, small liberal arts colleges, public humanities councils, and library systems.

“The research focused on learning how the Hurford Center could adapt to the ever-changing landscape of today’s world,” said Fernández. “They sought to learn what centers and libraries could do to ensure they make a positive impact on both their communities and humanities as a whole, through remote adaptation and anti-racist action.”

The final component offered students the opportunity to conduct original research, while working in teams to collaborate and give feedback on each other’s work. 

“Research projects ranged from analysis of performance theory in the digital age to examining the personal impact of the Black Lives Matter movement,” said Fernández. “Every topic served to give the Hurford Center insight about our evolving world, since such scholarship about the contemporary world can often take years to develop.”

Though the research projects of the students varied greatly in subject and scope, each provided valuable insight into the evolving role of humanities in today’s world. Julia Coletti ‘21 explored responses of cultural institutions, such as museums, during a pandemic. JC Davey ‘21 explored the development of video games into locations of social interaction, paying particular attention to events like Travis Scott’s April 2020 virtual concert, which utilized Fortnite as a medium. Lexie Iglesia ‘21 and Becca Matson ‘22 worked on a project about decolonizing the art and humanities in today’s digital landscape. Jalen Martin ‘23 researched the evolution of Black American music. Daniel Qin-Dong ‘21 studied the work of rapper Meek Mill and its portrayal of American life, particularly his song, “Otherside of America.” Naomi Kalombo ’22 researched creating a visual archive of the present to document the Black Lives Matter movement and its contemporary reactions. Bilge Nur Yilmaz ‘21 undertook a project about the dynamics of public performance in a socially distant era. 

“Ultimately, every participant gave the Hurford Center recommendations about how to move forward while engaging in anti-racist activity and transforming amid the current pandemic,” said Fernández. “Some of the recommendations we got included putting a land acknowledgement on our website, creating a toolkit series of places one could take the arts and humanities besides graduate school, suggestions for our budget, and adapting to not being able to give people proper walk-through tours of our facilities.”