In March 2020, students at Emerson College came face-to-face with an unpleasant surprise: because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they would be attending remote classes for the remainder of the school year. Former Emerson video and media arts professor Gabby Follet Sumney was scrambling to figure out how students could continue filmmaking classes without access to gear, like cameras, flatbed editors, and optical printers.
To stay connected with students, Sumney launched “This Week in Experimental,” a weekly newsletter highlighting resources such as programs offering emergency funding and fellowships seeking applications.
Sumney sent the newsletter to 30 students every Monday, alongside lists of weekly assignments and what they needed to watch. The holistic approach was to help confused and scared students who were doing projects and homework connected to the art world while thinking: “What ‘art world?’ It’s gone!”
At the students’ suggestion, Sumney began to incorporate summer opportunities, like virtual film festivals where they could submit work. A friend asked them to “bcc” them on this list and Sumney then started putting the newsletter out to the general public, off the Emerson network. They continued to post every other newsletter on social media (@this_week_in_experimental on Instagram) and soon institutions like LEF and Analog Cookbook shared the sign-up link with their communities.
Now, a year into the pandemic, “This Week in Experimental” has become a space for film and media artists to watch and support others’ work, find opportunities in the film industry, and form a community that is needed now. In response to subscribers’ biggest needs and worries, Sumney wanted to give funding ideas and answers to “how can I afford to do this project?” Other content categories include what to watch and read, exercises, residencies, where to submit films, and upcoming festivals.
Sumney now teaches at Lesley University in Cambridge and works with the Boston LGBTQIA+ Artist Alliance (BLAA) to support queer artists across artistic disciplines in Greater Boston. “This Week in Experimental,” now with a national subscriber base, still goes out on Mondays, and Sumney is searching for guest contributors across the industry.
“As workers, regardless of field, we have all been asked to maintain an inhuman amount of productivity during a time of crisis, illness, grieving, and economic turmoil,” Sumney said. “My advice to everyone has mostly been to give yourself space to feel things and to rest. For artists specifically, I would argue those little moments of refusal are when the good ideas come to you.”
For more information or to subscribe, visit gfollettsumney.com/this-week-in-experimental.html.
April Federico is a Rhode Island-based writer. She can be reached at email@example.com or via Twitter @AprilFMedia.