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New Adventures on the Horizon for ELIA

19 May 2020

Executive Director, Maria Hansen explains why the decision has been made to host the first ELIA Biennial (Digital) Conference in November 2020 and reflects on personal moments of learning in these pandemic times.

The uncertainty we are all experiencing is going to continue for the rest of the year, maybe even beyond. In our webinars we hear how frustrating this is for many of you, trying to provide excellent education and connect with your students, against all the odds. It is this same situation that has led to a big decision from our end.

The ELIA Biennial was meant to take place at the must-see, Toni Areal in Zurich, from 18 – 21 November. Given the fact we would not know anything for sure, even by the end of the summer, we felt, together with our host Zurich University of the Arts, the only way forward was to transform the event into a digital conference.

I can assure you, some of us lost sleep over this – it is afterall ELIA’s 30th anniversary year, and we adore getting all of you together for professional development, meaningful exchange and the opportunity to re-charge and re-energise.

Now we embark on a big new adventure with an ELIA world première digital conference. For the team, it has meant going back to the drawing board, because of course, we can’t just serve up another zoom meeting. Instead, you can expect a creative, dynamic and interactive multi-media experience that will offer the opportunity to involve colleagues and students. Thank you for being patient with us as we transform our programme – the only thing for you to do right now is mark 18 – 21 November in everyone’s agenda. This is one not to be missed.

In other news, I am acquiring a new skill. It’s a 2020 skill and it is called ‘hosting a webinar’. This wasn’t on my original agenda, but it seems as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, we’re all acquiring new skills at record speed. ELIA has produced weekly webinars since mid-March, all of them focused on topics that you have raised – topics that are urgent in this time of crisis.

My webinar job to date has been to host three ETHO webinars, for our new platform for technical staff. Attendance numbers have been high, ranging from 150 – 200 every time, and the conversation has been lively and practical (I am learning lots of new words!). I sense that participants leave with new ideas and also with the courage to go on, which is what we want. It’s a tough and uncertain time for our members and it’s not rare that in the midst of exchanging best practices, we hear stories of colleagues and students who have lost their lives. Perhaps this why I was so moved during our webinar on Health and Wellbeing, hosted by my colleague Barbara Revelli.

In this webinar, we heard from Rebecca Duclos, who is Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts at Concordia University in Montreal and a member of ELIA’s Representative Board. Rebecca had meant to give us a factual account of her role as an institution leader in the current crisis. But – as she shared with me – the night before the webinar, she changed it all, wrote, and then narrated for us at 8 am in the morning Montreal time, a reflection that was both meditative and comforting at once. It made us all stop in our tracks and personally, I really needed that. You will find Rebecca’s thought-provoking text in our May newsletter.

Another story that has been shared this month is that of new ELIA member, Art University of Bournemouth and their impressive work making and providing personal protective equipment for their local community.

You will also read updates on ELIA’s European advocacy efforts in order to prevent permanent damage to the cultural and education sectors. I would advise you to take a look at our upcoming online events and learn how you can watch those you have missed.

As we move ahead towards brighter days it’s worth noting last month was the sunniest month of April ever measured in the Netherlands. This feels like a literal ray of sunshine in my life – I hope in yours, as well. Thank you for your continued support!

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