This was the second iteration of our year-long residency for creators and cultural producers in Toronto. Ferment extended work from 2019 and carried over a number of contributors. COVID-19 interrupted our in-person gathering and the community turned toward virtual approaches to producing culture and making a living. Culture is a collective resource upon which we all draw to make sense of the world. A society that lacks diversity in culture is a society that lacks the imagination to deal with the massive issues of our times. Ferment convened people outside traditional and institutional spheres of arts creation and supported their work. We did this through research and experimentation on emerging business models, new platforms for collaboration, and unexpected sources of income.
The shift to digital led to a shift in our focus and priorities. New Not Normal served as a home for programming, workshops, and public engagement as we struggled to make sense of COVID-19 and the restrictions it obligated.
On March 4, 2020, UKAI Projects was interviewed as part of ongoing research on the types and activities of creative hubs across Canada with a focus on Ferment.
A summary of the responses are included below:
Summary description of the hub: The establishment of both UKAI Projects and the Ferment incubator was anchored in an exploration of what artists need in order to sustain themselves in the contemporary arts ecology, while simultaneously subverting the typical transactional arts model with one that is centered around generosity and reciprocity. The creation of the organization was informed by the founder’s history of working as the program director for both the Banff Centre as well as Artscape Launchpad in Toronto. The hub also works as a producing partner with organizations and institutions that lack the infrastructure to confidently solicit funds or deliver on strategic priorities of government and private funders. Examples of projects include video storytelling for clients, helping for-profit firms develop core business models that assist in investments that benefit communities, and digital prototyping for non-Western culturally-specific music practices.
Unique qualities of the hub compared to the classic creative hub model: A major difference between the UKAI/Ferment and that of a typical creative hub model is the prioritization of the human values of compassion and love in their processes. There is a strong focus on enriching connections amongst all actors rather than producing specific outcomes. A final unique quality is the hubs’ lack of physical space.
A significant highlight or event according to the interviewee: The first project hosted by Ferment asked participants to facilitate conversations at the Digital Arts Summit. The non-mainstream-arts participants were invited to host and facilitate conversations with traditionally privileged stakeholders, thus inverting the deeply entrenched power dynamic present in many arts organizations.
Accessibility approaches and core values: Core values of UKAI Projects/Ferment include autonomy, compassion, reciprocity and spontaneity. A core objective of the organization is to take advantage of momentum to fund cultural worth, often by exploring how instruments of capitalism can be leveraged in a way that they become openings to create new resources. The approach is that of a “sweater-wearing anarchist,” and although the phrase “exploit systems not people” started as a joke, it has become a bit of a mantra for the organization.