Holis online

Dana Olarescu

February 24, 2021

In May 2020, Holis won the bid to facilitate 99 Ways, The Second International Youth Summer Camp in Kaunas, Lithuania between 5–12 July 2020. With Kaunas being selected as European Cultural Capital in 2022, the camp was conceived as a co-creative platform for youth around Europe and beyond to gather, explore, and discuss their importance in the making of European culture. But due to the unprecedented negative impact of COVID-19 on social gatherings, the physical camp was then renamed Young Curators of Youth Season, and transformed into a month-long online workshop which took place between 20 August — 17 September 2020.

Holis is an interdisciplinary school that thrives on live interactions, proximity, thought- exchange, and relationship to locality, so transferring those online did not seem like an immediate fit. Questions and concerns were raised around the quality of the delivery in the circumstances, or the teams’ capacity to use collective intelligence tools while not sharing the same space. Dr Elyn Kelsey, a leading spokesperson, scholar and educator in the area of evidence-based hope, explains that while ‘problem identification’ is a solitary practice, developing solutions requires collaboration and creativity among many peoples’ strengths, and cross-disciplinary approaches. With designers being natural-born problem solvers, a lot of time was dedicated to finding an appropriate online format.

The programme targeted 18–29 year old Lithuanian participants already active or interested in working in the cultural sector. The main task was facilitating the mapping of topics that will guide the programming of the Youth Season, and relaying best-practice strategies for creating curatorial concepts. The online workshop was primarily run in small groups, with MURAL digital whiteboard used throughout, which allowed simultaneous participants’ note taking. Instead of post-its and large sheets of paper, the digital canvas surprisingly supported democratisation of knowledge, as it blurred lines between information shared by participants and facilitators.

Screenshot of one team's final presentation
Screenshot of one team's assignment
Screenshot of one team member's personal assignment

Suddenly, collectivity was empowered and celebrated again, ideas built on one another, and small teams also met outside of workshops to further develop their concepts. Design and visual/performing arts hardly use similar methodologies, but experimenting with design-thinking principlesin this format, enabled these often separate disciplines to coalesce. The young curators were then invited to spend a weekend in Kaunas with the Youth Season team, where they pitched their projects, and met future professional collaborators.

Participants attended a final Physical Meeting Weekend in Kaunas. Photo by Kaunas 2022 team
Physical Meeting team's presentation. Photo by Kaunas 2022 team

Numerous lessons were learned, including that younger people do not suffer from screen fatigue as much as older ones (i.e. Holis team), and that their power of adaptability is far superior. Their passion for and knowledge of social and environmental justice determines us to find even more relevant and appropriate ways of running future Holis editions. While aiming to solve problems that are rooted in rural contexts, as dictated by local communities, we are also attempting to shift gears towards creating equitable societies in the larger context of climate chaos. As always, our school will welcome designers, and those interested in social change to join us in using collective intelligence to foster radical alternatives.

A year into the pandemic, there is little hope for gatherings as we know them in the near future; solutions are not necessarily design solutions but those that address behavioural patterns of sharing space, or shaping the amount and type of travel we do. How do we look beyond short-lived solutions such as plastic screens separating people, digital interaction platforms, or signposting 2 meter-long distances where possible? What sort of public space or outdoors provisions do we require in order to facilitate people’s interaction? How do we make changes that last and inform how we relate to one another without fear? Lessons have been learned all over the world, and even large arts organisations started sharing their current empty spaces with local communities who need them the most. We hope to graciously devise strategies for gatherings, and shape their future by employing creativity and abundance in our methodologies.