FUTURES/forward Mentorships: Featuring Desirée Patterson
FUTURES/forward Mentee, Desirée Patterson — cohort #3 duo, October 2020 to March 2021 — mentored by Flick Harrison
DESIRÉE PATTERSON is a Canadian photographic artist currently living on the unceded territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations, in Vancouver, BC. Her career began during a journey throughout nearly forty countries across four continents. As she documented her extensive travels, she repeatedly observed exhausted environments and impoverished situations. These experiences impacted Patterson deeply. They served as a catalyst inspiring the themes and direction of her art practice.
Patterson is both an artist and activist, ever aware of the harsh realities our earth is undergoing. It is within this ongoing state of dire predictions, global disasters, and bleak planetary projections that she seeks out the beauty and grace of the world in which we live in, waking us from a stilted, siloed and blinded slumber, with ambitions to propel us into collective action. Key thematics in her work include sustainability, environmental issues, social justice and humanity’s dystopic relationship with nature. Patterson has completed public art projects for the City of Richmond and Capture Photography Festival among others. Her work is found in within multiple public and private collections in Canada, the United States, Singapore, Europe and Hong Kong. In 2018, she trained with former Vice President Al Gore in Los Angeles, in the role of civilian leadership as part of the Climate Reality Project and in 2020. Through visual art, organization of public events, and by conducting interactive projects, Desirée feels strongly that she can transcend societal barriers by stimulating curiosity, imagination, and create unique opportunities to incite change. desireepatterson.com @desireepatterson_
I learned much during these past six months in the FUTURES/forward mentorship. When I applied for the program, I had envisioned the skills I wanted to acquire, the networks I hoped to make, and a flurry of ideas for projects I wished to realize. However, nothing I had planned for myself as a mentee in the program went the way I envisioned, but it all came together in ways I truly needed to foster my growth as a community-engaged artist. I am thankful for the wise mentorship of Flick Harrison, who intuitively guided me in the right directions, and the program itself, which provided me the chance to simply learn.
In the beginning of the program, I spent hours watching recorded workshops, learning numerous methodologies, observing facilitation approaches, and exploring the many aspects of ASC work. In conjunction with our monthly zoom gatherings (with the many esteemed and incredibly inspiring artists) I could not have asked for a better way to further explore this field and build upon my own foundations as a facilitator.
During those first few months, Flick and I spent a lot of time discussing pedagogies. I resonated with the fluidity of his facilitation methods and I loved the stories he shared of the many experiences he has had conducting numerous projects. One of the biggest reflections Flick helped me realize was… I had to let go of control/detailed planning and be comfortable with open space, allowing sessions to evolve organically, catering to the participant’s needs instead of my desired outcomes. This is the pedagogy that I hope to employ during my projects. I know it will take time to develop the skills required to master such an approach, but I feel, strongly, this is the way I wish to connect with participants and create opportunities to instigate change.
Amidst all of this research and pedagogy exploration, I was busy crafting three different programs, designed for three different demographics, tackling three different approaches to environmental stewardship, while trying to find three organizations to collaborate with. My hope was to utilize my mentorship as much as possible and have Flick critique my programming and help me weave additional layers of engagement into my projects. The goal was to conduct one of these during FUTURES/forward, and by completing the creation of the other two programs, I would have a head-start on proposals for continuing this work post mentorship.
It was ambitious of me to think I could pull all of this off in six months, but I was actually able to finish writing all three programs. I found a partnering environmental organization, the Surfrider Foundation, to work with and I was able to start facilitating the first sessions of my Interconnected Program, in collaboration with the Alternative’s Gallery and Studio, a collective who supports artists with developmental disabilities located in East Van.
I had hoped to conduct all of my programs within a natural outdoor setting (they are all designed with foundations of fostering individual connection to nature through sensory, meditative, and artistic exercises) however I kept hitting blockades for starting my projects. It was very difficult for me to imagine connecting participants with nature and learning about stewardship through a computer screen; however, the ongoing limitations of our current pandemic forced me to rewrite segments of the project into sessions that I could conduct over Zoom. Again, another example of things not going the way I planned, but with the silver lining of encouraging me to expand my comfort zone and learn how to facilitate connective experiences through online media. I was able to conduct two of the workshops remotely and they were actually great successes.
Not only did I have the best participants to work with, the studio director, Cindy Mateush, went above and beyond, setting up multiple computer screens, enabling a bird’s eye view of the entire space as well as a secondary monitor on a mobile table, which she continuously rolled around the room, creating opportunities for me to interact one-on-one with each participant. We had a lot of fun and a lot of laughs. I did not feel like I was across the city sitting behind a screen and was genuinely able to bond with the group.
The team of fantastic staff at the studio were also paramount in the success of these workshops. They work on a one-to-one ratio with their artists and acted as brilliant mediators during the sessions, ensuring effective communication between myself and the participants. And of course, Flick was vital as my support behind the scenes. He helped me prepare the workshops and navigated me through the challenges of working with a primarily non-verbal group. My biggest concern was ensuring that the methodologies I employed were receptive to the participants. Most of the approaches I have used in the past, and saw during my research, were heavily rooted within a verbal context. Flick guided me to see that I needed to develop the sessions with less time oriented to verbal interactions/deconstructions and more focus on physical expressions and visual communications (drawing responses, etc.). It was amazing to have someone for support while preparing for these workshops as well as having the safety of a vulnerable space where I could ask anything I wanted and not feel inadequate. I have never had a mentor and, as a self-taught artist, I could not be more thankful for this opportunity to learn from someone else’s experiences and have genuine support.
Although the FUTURES/forward mentorship timeframe has concluded, I will be completing two of my projects this summer: the Interconnected program, which consists of four more sessions, two outdoors, two in studio; and I will be working with the Surfrider Foundation to conduct Discarded, which will consist of a shoreline clean-up and artmaking from the matter collected. Flick has generously offered to continue our mentorship in preparation for these next few sessions, which I know will be an incredible resource, especially as I navigate facilitating a massive project that will potentially see up to two hundred participants. I will be sure to update this report once these workshops have been realized. To follow the projects I will be conducting this summer, please visit my website: desireepatterson.com or my Instagram page: @desireepatterson_
I am also looking forward to staying connected with the FUTURES/forward community through biannual meetings and our group Facebook page.
Thank you again to Judith Marcuse and Kim Gilker at ICASC (and JMP) for this incredible opportunity.
FUTURES/forward gratefully acknowledges that Desirée’s mentorship thrived due in part to the generous support of the BC Arts Council, Judith Marcuse Projects, the Government of Canada’s Emergency Community Support Fund and Community Foundations of Canada.