Rewriting the Rulebook: Creating in a Post-COVID World

New Museum
6 min readMay 28, 2020

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By Stephanie Pereira

Beginning in March, much of the talk amongst our NEW INC community of artists, designers, creative technologists, and cultural producers has not just been around resilience — i.e. how will we weather this precarious moment together — but also how this can be an opportunity for rewriting the rulebook on what gets made and how.

Zoom conversation with NEW INC members

As the weeks and now months have crept by, we’ve progressed from a state of shock and discomfort (and for many of us, illness) to a space where we are considering and designing for a radically changed world. A world where the ways in which we think and make and share are not only limited by physical proximity, but also expanded through technology. A context where the means of production and opportunities for access are blown wide open.

In our new virtual lives, we’ve seen exciting developments heralding a new moment for inclusivity — the previously exclusive SXSW Film Festival has invited filmmakers to take part in a digital film festival and the Oscars greenlighting streaming releases for consideration, a barrier that prevented many filmmakers from qualifying for the award. We’ve experienced more basic but equally valuable moments like John Legend singing to us from his living room and Instagram dance parties with tens of thousands of participants. More recently, Thao & the Get Down Stay Down delighted us all with their Zoom produced music video, and Gen Z coopted the Met Gala by debuting their own creative looks via an all-access event organized by a Twitter hashtag. More and more people are making work for VR Chat, and there have been reports of “strange video art” thriving. People around the world seem to be having plenty of creative fun online, despite the darkness of the times.

What is especially invigorating for those of us making these experiences is that we have had record numbers in terms of participation — email newsletters are being opened, read, and shared; virtual events are not just joined, but people are active in the chat and staying through the end; long-reads are actually being read. It’s abundantly clear that culture has become an essential resource we simply cannot live without.

In a world where we can produce almost anything together, and reach so many people with what we make, we must also consider the following: How will we as artists, designers, cultural producers, and presenters continue to generate work, engage new audiences, and get paid while we are at it? What new opportunities for accessibility can we build into our work as a default? Is there an opportunity to redesign how work is created and funded so that new work and new businesses are informed with a social safety net that can stay in place in moments like these?

At NEW INC, we’ve already encountered some unique illustrations of how our members are using this unprecedented time to redefine their practice and the norms for making work.

Recharge Room at Mount Sinai, Photo by Maksim Axelrod

Mirelle Phillips is a designer whose stay as a long-term hospital patient led her to research and prototype hospital care experiences that would account for the whole patient by using a “biophilic design” methodology. Before COVID-19, Mirelle partnered with a doctor to slowly but surely clear the red tape and raise money to pilot a program at Mount Sinai East. When COVID hit, Mirelle was immediately granted the access she had been chasing and transformed 3000 square feet into an immersive audio-visual experience for traumatized frontline healthcare professionals. Her project, Frontline Strong, has been live since the end of March, and early research shows such positive returns that she’s expanding her design interventions to other touchpoints with healthcare workers, patients, and other hospitals. In her new role as a de facto designer-in-residence for Mount Sinai, Mirelle’s inspired and empathetic perspective has become an indispensable element for grappling with this crisis.

Austin Robey and Collin Lewis are cofounders of Ampled, a cooperatively owned, mission-driven crowdfunding platform for musicians and their fans. Before COVID, they were a part of a growing movement of “Zebras,” or business owners who are unsatisfied with the extractive values of the traditional startup ecosystem, and who instead have proposed a cooperative, community-values oriented approach to launching and growing businesses. After COVID, these propositions which seemed like a nice added value for many investors and entrepreneurs, suddenly felt not only urgent, but essential. We’ve seen how quickly the illusion of economic and social security vanishes when a crisis hits, and I confidently predict that small business owners, entrepreneurs, and even investors will all have new metrics for success that don’t just account for 10x growth.

Concept art from Kate Machtiger

Kate Machtiger is a neurodiverse designer and founder of Extra Terrestrial Studio. Before COVID, Kate’s spatial design practice was already taking into consideration concepts like contactless shopping experiences or exploring how color, texture, sound, and lighting could both enhance an environment and also care for a more diverse set of shoppers. In our post-COVID encounters, close contact with salespeople and interaction with products have become unsafe. Kate’s point of view has gone from left-field to essential.

“Living Sounds” by Xin Liu and Gershon Dublon

Xin Liu and Gershon Dublon are artists and electrical/mechanical engineers whose creative studio slow immediate is predicated on the idea that taking things slow can make everything feel that much more immediate. During this crisis, they first treated their enforced homestay as a quasi-residency that allowed them to slow down, and gain perspective on what they were making, and what was needed. In the past eight weeks, they have incubated two new projects. First, in direct response to the healthcare crisis, Xin led a collaboration with other New Yorkers to source PPE from their contacts in China, and using tools like Whatsapp, Google Docs, and Airtable, they organized a grassroots effort to distribute masks and coveralls to healthcare workers around the city. Their second project, Living Sounds, sources a live mix from a restored natural area and makes it available via a simple website that visualizes the environmental conditions of the marsh. Living Sounds is a creative platform — a virtual space that will host readings, performances, and other inventive gatherings. Though wildly different, these two projects treat the world as an editable interface — a space where one can rewrite the terms of engagement to be co-created and to be generous.

What’s remarkable about each of these examples is that they’ve been developed in a moment of true struggle — loss of work, diminished business revenue, significant illness, and social isolation. These are just a sampling of the creative thinking and energy that our NEW INC members have poured into this moment. We are at the precipice of a moment that will redefine the future of the creative industry as we know it. In the world we recreate together, what if the work it takes to be successful in business is not counterproductive to the social values of our community? What if our metrics for success included standards around inclusivity, accessibility, sustainability, and direct social good? In the wake of this crisis, we must have the will to do right by each other, and to ambitiously apply our best intentions to the ways in which we practice.

Stephanie Pereira is Director of NEW INC, the first museum-led cultural incubator dedicated to supporting innovation, collaboration, and entrepreneurship across art, design, and technology

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