A Year in Chrysalis: Reflections on the Changing Shape of the Allied Media Conference

NoVo Foundation
Sep 29, 2019 · 6 min read

By Jenny Lee, Executive Director, Allied Media Projects (AMP) and Nadine Marshall, Director, Allied Media Conference (AMC)

Photo credit: Ara Howrani, for the 20th annual Allied Media Conference

This piece is part of the NoVo Foundation’s Radical Hope Blog Series, a platform for social justice movement leaders from around the world to share learning and insights, hear what’s working and what’s not, build solidarity, and spark opportunities for collaboration. Amid daily headlines of division, this blog series is intended to serve as an active and dynamic beacon of hope, possibility, resistance, and resilience.

After 20 years of creating, connecting, and transforming our community, the Allied Media Conference took a one-year break. The organizers used this year to devise a new shape that could hold healthy, purposeful growth over the coming years. They called this period the Year in Chrysalis.

After spending the year in reflection, deep-dive evaluation, research, and development they’re finally ready to become a butterfly. Here Jenny and Nadine talk about the new shape of the conference.

Tell us about the past year of AMC in Chrysalis. What inspired the year of reflection?

Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the annual AMC in 2018 felt like a big milestone. When we started in 1999, AMC was really small, just a couple hundred people. In 2018, there were 3,500 people across all media forms you could imagine — from video production to embroidery to culinary arts and more — organizing for all the types of justice it will take to create the world we need.

AMC is an intimate place where connections are made. It’s not transactional in the way that conferences can be. It’s a transformative space where attendees create connections that last for years, return in new shapes, and evolve as people’s leadership grows over the years. We wanted to preserve that quality but it was becoming increasingly difficult.

We wanted to be thoughtful about how we grow, and we realized we needed more than a month to reflect. (For the annual conference, planning started one month after the previous conference ended.) So we decided to take a year, to go beyond engaging staff and to engage our whole community. So that’s what Year in Chrysalis became.

The Chrysalis Creative Team included longtime folks, people newer to AMC, and leaders with a particular lens on things like language justice, disability justice, and how food happens inside a conference. They helped us really distill down what is essential about AMC.

In our conversations we learned that even the structure of time is a way of creating or inhibiting accessibility. So we were rethinking time. Time and space, those are the two challenges: how do we design time and space to be accessible and to nurture critical connections?

Share a little bit about the new shape and goals of the Biennial Allied Media Conference. What components are you most excited about?

Before diving into the question of how the conference should change, we worked with the Chrysalis Creative Team to distill what parts of the AMC were essential to keep. We arrived at this list:

In any new shape, the AMC must continue to…

  • Advance AMP’s mission of cultivating media for liberation
  • Prioritize deep care and accessibility
  • Strengthen connectivity across networks
  • Continue to provide entry points for new people, especially Detroiters
  • Nurture participant leadership
  • Center marginalized communities
  • Take celebration seriously
  • Evolve continually through listening and evaluation
  • Attempt to model the world in which we want to live
  • Reduce the carbon footprint of the conference

But from there we did wild brainstorming, which we called the “Blue Sky” phase. This generated new elements of the conference like Siesta, which will be a two-hour period of rest built into each conference day; and Field Trips, which will be day-long, off-site events hosted by local partners. We will be evolving the livestreaming component of past AMCs into interactive online content for people who can’t be physically present. This helps us meet our goal of increasing accessibility and also reducing the carbon footprint of the conference.

Ultimately the most significant feature of the new shape of the AMC will be the shift to a biennial conference in Detroit, with regional and thematic mini conferences in the “off” year. We’re calling these mini gatherings AMSeeds!

AMSeeds are really our answer to the question of how do we want to grow, and what does distributed ownership look like? How do we distribute power outward?

AMSeeds won’t be replicas of the Detroit conference; they’ll draw from the AMC’s 20 years of lessons in convening, and repurpose those to meet community-specific needs and build power on a more local level.

Talk about the vision of AMP’s Create, Connect, Transform project. How will the new shape of the AMC help carry it forward?

Create, Connect, Transform (CCT) fuels social justice, media, art, and technology innovations at Detroit’s grassroots. The mission of the CCT collaboration — between the Equitable Internet Initiative, Detroit Narrative Agency, People in Education, Black Bottom Archives, Petty Propolis, the Detroit Safety Team, and the Allied Media Conference — is really to build on the role AMP has been playing as a translocal exchange point between Detroit and the rest of the world.

For example, People in Education (PIE) can trace its roots to early media literacy and education justice conversations within the conference, which evolved over time from workshops to panels, tracks, and network gatherings. PIE now facilitates artist residencies and supports teachers across the city and the country who are working to humanize schooling.

The Detroit Safety Team started out as the AMC Safety Team, which formed in 2012 as a way to model ideas about transformative justice and safety that had been developing within the conference. For several years, feminists of color from around the country organized AMC tracks around the theme of “Growing Safer Communities,” exploring how we could use media to amplify successful models of communities addressing harm without involving police. Today, the Detroit Safety Team works year-round to redefine safety, engage conflict, and create intentional structures of social practice that support community-centered healing in Detroit and beyond.

The Equitable Internet Initiative, which incubates neighborhood-based Internet Service Providers in Detroit and provides connectivity to several hundred households, was piloted at smaller scales during the Allied Media Conference.

The Petty Propolis Art Festival and Retreat, which just celebrated its second annual event, has current and former AMC staff on its advisory board.

For two years in a row, the Detroit Narrative Agency screened works in progress at the AMC, tapping into the conference’s local-national audience for vital feedback, resources, and opportunities.

Through these examples and more, we saw that there was a feedback loop in what happens at the conference — how the idea generation and relationship-building there fuses with the deep infrastructure of organizing in Detroit.

CCT is intentionally strengthening that over the next four years, and the new shape of AMC is key both as a national stage to elevate the genius of Detroit organizers, and as a way to bring new resources into Detroit. We want to keep nurturing networks of solidarity and exchange that span the globe.

What’s special about the Radical Hope Fund grant is that four years of committed support designed to give us space to experiment, prioritize relationships, and dream of new possibilities is allowing us to become what we need to become. We don’t have to rush-rush-rush to just produce. We had the ability to have that breathing room, to take space to really plan, to go on a learning journey, to be intentional, to overhaul — to have our Year in Chrysalis. Without that funding, or with differently structured funding, we would never have been able to have that year to reflect.

What are some ways people can get involved with AMC?

We just opened applications for two big things:

  1. A call for proposals around network gathering — apply here.
  2. And we’re hiring an AMC co-director! Apply here.

Finally, if people want to get an early start on AMC or have any questions, they can reach out to us at amc@alliedmedia.org.

NoVo Foundation

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