Reimagining the Remote: Chicago Humanities Initiative students partner with Block Cinema to consider digital possibilities

In Summer 2020, The Block Museum of Art is thrilled to be among Chicago arts and cultural organizations partnering with the Northwestern Chicago Humanities Initiative (CHI).

The CHI program prepares the next generation of humanities scholars to develop community partnerships, reach diverse audiences, and become powerful civic leaders. Through an eight-week internship with an arts, culture, or community organization and a credit-bearing graduate seminar, PhD students explore the role of the humanities in public life through hands-on-work, applied research projects and interdisciplinary classroom discussion.

Throughout the summer, the Block Cinema team is working with graduate students Madison Alan-LeeGervais Marsh, and Tyler Talbott, scholars of cinema, media, and cultural representation. Together the cohort will critically consider modes of public programming and online engagement, combining their scholarship with best practices in the field to inform evolving directions for Block Cinema.

The Chicago Humanities Initiative is designed to help PhD students develop as public scholars through hands on, real world experience. The Block embraced the opportunity to mentor a team through the complex process—stem to stern—of developing a public program. This kind of experience empowers our students to collaborate across organizational boundaries, communicate with diverse audiences, and produce work of public value.”

Ruth Curry, Program Director – Chicago Humanities Initiative, Center for Civic Engagement, Northwestern University

Michael Metzger, Pick-Laudati Curator of Media Arts recognizes that the program comes to The Block at a timely moment. “The opportunity to work with Gervais, Maddie and Tyler has come at a critical time for Block Cinema, as we reflect on how to fulfill our mission through remote screenings. Not only does this partnership with the Chicago Humanities Initiative give students valuable firsthand experience with film curation, it also offers a forum in which we can work collectively to develop programs that meet the urgent challenges of our moment. I’m delighted to be learning as much from these brilliant students as I could possibly hope to teach!”


Meet the Scholars

Learn more from the Summer 2020 CHI cohort about what they hope to learn from the Block, and what the Block can learn from them.

Madison Alan-Lee (PhD Screen Cultures)

Madison Alan-Lee

“My developing dissertation project focuses on new media aesthetics, affect, phenomenology, and materiality. More specifically, I work on sensual contemporary networked genres such as slime videos and #oddlysatisfying that affectively engage the embodied viewer. Touch, hapticity, vision, and sound are foregrounded in these explorations of form and materiality. Working with the Block Cinema during the pandemic has given me the opportunity to puzzle over some of the larger questions that inform my research. How can we think capaciously about the internet as a viewing platform? How might we understand networked publics and pedagogy in more nuanced and productive ways? I am excited by the prospect of developing a remote program that features an eclectic assemblage of experimental cinema, performance, and new media objects in order to consider shifting experiences and viewing practices, all from behind a screen.”


Gervais Marsh (PhD Performance Studies)

Gervais Marsh

“My research engages Black diasporic visual culture as a meditation on affective relationships to Blackness, understood as a global racial-cultural logic. The project connects the work of artists from Jamaica, South Africa, the U.K. and the U.S., and, through a transnational Black Feminist framework, focuses on themes of relationality, irreconcilability, intimacy and care. I view my work with the Block Cinema team as an opportunity to gain more experience in curatorial practices, and am grateful for the wealth of knowledge being shared regarding film, video art and other forms of visual culture. This is particularly valuable as I consider different career options both within and outside academia, and a commitment towards public facing scholarship and programming.”


Tyler Talbott (PhD English)

Tyler Talbott

“I applied to the Chicago Humanities Initiative out of a desire to branch out from my usual role as a doctoral student, researcher, and teacher, and to have greater exposure to the work of arts programming and curation. I am particularly interested in cultivating experience in the field of media arts and film, which is related to but distinct from the field I study, and in which I have long held a vested interest. This summer with Block Cinema I want to learn more about that institution’s approach to offering innovative and coherent series of global cinema, and to help shape how this programming can be moved online to best service its community audience. I am also currently working on a syllabus for a course for next year that in part hinges on postcolonial perspectives on Western canons and literary histories, and I would be very interested in thinking through a program centered around the critical adaptation and reinterpretation of past works through the lenses of identity and inheritance. More than anything, I view this summer as an opportunity to understand how cultural and arts institutions are responding to the radically altered circumstances that have affected how and why people encounter art, and to think about how our close attention to film media can engage our critical thinking of the problems in the present.”

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