Post-Covid Artist Communes: How to Survive an MFA Program

Post-Covid Artist Communes: How to Survive an MFA Program

As a reformed freelancer of 15 years, one of the main reasons I attended graduate school was to gain access to and become connected with the arts and photography community. When COVID hit my peers and I reluctantly headed back to our respective enclaves. It seemed clear that connection was off the table for everyone. I had often heard that the people I met during graduate school would stay connected to me in some form or another throughout my entire career and that those connections were a large part of the experience.

MFA Photo Cohort in October of 2019

Forming relationships with your peers is not only important from a business and career perspective – networking is real and ignoring it isn’t going to make it go away – having a support system of individuals who know your history, artistic growth and trajectory and can speak to your work in a larger context, as you both get old and grey, is priceless.

To be completely honest – and if y’all have read any of my previous blogs you know I know no other way – the warm and fuzzy bordering-on-artists-commune-but-without-the-shared-living-space vibe that I had day-dreamed about didn’t really exist pre-COVID. Folks are stressed out and doing their best to get what they can out of two years of intentionally self-dedicated time. It makes sense. Throw in the need to produce and the weight of capitalism and it’s really a wonder that some graduate students leave feeling anything but disconnected and worn down. This is in no way specific to Columbia, rather MFA programs in general and the systems we live in. But, I digress.

I am a firm believer in the idea that things will always work itself out. Call it spirituality, 10 years of Catholic school (jk that makes no sense), or your run of the mill queer resiliency, but sometimes you have to gain a little perspective in order to understand how a perceived L may actually turn out to be a W.

After the shock of our new normal subsided – I’m not saying it didn’t take a while – the increased normalcy of texting, zooming, frequent FaceTimes, allowed me reach out to peers that I may not have felt comfortable doing so in the Beforetimes. Outside of the rush of 12 hour studio days I found myself able to create connections with peers that I had been absolutely sure were just not meant to be. Taking courses in other art departments also widened my circle of friends.  In taking a moment to pause and reflect, it’s clear that I may have in fact succeeded at creating my own little digital art commune with some of the most inspiring, intelligent, and supportive people I know. We may not be able to sit around the studios together but 12am co-working sessions on a Sunday night is worth its weight in gold. (There’s a bitcoin joke in here somewhere.)

Late night co-working sessions are a vibe.

In choosing to write this blog, I want to honor those connections and friends that were made possible by attending Columbia. When I was researching MFA programs I often heard that graduate school is what you make of it. This is not just something people say – thought it sounds like it. Your experience can only be made richer the wider you cast your net and the connections made grow exponentially over time. I’m sure there are people whose experience with graduate school seemed bespoke, but it many cases part of the process is creating the experience you want, which leaves much of the outcome up to you.