QUESTIONS ABOUT THE CIVIC MEDIA FELLOWSHIP

updated 4/13/2021

WHO IS THIS FELLOWSHIP FOR?

We’re looking for artists, organizers, makers, storytellers, and others using media and technology with participatory practices that advance social progress in ways that defy easy categorization, and who want to invest in learning with and from each other, exploring new modes of expression, and otherwise pushing their practice into unexpected places. We prioritize perspectives, voices, and issues which have been historically under-represented. Potential fellows should also be at a stage where they are able to reflect on their practice, open to new ways of working, and have the space to engage other people and work, whether planned or serendipitous.

Do I need an advanced degree or a particular experience?

No degree is required. Fellows come from different backgrounds, modes of engagement, strengths and perspectives.

Is there a *right* time and motivation to do the Fellowship?

Motivations vary widely: some may use it to step outside current involvements and to reflect and explore a new issue, media, technology or community. Others might have hit a proverbial wall in their own practice and need to reinvigorate themselves. Still others are undertaking a new effort and seeking fellow-travelers. All, however, will be eager to contribute to the field itself as we collectively develop and share a deeper understanding of the practice of Civic Media. These motivations (and more!) are welcome as we work together to create a program that nurtures and advances both individuals within and the field of civic media itself.

Where does the Fellowship take place?

Like the rest of the world, we’ve adapted our activities for remote engagement during the global pandemic. At this time, the Fellowship is an entirely remote experience. See next section (“What’s the Fellowship Experience Like?”) for more details. While we hope to be able to gather the cohort together in the same physical space at some point, we won’t plan this until it’s safe for everyone to travel and be together.

Since it’s all remote, can I join the Fellowship from anywhere?

While your physical location isn’t a restriction, we do have some expectations for participation. We run the Fellowship from Los Angeles, CA, and we expect you to be able to meet synchronously with the cohort twice a week (with some breaks in schedule built in, and allowing for the occasional conflict). With the 2021 cohort, we meet for 90-120 minutes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, starting at 1pm PT (4pm ET), and expect a similar schedule going forward. Additionally, we expect you to make time to connect individually with your cohort-mates on your own schedules. If this is out of sync with your time zone, or internet connectivity, the 2022 program won’t be a good fit for you.

Assuming pandemic conditions improve, will the 2022 cohort be able to come to the USC campus?

We hope so. Currently, we’re following USC’s Phases and Guidelines for returning to campus, but we’re not in charge of those decisions (or of the pandemic!). Currently, most USC students, faculty and staff (and ALL AnnLab faculty & staff), are working remotely and we haven’t been given a timeline for returning to campus.

You had a residential cohort before – will you have one again once the pandemic is over?

This program was conceived to be – and will remain – dynamic and iterative. We certainly learned the importance of flexibility in 2020! In other words, we’re open to different modalities for the Fellowship, and committed to being responsive to what participants in the program need and what we are able to provide. Our all-remote cohort for 2020-2021 has been a fantastic experience, and there are elements we definitely want to bring forward as the program continues. We can’t imagine not incorporating the fellowship into the on-campus community in some way, but whether that will mean a truly residential fellowship is an open question.

WHAT’S THE FELLOWSHIP EXPERIENCE LIKE?

While each Fellow’s experience is singular, there are also some constants: fellows meet together multiple times a week to share their experiences, to get and give feedback on work, and to learn new skills and perspectives together.

Generally, Fellows will spend their fellowship working on public-interest and civic-oriented media and technologies. Exploration is encouraged and creation may be individual or collaborative, short term or longer, fun or serious. Fellows work collaboratively with each other and others in joining and generating projects. Enthusiasm, patience, and commitment to working through ideas together are essential components!

While Fellows come together over a shared passion for their work, we also acknowledge that often fellows often find themselves needing space to pause as well. Taking a moment to recover, to luxuriate in learning, and to work with and learn from people of other backgrounds and disciplines are key components of the program. We want fellows to challenge themselves to stick to their goals while looking deeper within, quieting the noise and amplifying their intuition. We encourage fellows to set boundaries and say no to things while also getting out of their comfort zones to have hard conversations or participate in learning activities that they might not normally engage in.

In every part of the Fellowship experience, we aim to make new connections and forge new collaborations, cultivating mentorship as a give-and-get exchange. Bringing varied expertise to the space, fellows will be expected to be both teacher and student, sharing their skills with each other and learning by completing projects together. Our hope is that Fellows become vibrant members of a greater community, and expand their networks across new practices and disciplines.

Some of our 2021 cohort’s remote activities have included:

  • Sharing Pecha Kuchas with the cohort: stories of who you are and how your experience has helped shape your work; developing community agreements for our time together.
  • Presenting and participating in fellow-led learning sessions and workshops on things like: Afrofuturist worldbuilding, speculative storymaking, how to get your writing published, video production for social media, and more.
  • Regular check-in calls to share updates, blockers and plans with each other, occasionally participating in deep dives on ideas/projects.
  • Small-group discussions with civic media practitioners and scholars like Cathy Cohen, Sasha Costanza-Chock, Henry Jenkins, and Caty Borum Chattoo.
  • Social hours of cooking and sharing recipes, group storytelling, and multiple “unconference” sessions, involving the larger AnnLab community and aimed at building relationships.
  • Year-long self-care workshop series to help re-center thinking and rejuvenate mission, and multi-part financial coaching workshop designed for social impact artists & entrepreneurs.
  • Opt-in “writing collective” of current and senior fellows to share virtual co-writing space and plan group learning sessions on topics like giving and receiving feedback, publishing your work, etc.

Past cohorts have also engaged in in-person activities like:

WHAT DOES PARTICIPATION IN THE FELLOWSHIP PROGRAM LOOK LIKE?

We are planning the 2021-2022 program to be a fully remote experience, though we are open to adding in-person activities if and when that’s possible. If we are able to meet in person, travel and accommodation will be provided for all out-of-town participants.

What’s the time commitment?

The fellowship is a 9.5-month part-time commitment (approximately 8-10 hours per week). This time is largely spent in collaboration and exchange (2x weekly video calls, one-on-one check-ins, etc.) with fellowship peers as well as others on staff and in the community.

How will I spend my time together with the cohort?

We see your 8-10 hours per week broken up roughly into thirds:

  • Together synchronously (~3-4 hours): Taking Zoom fatigue into account, split synchronous time into two days a week, with each Zoom call lasting about 90 minutes. We expect to continue many of the activities of the 2021 cohort described above, however programming is also emergent and based on the group’s interests and needs. We also make room for sharing individual work and feedback sessions within this weekly schedule.
  • One-on-one with other members of the cohort or staff (~3 hours)
  • Your own personal time thinking/dreaming/in practice about fellowship stuff! (~3 hours)

How can I expect the fellowship to contribute to my work?

We’ve designed the fellowship structure to provide a sounding board for working through challenges and decision points in everything from daily practice to larger project initiatives and career goals, as well as an accountability structure to help realize the aims that individual Fellows set for themselves. During the fellowship, we will ask you to spend some time with us on things that probably won’t feel like they relate directly to your work. We ask that you trust us that this time will be rewarded further down the line!

Is there financial support provided with the fellowship?

Yes, our 2021 cohort received a monthly stipend of $2500 for the 9.5 month fellowship, along with up to $4000 toward project expenses. We are still finalizing our budget for the 2022 cohort, but expect a similar level of total financial support will be offered.

Are healthcare or other benefits offered to Fellows through USC?

The Fellowship is not a faculty, staff, or student appointment and does not offer any additional benefits (healthcare, insurance, retirement, etc.) at this time.

What other USC resources are available? Can I take classes at USC as part of the fellowship?

Fellows have access to distance resources at USC (such as digital library resources).

Fellows are not able to officially enroll in classes (either for credit or for audit) as part of the program. However, many classes have welcomed fellows to “sit in” informally and participate in this way (see examples above under past-cohort activities). This is entirely at the discretion of the faculty and department for each class and arranged on a case by case basis. Currently, almost all classes are being offered remotely, which may affect availability both positively and negatively, depending on the situation.

WHAT IS THE TERM?

The fellowship roughly spans the academic year, about 9.5 months. Our 2022 cohort will run from mid-August 2021 – May 2022. After successfully completing the fellowship year, participants gain Senior Fellow status for a second year, affording them a title, community, access to USC resources and the like, albeit with no financial support.

HOW MANY FELLOWS ARE THERE?

Our 2020 cohort was 12 fellows and our 2021 cohort was 16. We are aiming for something in the range of 12-16 for our 2022 cohort. They are joined by our Senior Fellows, which include alumni of the fellowship program and other illustrious and engaged community members.

HOW ARE FELLOWS IDENTIFIED AND SELECTED?

In the first years of the program, we focused on surfacing applicants through existing networks using a nomination process. While we still rely heavily on these networks to circulate the opportunity and socialize the program, for the 2022 cohort we are offering an open application process. All applicants must 1.) complete the application, 2.) submit contact info for two references, and 3.) have one reference complete our recommendation form. The application will be available here from 2/17/2021 – 3/19/2021 (a link to the recommendation form is included on the application and may be forwarded to the recommender of the applicant’s choice). Applications are reviewed by our team, with a subset selected for the initial interview process. After the initial interview round is completed, finalists are selected for a second round of interviews, from which our cohort is selected. While we review applicants individually, our final decisions are informed by fit within the cohort.

WHEN WILL THE NEXT COHORT BE SELECTED?

Our timeline for the 2022 Cohort is as follows:
Feb. 17 – March 19: Applications Accepted
March – April: Applications Reviewed
April – May: Candidate Interviews
June: Cohort Selected
August: 2022 Fellowship Program Begins

HOW DOES THIS PROGRAM EMBRACE DIVERSITY?

Diversity is a super-power — a resource to be leveraged, not a problem to be managed — and attention to it runs through everything we do. As part of learning with and from each other, the work and well-being of our community are profoundly strengthened by the differences among us, background, culture, lived experience, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, age, ability, and much more. We actively seek and welcome people from across these spectra. Recognizing that it is a work forever in progress, we are committed to harnessing—and demonstrating—the dynamism, joy and strength of an inclusive and empowered community.

We’ve learned a lot over the last two cohorts and expect to continue to learn and improve as the program goes on. We are committed to applying an inclusionary lens to every corner of the program, recognizing that there is hard work that needs to be done every day to make this a truly diverse and inclusionary space.

WHEN DID THE CIVIC MEDIA FELLOWSHIP START?

Our founding cohort began in January, 2019 with four Residential Fellows, who were joined by five Remote Fellows in March 2019. You can meet the full founding cohort here.

WHY DID YOU CREATE THE CIVIC MEDIA FELLOWSHIP?

We were inspired to launch this fellowship because while there is tremendous innovation, progress and commitment among civic media practitioners, there are altogether too few supports for them to push boundaries, develop new approaches, and engage across diverse colleagues, communities, and disciplines and sectors. Their path is difficult not simply due to the subject matter, long hours or scarce resources, but because it is untrodden and their destination is emergent. They know the danger of the bleeding edge, the challenge of learning how to actually do the work well, the frustration of not fitting into existing offerings neatly, and life between the rock and hard place of great expectations and neverending need. Painfully aware that these realities are exacerbated due to the relatively few communities working in these ways, we aim to support them directly and through engagement with a participatory civic media network.

WAIT, WHAT IS CIVIC MEDIA? DO I PRACTICE CIVIC MEDIA?

While the term and the field are emergent, we hold a loose definition of civic media as the use of today’s technologies to create media that connects with communities, inspires action, and helps sustain social change efforts – that covers a lot of things, so if you’re interested in those aspects of your practice, we’d love for you to engage with us around this discussion!

The Civic Media Fellowship is designed for practitioners who don’t fit easily or completely into established boxes. People with a lot of hyphenates in their descriptors or career paths that look particularly twisty will find colleagues and collaborators here. People who are willing to blaze new paths, who appreciate rough edges, and who want to learn surprising new things – about themselves, others and the world – will find the program exciting.

WHAT’S THE NETWORK BEHIND THIS?

Founding sponsorship and support of this program come from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, with inspiration, knowledge and camaraderie shared by a tremendous network of MacArthur’s grantees and other collaborating organizations, our Senior Fellows and other leaders, the USC steering committee and the AnnLab team.

HOW CAN I ASK MORE QUESTIONS?

We continue to amend and expand the FAQ thanks to your questions and our learning, so feel free to check back periodically and or email questions to annlab@usc.edu.