CTRL+SHFT Collective on Social Distancing and Community Care


We are musicians, activists, educators, performers, artists, filmmakers, and cultural workers. [Image description: Black-and-white photographs of collective members cut into letters spelling, “CTRL+SHFT,” collaged over a color image of our red warehouse.] Image: courtesy CTRL+SHFT Collective, 2020
Collective work means being present and being receptive to diverse paths of navigation. [Image description: Color snapshots of collective members gathering, engaging in dialogue, and building, collaged over a black-and-white photograph of the studio spaces. One snapshot features a staircase with painted words on each step that together form the phrase, “This space is a collective artwork.”] Image: courtesy CTRL+SHFT Collective, 2020.
CTRL+SHFT is more than a gallery or studios. We prioritize use of our space for community gatherings. [Image description: Collage of color and black-and-white snapshots of people together at various CTRL+SHFT events.] Image: courtesy CTRL+SHFT Collective, 2020.
We host workshops, readings, performances, and community events, such as our Queer Clothing Swap. [Image description: Event flyers collaged over the floor plan of our gallery.] Image: courtesy CTRL+SHFT Collective, 2020
Our exhibitions prioritize people historically denied opportunities in contemporary art institutions. [Image description: Collage of color images of past exhibitions in our gallery.] Image: courtesy CTRL+SHFT Collective, 2020.
Since our founding in 2015, 50 artists have been members of CTRL+SHFT. [Image description: Names of all past and present members handwritten in black ink by J Rivera Pansa.] Image: courtesy CTRL+SHFT Collective, 2020

1. Tell us a little about how and why CTRL+SHFT was founded almost 5 years ago. How has it evolved since then?

In the fall of 2015, our collective made its debut. CTRL+SHFT was founded by femme-identifying, predominantly CCA graduates in hopes of providing subsidized studio spaces for underrepresented artists. Since then, our gallery and studio spaces have supported a broad set of creatives of multiple practices (music, activism, education, performance, sound art, film, social and cultural work) and personal identities (gender non-conforming/non-binary, two-spirit, immigrant, P.o.C., LGBTQIA+, and various spiritualties/faiths). In respect of our non-hierarchical structure, we constantly revisit our ever-shifting mission(s), molding it according to the values of the individuals making up our current membership. We prioritize using our space to host community gatherings beyond the exhibition format, via performance nights, dance parties, clothing and plant swaps, panel conversations, fundraisers, and presentations speaking to the needs of the people we serve. In our five-year history, we have shown over 60 local, national, and international artists and housed 50 studio artists.

2. What do you wish you knew at the outset? Do you have any advice for other collectives just starting out, hoping to hold space for their communities?

Practicing horizontality as a collective structure means being able to be present and receptive to diverse paths of navigation when it comes to decision-making. We uphold open communication and transparency, constantly assessing who is in our community by interfacing outwardly towards the greater Bay Area. In organizing, we spend our unpaid personal time towards the collective, out of necessity and passion. It gets frustrating at times. We burn out. But in the end, the work supports the potential for interconnectedness and a validation centering the people we care about.

Always keep in mind what is at stake in holding space. Be able to step back and have the voices of those who are constantly silenced speak for themselves, while linking arms in support.

3. What do you think it means for artists to work collaboratively in the time of social distancing? How has CTRL+SHFT tried to adapt to this current moment?

We recognize that people need to prioritize their overall well-being, and stepping back on artistic production has been a necessity for us as we find our bearings individually and collectively. While we have halted our events and exhibitions programming, we have shifted our work towards community needs.

We have been compiling different resources ranging from mutual aid funds to digital care packages, as well as spotlighting the network of organizations doing groundwork in the Bay. We want to bring attention to Oakland Workers Fund for providing relief for those affected by the pandemic, The Village in Oakland for providing mutual aid for unhoused communities with direct action, VisibiliT fundraising for trans asylum-seekers and migrants in the Bay Area, Bay Area Rent Strike for providing information on tenant rights and organizational strategies for the housing-insecure, Critical Resistance for their work in abolishing the prison industrial complex, and Centro Legal de la Raza for organizing to help undocumented community members with the Oakland Undocumented Relief Fund, amongst many others.

4. What are some hopes you have for the Bay Area arts scene in a post-COVID future?

Our hope is to strengthen the connections and relationships to our Bay Area community. In reality, major cultural institutions will continue to prosper in a matter of months, but smaller collective spaces and organizations running on fewer funds (many self-financed) will be subjected to rethinking our capacity and our ability to survive. It is even more pronounced that the art world is not void of inequities. We ask artists, institutions, and arts organizations to reconsider their positions. Be active members in providing mutual aid and be resources for those who do not have the same privileges within and beyond the arts.

5. What are some books, films, pieces of art, or other media that you return to when you need inspiration, or that you consider foundational in some way, and why?

From us at CTRL+SHFT, a Care Package with resources ranging from self-care activities to emergency funding and community support.

We also want to highlight some of our favorite works by writers, educators, and creators that our members have kindly shared. Many of these works have fostered dialogue within CTRL+SHFT relating to our collective’s mission as well as to members’ individual artistic practices.

Why We Struggle to Say ‘I Love You'” by Viet Thanh Nguyen for the New York Times
Where Do We Go From Here: For They Shall Be Heard” by Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung for Frieze
Paying Attention to White Culture and Privilege: A Missing Link to Advancing Racial Equity” by Gita Gulati-Partee and Maggie Potapchuk for Racial Equity Tools
“The Sugarcoated Language Of White Fragility” by Anna Kegler for HuffPost

Pleasure Activism by adrienne maree brown
Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras
Queer Phenomenology by Sara Ahmed
Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit
How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell

Tune in to a special broadcast from the collective on SFMOMA’s YouTube channel, this Thursday at 6 p.m. PDT.