Early last year, Assoc. Prof. Ghenwa Hayek signed on to become the interim director of the University of Chicago’s Gray Center. A month after she accepted the interim directorship, the COVID-19 crisis was officially declared a pandemic.
Uncertain times call for certain decision-making, and Hayek quickly embraced the challenge. The Richard and Mary L. Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry has long convened scholars and artists in the spirit of interdisciplinary collaboration—but without in-person events, it would have rethink the nature of its mission.
As the world locked down, Hayek decided to look out. Over the summer, she devised an online program to support artists from across the globe. She named it FarBar, a nod to the Gray Center’s monthly in-person conversation series Sidebar.
“With FarBar, we hoped to maintain a Gray Center tradition of experimentation and collaboration while broadening the reach of the Gray,” said Hayek, a faculty member in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. “We wanted to introduce ourselves and our audience to a global cohort of experimental artists who share our vision, and whose practices had been adversely affected by the pandemic—as all of our lives have.”
In launching FarBar, the Gray Center reached out to artists and cultural producers whose work has been deeply compromised by the pandemic. The invitation was unconventional: It asked artists and cultural producers to think about what they needed most, and came with no strings attached.
Many grants in the art world and academia are contingent on the delivery of an end product. To create emergency grants, FarBar repurposed funding that would otherwise have gone to travel and lodging for international guests. The Gray Center extended these grants with an invitation—not a requirement—to stage virtual performances for the public.