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PHI PHI Sessions Press A Visuel

PHI Sessions 2021
Probing the Potential of Cultural Institutions

  • Discussion
  • Society
  • Innovation
  • Contemporary Art
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Day 1: Virtual Event with live screening (PHI Centre) / Day 2: Virtual Event with workspace (PHI Centre) 315 Saint-Paul St West
Montreal, Quebec, H2Y 2M3

December 3 & 10, 2021


For more information please contact:
[email protected]

PHI Sessions 2021 will be a two-day gathering of a range of voices concerned with the arts and culture milieu.

The intent of PHI Sessions 2021 is to launch and foster a collective project to explore — through open conversation and speculative interrogations — the role and potential of the cultural institution writ large (public galleries, museums, artist run centres, collectives, independent initiatives, etc.) within our rapidly evolving contemporary moment.

The Recordings & Participants

The Project

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Underpinning the event are two foundational questions:

  • Understanding that art and culture are essential to our social fabric and collective well-being, what are the emerging roles for cultural institutions to (re)assert their own ‘essential-ness’ in support of this fundamental dimension of everyday life?

  • How can institutions ensure the sustained capacity to play these roles, and conversely how might these roles contribute to broader sustainability priorities and social progress?

Intersecting these conceptual interests is a series of practical intents:

  • To share our collective knowledge, which includes the lessons of the pandemic, to imagine new means of catalysing a vibrant and invigorated arts and cultural sector as a connected ecosystem — unto itself and in concert with broader societal movements and socio-cultural shifts

  • To treat as fundamental, notions of serving our audiences, furthering the development of community engagement and nurturing the art and cultural ecosystem at large

  • To engage a range of actors and publics in the conversation that operate within, but also beyond, the boundaries of institutional practice

  • To approach the subjects through forward-looking speculations and provocations to uncover new questions and territories ripe for further inquiry and exploration

  • To identify new tools and practices through which inquiry and knowledge can be collected, shared and perpetuated, and in turn the means of supporting their use

  • To engage in a collective (and ongoing) project through which new visions can emerge, and in turn, through which network(s) of practitioners operating in the arts and cultural sphere can be reinforced

PHI Sessions 2021 is conceived as an evolutive event, experiment, project and platform. The content generated through the Day 1 Conversation Sessions, will fuel the Day 2 Work Sessions, all of which will inform and become elemental to the subsequent Print and Digital Publications.

The Research Subjects

The Day 1 Sessions generated a rich array of reflections, speculations, warnings and ideas about the status of the cultural institution. The myriad of considerations precipitated and/or accelerated by our cultural moment were rendered vividly, while open-ended questions that demand further exploration emerged across the conversations and perspectives.

We have distilled the following Research Subjects from the Day 1 conversations, identified to help orient the continued exploration of ideas on Day 2 and beyond.

The Event

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PHI Sessions 2021 will take place over two days separated by a one-week intermission, and will be initiated by a series of probing conversations on Day 1 — the Grounding Sessions, designed to provide a foundational survey of the subjects in question, followed by two Deep Dive Sessions that will probe certain territories in more detail. Critical areas for further inquiry will be identified through these conversations and presented during the Day 1 Summary Session as the Research Subjects that will be the basis for the Work Sessions of Day 2.

Day 1 will be conducted and presented virtually, as well as offered for public viewing at the PHI Centre (315 Saint-Paul St W). Online, the event will be offered in English with live audio translation offered in French. ASL (only for Deep Dive sessions) and LSQ interpretation will be available. Exchanges with the public will follow each session.

Day 2, which will take place one week after Day 1, will consist of time for self-directed Work Groups to probe one of the Research Subjects identified through the Day 1 Sessions in the form of closed Work Sessions. The goal of these sessions is to translate the selected Research Subjects into a series of concrete hypotheses and sketches of actionable experiments/ideas/proposals that could be adopted or undertaken by agents or institutions within the cultural domain as a means of furthering inquiry into the subjects.

The Work Sessions will be coordinated through a virtual meeting platform, and the Summary Session will be presented publicly via this PHI Sessions 2021 event page. A collective workspace for registered Work Groups will be offered at the PHI Centre (315 Saint-Paul St W). ​​

Work Groups (with or without an alliance to a cultural, academic, artist-led or community organization) are invited to register their interest to participate on Day 2. Groups are suggested to be composed of 3-6 people, and are to be self-organized and self-directed. In the interim period between Day 1 and Day 2, each Group will be asked to select a Research Subject of interest from those identified through the Day 1 Sessions. There is no cost associated with registration or participation.

The Schedule

10:00 AM
Welcome and Introduction by Cheryl Sim

10:15 AM 
Grounding SessionsWhere are we now? hosted by Ken Lum with Rebecca Belmore, Yesomi Umolu and András Szántó

11:15 AM
Exchange with the public

11:45 AM

12:30 PM
Deep Dive Session 1: Emergent commitments and responsibilities of the cultural institution moderated by Kama La Mackerel with Calum Bowden, Haley Mellin, Monica O. Montgomery, Carmen Papalia

1:30 PM
Exchange with the public

2 PM

2:15 PM
Deep Dive Session 2: Reframing the ‘spaces’ of the cultural institution moderated by Jepchumba with Jasmina Cibic, Ella den Elzen, Skawennati, Richard Fung

3:15 PM
Exchange with the public

4:30 PM
Summary Session and presentation of Research Subjects by Cheryl Sim and Talia Dorsey

Key Interim Dates

December 4-7
Final registration period for Work Groups / Selection of Research Subjects by pre-registered Work Groups

December 8
Preparatory Meeting for Work Groups (optional, but encouraged)

Day 2: Work Sessions

December 10, 2021

10 AM
Welcome and Orientation by Cheryl Sim and Talia Dorsey

10:15 AM
Work Sessions

3 PM
Summary Session hosted by Cheryl Sim and Talia Dorsey

The Details

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Day 1 - Conversation Sessions

Grounding Session: Where are we now?

This series of conversations will be presented in a ‘talk show’ format with the host engaging in one-on-one conversations with three guests. Grounding and foundational, these conversations will offer broad and contextual, survey-level information to offer a general sense of the areas of exploration and concern before us.

Framing questions:

  • While the pandemic has affirmed that the experience of art and culture is essential to our well being, what about the role and purpose of cultural institutions? What are the new terms of ‘essential-ness’?

  • What are the emerging cultural shifts that represent compelling opportunities for the role and relevance of the cultural institution?

  • In light of these potentials, how can we re-imagine the notions of ‘responsibilities’ and ‘spaces’ of the contemporary cultural institution?

  • How are sustainability and relevance interlinked for cultural institutions now?

Deep Dive Session 1: The emergent commitments and responsibilities of the cultural institution

This session will explore new opportunities for institutional agency and action in the face of emerging societal forces. Building on fundamental institutional missions, are there new ways of conceiving the range and character of commitments and responsibilities that could reinforce sustainability and relevance?

Key territories for discussion: diversity, inclusion, accessibility, equity, environmental sustainability, governance, community participation and building, etc.

Deep Dive Session 2: Reframing the ‘spaces’ of the cultural institution

This session will aim to provoke new ways of framing the notion and qualified importance of ‘institutional spaces’ — interrogating the binary of the digital and the physical; questioning boundaries (beyond geography?) of public and community space(s); questioning conventions of spatial hierarchies, et al.

Key territories for discussion: digital space, physical space, public space, communities beyond geographies, democratization of space, ‘creation’ of space, indigenization of space, accessibility, etc.

Summary Session

The day will end with a Summary Session through which the critical Research Subjects identified through the conversations of Day 1 will be summarized and offered as departure points for experimental development in the Work Sessions on Day 2, one week later.

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Registration of Work Groups will remain open until December 7, and selection of Research Subjects will take place from December 4-7 (following their identification on Day 1). Work groups that register in advance will receive an email on December 4 with a reminder to select one of the identified subjects by December 7.

On December 8, from 10:00 AM to 10:30 AM, a Preparatory Meeting will be offered (virtually) to recap the Research Subjects identified on Day 1 and to provide guidance regarding the facilitation and goals of the Work Sessions. Participation in this meeting is strongly encouraged, but remains optional. A link for the meeting will be sent to the contact person for each Work Group on December 7.

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Day 2 - Work Sessions

The Work Sessions will be the time for self-organized and self-directed Work Groups to develop speculative hypotheses, and related experiments/ideas/proposals in connection with one of the Research Subjects identified through the Day 1 Sessions. These hypotheses and ideas are imagined to be an expression and document of our contemporary thinking, but equally concrete means for continued and actionable pursuit of the speculative inquiries and Research Subjects they represent. As such, the findings from the Work Sessions will be documented in the Print Publication and act as the seeds of the continued development and articulation of the project through the Digital Publication and platform.

Summary Session

Day 2 will end with a public Summary Session presenting an overview of the hypotheses, ideas, experiments and proposals produced through the Work Sessions. Spokespersons from each Work Group will be asked to present their Group’s findings to the forum*.

*Should the number of Work Groups be too great to accommodate individual presentations, each Group will be asked to submit their work prior to the Summary Session such that the findings can be compiled and summarized collectively for presentation by the PHI Sessions 2021 Hosts, Cheryl Sim and Talia Dorsey.

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Submission of Work

Subsequent to the event, all Work Groups will be asked to send their findings to the PHI Sessions 2021 organizers to be considered for inclusion in the Print and/or Digital Publications.


A primary intention of PHI Sessions 2021 is to launch and foster a collective project that might open up new networks and channels for exchange and collaboration to help continuously develop our understanding of the potential of cultural institutions. Our hope is that the research topics that emerge from Day 1 will be grappled with during the Work Sessions on Day 2, in order to produce a vital basin of hypotheses and experiments. In order to keep the ideas brewing and conversation going, the findings and ideas launched through PHI Sessions 2021 will be documented and pursued through a Print Publication and complementary Digital Publication. These will serve as the documents and ongoing platform for the body of vanguard ideas, methodologies and learnings from the PHI Sessions 2021. 

Digital Publication

As a way to continue exploring the subjects, discussions and ideas generated by PHI Sessions 2021, we will create an iterative and evolutive Digital Publication. The Publication will serve as a way to extend the examination of subjects to different modes and media, and act as a repository for the continued documentation of ‘research findings’ and the novel questions that arise from them.

Dynamic and nonlinear, the Digital Publication will consist of subject-specific texts and provide a space for the sharing of the hypotheses, their ongoing development, and the results of experiments that have been pursued over time.

Print Publication

A selection of key hypotheses with applied experiments or ideas will be published, serving as a snapshot of what transpired over these two days. An introduction and commissioned texts that reflect on this moment of inquiry and exploration are also planned for this Publication.

Conversation Session Participants

We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.

  • Council of Arts

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