I am still processing the complexity of being on sabbatical during the first year of the pandemic (2020-2021), and the challenging alchemy of emotions it stirred, but I know I feel enriched.
My original plan included two trajectories. First, I would travel extensively internationally to expand my knowledge of musicians and presenters in support of my work as an artistic director/curator. Second, I would develop skills and relationships with social justice practitioners to enhance the curriculum I had been developing in cross-sectoral collaboration. Of course, COVID had other plans, so, like so many, I spent much of the year adapting.
Because my professional practice includes serving as Artistic and Executive Director of the Hyde Park Jazz Festival, which occurs in late September, the first months of my sabbatical were spent in emergency mode. This included shoring up the organization financially to keep staff employed, sustain the platform, and reimagine programming to allow for as much performance as possible and get money into the hands of artists while attending to the safety of all. We developed mobile stages and pop-up performance spaces, for example, as well as synchronized remote performances.
After that initial time of intensity, with my travel and conference plans canceled, I pivoted to return to research for a project which had been previously stymied by scheduling challenges but had become newly possible due the pandemic pause. The project, Hypocrisy of Justice: Sights and Sounds for the Black Metropolis, became the focus of my sabbatical research.
It includes the commission and production of a collaborative composition by jazz musician Dana Hall; writer/actor/director Cheryl Lynn Bruce; and artist Kerry James Marshall in response to the Richard Wright novel, Native Son. The performances are surrounded by a one-day symposium featuring scholars in historical and contemporary context. The development, curatorial work, and production of the symposium is the primary immediate outcome of my research. This too, was impacted by the pandemic. Originally scheduled for January 15, 2022, at the Logan Center for the Arts, the symposium had to be moved due to the Omicron surge. It is now scheduled for October 7-8, 2022. I am thrilled that an SAIC student team from Management Studio created a remarkable sound installation as an element of the project. More information can be found here: https://www.hydeparkjazzfestival.org/hoj
In March 2021, I was able to travel with my dog to New Orleans for a month. And while it was sad not to be able to go to hear music in clubs and eat in restaurants, it gave me the opportunity to explore the many parks and bayous, see exhibitions, meet with artists, pursue reading/research, and feel warm air and sun.
I have always believed that sabbaticals offer critical time for professional and personal reflection, and space to rest, restore, and find creative time and flow. In other words, to support wellbeing. It is also a time when one can ask hard questions of themselves and find or shift focus. That was probably even more true during 2020-21. While there was little about my sabbatical that I had anticipated, it was a singularly important time for me. I am still figuring out much about the experience of stepping away, some of it uncomfortable, that I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity.
-Kate Dumbleton, Associate Professor, Arts Administration and Policy