MDOCS Storytellers' Institute


a virtual exhibit of work by the 2020 MDOCS Storytellers’ Institute Fellows

Class Portrait the 2020 MDOCS Storytellers’ Institute by Gioncarlo Valentine

Dear Visitor:

When it became clear that, like most residencies scheduled to take place in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our June 2020 Storytellers’ Institute would not be held in person, I was disheartened, but not entirely surprised. Though we were nearly compelled to cancel altogether, MDOCS was ultimately able to give our accepted 2020 Storytellers’ Institute Fellows a choice: defer their acceptance until 2021, in hopes that the Institute would by then be offered in-person again, or opt in to our first-ever Virtual Storytellers’ Institute. I thought everyone would defer, and I was excited and terrified when almost all of the Fellows decided to join us for a virtual institute. With this new surprise, I felt the ground shifting yet again, a sensation we have all felt countless times since March. My mind ran wild with questions and doubt: How would we shift this experience, built of intimate human connections, online? How would we build a supportive and productive community, virtually? Would this be a fulfilling experience for the Fellows? 

Frankly, I am still shocked by the depths we reached during the month-long institute. Together, MDOCS staff (Daesha Devón Harris, Adam Tinkle and myself) and the Fellows built a cohesive, supportive, challenging, and thoughtful community in the liminal spaces of the internet during a devastating global pandemic and a much-needed national uprising. From five different states and two continents, Fellows met regularly to share progress on their work, dig into the Institute’s theme: Co-Creation and Its Discontents, give seminars and workshops to one another, and just hang out. We processed collectively and privately the loss of human lives and humanity due to both the Coronavirus and the ongoing, state-sanctioned murder of Black people. We mourned, we took to the streets, and we created. Perhaps I should not have been so shocked by our connection, because this is what artists and storytellers do: we shift. We shift in order to adapt, to confront, to respond, to build, to create, and to communicate.  The space of the institute was shifted and I believe it became what it needed to be –– a place to both be part of and to take ourselves out of the shifting world around us. 

SHIFT is a virtual exhibit of works in progress that came out of this year’s MDOCS Storytellers’ Institute. It embodies the moment we are living through and the multidisciplinary ethos of the Institute. On the site, you will find two categories: Work of the Fellows and Work of the Institute.  

Work of the Fellows, the bulk of the exhibit, includes the individual and team projects that Fellows proposed to work on during the Institute when they applied. This section is organized by Fellow or collaborative team and highlights the stunning and diverse talents of our Fellows and the kind of works being nurtured through the MDOCS Storytellers’ Institute. Ranging from mediums including painting, drawing, audio, sculpture, video, animation, and mixed media, the work is all solidly rooted in non-fiction and expresses both the personal, lived experiences of the Fellows, as well as engaging in the greater political and social climate in probing and playful ways. 

Work of the Institute, includes collaborative exercises that were made over the course of the Institute as part of group activities ranging from seminars, workshops, and community building sessions. It is a glimpse into the world we built together during the 2020 Storytellers’ Institute and the creative ways we forged intimacy without ever meeting one another in person. 

Please join us for Instagram live conversations with some of the artists on the following dates!  


10/1 6pm
Courtney Surmanek and Steven T. Licardi
10/8 6pm
Kadijatou Diallo and Shana Kleiner
10/15 6pm
Shalon Buskirk, Haley Hnatuk, and Drew Swedberg
10/22 6pm
Cooperativa Cultural 19 de enero- Fernanda Espinosa and Raul Ayala

Thank you for taking the time to look through the work and please share this exhibit with anyone who you think might enjoy it.  

With gratitude, 
Sarah Ema Friedland 
Director of the MDOCS Storytellers’ Institute