Archived News Post: Introduction
Collective Recovery: Reconnecting what has been set apart
Workshop by Robert Sember
22—25 November 2021

This week educator, community organizer, public health researcher and artist Robert Sember is facilitating a weeklong workshop ‘Collective Recovery: Reconnecting what has been set apart’ for first year participants. During this workshop Robert will focus on how this moment is becoming collective memory and how its insights, traumas, and other legacies might be with us for the remainder of our lives and the lives of generations to come.


It was many months, possibly even a year, before I truly accepted that this pandemic moment is more than a detour from life as it is “supposed to be”—we do not simply go back to “things as they were.” With this acceptance came the realization that the intensity, duration, complexity, and global reach of the pandemic has produced an epochal shift: we are in an era shaped by what this common crisis has revealed even as it manifests in profoundly different ways depending on region and resources, (un)democratic governance systems and civic cultures, and the privileges and poverties of a “global” economy. This moment is becoming collective memory and its insights, traumas, and other legacies will, I suspect, be with us for the remainder of our lives and the lives of generations to come. What role do we have in forming these collective memories as this and other crises continue and deepen? What forms of cooperation and collaboration are now possible and necessary if we are to counteract the fractures of the past? And how have our very ambitions and possibly even our desires shifted in response to this life as it is now? – Robert Sember


Robert will contribute values and practices formed over years of community organizing and creative collaborations. He will draw specifically on the collective recovery work he is involved in with a diverse group of artists, scholars, and community organizers.


During the five days of the workshop Robert and the participants will cycle through three distinct but related activities. They start with gathering a set of terms and concepts to help make sense of this moment by reading and discussing philosophical, theoretical and poetic texts with a primary focus on: “The Universal Right to Breathe,” a short, intense essay by the Senegalese philosopher, Achille Mbembe.

Next to that they will share memories and experiences and gather stories of places and lives that surround us. At the end of the week, they will design possibilities for collective recovery and consider how creative thinkers and artisans might reconnect what has been set apart. Creative skills can offer opportunities to experience, celebrate, and nourish our interconnection and interdependence.


Robert Sember teaches Interdisciplinary Arts at Eugene Lang College and is on the faculty of the Lang Prison Initiative. He is a co-chair of the organizing committee of the 400 Years of Inequality initiative and an associate at C4 Innovations where he supports recovery-oriented community and peer-based programs to address mental health and substance use disorders. Robert is a member of the international sound-art collective, Ultra-red, which helped establish Vogue’ology, an initiative by and for members of the African-American and Latino/a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community in New York City and the Los Angeles Tenants Union, a self-organized network of renters struggling for housing security by resisting speculation, the destruction of public housing, and eviction.