Tomorrow's Archives: Alt-Text as Poetry with Shannon Finnegan

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Alt-text is an essential part of web accessibility, making visual content accessible through short textual descriptions.

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Alt-text is an essential part of web accessibility, making visual content accessible through short textual descriptions for blind and low-vision people who use screen reading software to access digital content. Alt-text is often overlooked altogether or understood through the lens of compliance, as an unwelcome burden to be met with minimum effort. How can we instead approach alt-text thoughtfully and creatively, while still prioritizing alt-text as an accessibility practice? In this workshop, led by Shannon Finnegan and developed in collaboration with Bojana Coklyat, we will reframe alt-text as a type of poetry and practice writing it together. We will look at examples of poetic and creative approaches to alt-text, then do several writing exercises designed to focus on issues that often come up in alt-text, including attention to language and word economy, alt-text as translation, structuring and prioritizing, subjectivity, identity, and representation.

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The workshop will take place on Zoom with CART by Total Captions. The workshop uses a slide presentation, and all content from the presentation is read aloud and described. We'll do some exercises that involve participants describing images. The exercises involve writing 2–3 sentences in 4–5 minutes, but participants don't need to do the writing in order to participate in the discussion. All workshop materials can be emailed ahead of time upon request by emailing studio@shannonfinnegan.com. If you have any access questions or requests, email joe@southlandinstitute.org.

Shannon Finnegan is a multidisciplinary artist making work about disability culture and accessibility. They have done projects with Friends of the High Line, The Invisible Dog, and the Wassaic Project. They have spoken at the Brooklyn Museum, the Queens Museum, School for Poetic Computation, The 8th Floor, and The Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library. In 2018, they received a Wynn Newhouse Award and participated in Art Beyond Sight’s Art + Disability Residency. In 2019, they were a resident at Eyebeam.

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The Tomorrow’s Archives workshop series was conceived collectively in an ad hoc Southland Institute course — “what is programming?”— formed in the wake of Covid-19, and in response to an invitation to contribute programming to the Recent Pasts exhibition.

Recent Pasts is organized by Aurora Tang, independent curator in collaboration with Love’s Remedies (ArtCenter DTLA Residency Project 2020), the Southland Institute, and ArtCenter DTLA. Recent Pasts is supported in part by ArtCenter’s Exhibitions and the Center for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

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