The Fool becomes the Grad Student. The Magician becomes the President. The High Priestess becomes the Archivist.
by Stephanie Malak
From the “Academic Tarot” project (all images courtesy Visionary Futures Collective)
The Visionary Futures Collective, also known as the VFC, is fighting for what higher education needs most: a bringing together of thinkers who “believe in the transformational power and vital importance of the humanities.” And it is doing so in unexpected ways, including its most recent project, “Academic Tarot: The Major Arcana.”
This isn’t just any tarot deck. The 22 Major Arcana are reinterpreted for academics and public scholars living during the pandemic amidst spiritual havoc. The Fool becomes the Grad Student. The Magician becomes the President. The High Priestess becomes the Archivist.
The VFC came to be during the COVID-19 pandemic, in the midst of the long-overdue national reckoning led by the Black Lives Matter movement. Its 22 members are experts in literature, culture, digital humanities, and beyond, hailing from all corners of the US. Co-founders Dr. Hannah-Alpert Abrams and Dr. Brian DeGrazia wanted to make an intentional space for any individual on a college or university campus facing the COVID-19 crisis to help “trace the contours of things that define our shared human condition,” DeGrazia told Hyperallergic.
The “Academic Tarot” is a project of the VFC’s Academic Psychic Friends Network, which circulates a biweekly newsletter about the state of affairs in higher ed. It includes data visualizations sourced from an open access COVID-19 response tracker; student-reported stories on how the pandemic is impacting their work; and “feelings surveys” that report on campus workers’ emotional responses to re-openings. Key word: feelings — the VFC’s starting point, rather than an after-thought, making the VFC’s ethos a pathos. The organization prioritizes the feelings of individuals who teach others how to interpret “being” in text, in art, and now, in themselves. It puts the human back in the humanities.
Tarot is a tool. A way to see ourselves that otherwise may elude us. A storyteller, a mirror, and a coach, tarot helps the reader look inward. The 22 Major Arcana are teachers, a sequence that represents life’s spiritual lessons. “The VFC is all about imagining the world we want to live in, and then identifying actions we can take to move us towards that reality,” said Alpert-Abrams. “Academic Tarot” is one of those tools in the kit.
VFC artist-in-residence Claire Chenette, a Grammy-nominated Knoxville Symphony Orchestra musician furloughed due to COVID-19, brought the tarot cards to life. What began as a three-card project to complement the VFC newsletter grew in spirit and in number..........