Letters from Jennie and Izzie to the DMG Community

Jennie Robinson Faber and Izzie Colpitts-Campbell on what DMG means to them and their transition into new positions at DMG.

March 1, 2021

From Jennie:

Nine years ago this month, I had just opened a coworking space in a small unremodeled brick-and-beam office building a hop south of Trinity-Bellwoods Park. We filled it with watermelon-hued steel tables, assembled a tiny IKEA kitchen, and appreciated the view of the CN Tower over the neighboring car mechanic shop that would later be razed for multimillion-dollar townhouses. Friends painted a 40-foot whiteboard wall, sewed matching curtains, wired the lights and donated coffee mugs. Space! Our own four walls, for making games, jam, beer, friends, and bonds with a city and art scene that seemed eager to recognize the cultural contributions of emerging game designers. It felt like a secret hideout, and every newcomer felt pride at spotting the narrow walkway down the leafy brick corridor and emerging in a magical place they instantly knew they belonged.

DMG – and so many members who are here to this day, working in or alongside the industry and giving back to the community still – came into my life that month. As our events swelled from 10 or 15 people to 75 or 100, and I met more and more artists looking for tools for the way they wanted to create, I saw the gaps, the frictions, the anxieties and institutional walls that kept them out and down and feeling like they didn’t belong. I meant to help out for a year or so; but you all kept me for 8 more.

I fell into this role by “working in a spiral” as DMG co-founder Cecily Carver would say, when explaining the best way to approach a game jam project. Spot the holes and patch them; radiate out; weave a community out of new relationships centred on a shared experience of seeing the possibilities plainly and critiquing and questioning together. Passing comments evolved into programs and collaborations and games and plans for survival. There were no rules, no rubric for deciding what kinds of workshops and events we’d hold. It was wild and fun and we were together. A shared language around what DMG is emerged – there because we wanted it to be, not because we felt an obligation to fix an industry or change ourselves for it.

This kind of organization needs careful and constant tending and all senses tuned to the real – material, emotional, social – needs of the communities it serves. In DMG’s delightfully chaotic first three years at the space on Richmond Street, where something was happening almost every single night of the week, we established an organization that was responsive, collaborative, that always said “yes, let's try that” in a world of “no”s and silence. Indebted to artist-run culture and feminist DIY spaces but also making our own way.

As we moved through physical spaces – first to the ground floor of the building we shared with Gamma Space, and later to our own 1,400 sq. ft. studio within the Toronto Media Arts Centre – the critiques central to our mandate came into sharper focus. How could we key our activities to our politics, with the way we supported our members collectively and individually? Should we use our growing resources and access to expand our work or refine it and focus on the community that was already there? How big or small should we be?

The possibilities are so exciting to me. DMG has never been more needed by the industry, more cherished by its community or better positioned for radical impact than it is now.

I’ve seen the board of DMG stretch and grow and create so much good; members and program participants take on challenging leadership and community roles; and our purpose come into diamond-sharp focus. Over this last year, I’ve thought a lot about these questions and who should answer them. I was somehow both saddened and thrilled to realize that it’s not me!

I could not have asked for a better community to hold me; I’ve learned and grown so much alongside you. To each current and past board member, community leader, mentor and member: Thank you for the life you have given me. I will fight for space for you always.

There is one person with whom I have worked the longest and most intensely at DMG: Izzie Colpitts-Campbell. I’m tremendously delighted that she is DMG’s next executive director. I have seen up close the depths of her creativity, intuition and respect for our community and mission in action. DMG will only thrive and increase its impact under her leadership.

Over the next few months, I will be working closely with the board in a strategic advisory role as the org explores structural shifts to better align DMG’s work with our members’ needs in the coming years. I’ll also continue to lead the Damage Labs program as we wrap up the first cohort and launch new tools to put financial sustainability within reach of marginalized creators and founders.

I’m so privileged to have had the opportunity to see this organization evolve from scrappy to scrappy and flourishing; to step aside and create more space for leadership and change in a moment of profound growth. I can’t wait to see the world you’ll make.

– Jennie Robinson Faber

From Izzie:

I moved to Toronto, after discovering the amazing work of hardware and software art, and quickly finding out that there were two men named Adam that I could learn Arduino from in Halifax (love you Adams thanks for all your support!). In my first 6 months here I went to just about every maker/creative technology/artist run centre to find my community, even met a few more Adam’s. I had never played a video game that didn’t have Yoshi in it and I’d never even thought about it’s possibility as a political artistic medium but, what I found at DMG that I didn’t find at any other organization was a group of amazingly diverse creators, with important shared values, that support each other in whatever they wanted to make. This support has been with me growing my practice around art, design and development for the last 7 years. The DMG community has not only taught me how to build technology with consideration and thoughtfulness but also taught me how I want to be a leader. I’ve spent my formative professional years alongside the DMG community and can’t imagine what I would be doing without it. Central in this has been working alongside Jennie, learning from and with her.

Every year at the AGM I remember once Maggie McLean asking Jennie and I, “When is that meeting where we get to talk about all the amazing things DMG has done this year and what we’ll do next year?” This is why I love DMG. In most orgs, the Annual General Meeting is a dry presentation of financials that members dread. At DMG not only are folks excited to get together but always asking to be more involved, more engaged and excited about even the most mundane of organizational activities. As an org we try to meet that energy by putting this kind of thought into what we present at the AGM and how. This year, because of gestures dramatically the world, It’s been even more true.

I’ve often given talks about DMG’s success in community building. I always start by talking about the importance of physical space and central to us understanding our community and creating an org folks can feel welcome at. So, we’ve spent this year slowly trying to figure out how to foster the same care and support virtually, on pandemic levels of energy. Though we’ve changed a lot we also have seen the excitement there is for DMG across Canada and internationally and the possibility to grow in such a way that we can support even more folks. But we wouldn’t be DMG if we didn’t do this with the same care and consideration we put into everything we do. We’ve always talked about our local community as the scale of community that we can meaningfully understand and support. We’ve created tools to support others making their own communities but it might be time to be a bit more active in this support. Creating DMG across Canada isn’t as simple as just popping up DMG [fill in the blank city with government funding to support more diversity in STEM programs]. We need structures to support those communities while maintaining our existing one. We need distributed leadership models so we are just exporting our understanding of what a games-arts community is as the one truth. We need to not become beholden to the economic models created by structures we know to be systemically oppressive. NBD.

This is why at the end of last year I quit my job to be able to focus my energy fully on DMG. At the time I didn’t know I would be taking on the role of ED at DMG but, I knew that the day job I’d always had to be able to support my artistic practice and the work I do at DMG was actively sucking energy away from the things it was meant to support.

So that’s what I’m excited to do. Figure out how DMG can create more connections and networks of support for marginalized people looking to create the things they care about: Games-centric but also games adjacent or games inspired(and when we say games we got a broad definition). I’m equal parts excited and terrified. The best kinds of terrified so, this is really my ask for you. Reach out let me know what you think, get involved. DMG exists because we all need its support and care and it needs our right back. I’m so excited for us to keep building it together with as many folks as possible.

-Izzie Colpitts-Campbell