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Brooklyn artists reinvent education


Post by Aryon Hoselton

Artists are shaking up education in Brooklyn, and one of the people involved, Chris Kennedy, will be visiting Philadelphia today at basekamp, sharing his story at a potluck meeting tonight.  Teaching Artist Union (TAU) in Brooklyn and its upcoming project The School of the Future (SOTF) are examining the incorporation of art, innovative teaching methods and non-traditional learning environments in a provocative program that asks if a school even needs a building.

Cassie Thornton SOTF Principal
Cassie Thornton, one of the founders of SOTF

I learned about TAU and SOTF at a Plausible Artworlds discussion at basekamp in early February. Over SKYPE, Chris Kennedy and Cassie Thornton, the two Brooklyn-based founders of the SOTF, provided a thorough explanation of the project and of Teaching Artists, a group that now includes over 50 members and holds monthly meetings at Union Hall in Brooklyn. (More about TAU on their website and blog.)

Thornton, who works at the Brooklyn Arts Council and The Center for Urban Pedagogy and Kennedy, who works for the Institute of Applied Aesthetics made convincing arguments for a non-traditional, non-building-based approach.

SOTF was initially conceived as a one month performance of education and has grown into a larger project-based experiment. The school will be run by artists and a mix of professionals, social activists, preschool teachers, afterschool teachers, curriculum designers, and professors.  The words curriculum and art project are interchangeable creating a school that doubles as a group art show.

The artistic process is the central theme in all of the projects. Cassie and Chris are curious how the school can inform traditional teaching practices.

Who’s funding this school?  Currently there is no specific funding from any institutions. They are looking for sponsorship and support. The following organizations are current supporters: Open Space AllianceTrust ArtAssociation of Teaching ArtistsThe Institute for Applied Aesthetics, and Teaching Artist Union

SOTF site plan
SOTF’s site plan

Opening this July in Bushwick’s Sgt. Dougherty Park, SOTF will attempt to offer education in a public space. Their hope is to activate the space and incorporate the local community. This park is next to a superfund site, one of the most polluted waterways in the country as well as the noxious fumes of the Bronx Queens Expressway. Their hope is that art can respond to the site and bring awareness to its current challenges. The proposed facility will be open and portable shelter structure built around a series of pillars and cubes that frame the center of the learning environment.

SOTF site
A photo collage of the School of the Future

The school will be free–no tuition charge to students or parents. SOTF has secured permission from the city to use the park and they are doing a grass roots/canvassing effort to engage the community in both the curriculum and in the classes. Its for/about/with the community.

Experimentation! Art! Collaboration! Portable Learning Structure! These innovative explorations into education may provide valuable insight into art’s value in a learning environment.  What do artists bring to education? Cassie says, artists ask questions that don’t have answers. She believes that students are too busy memorizing and should have more opportunity to wonder and explore. Artists are invited to participate in SOTF  by submitting curriculum online. Instead of a traditional curriculum, participants are encouraged to curate their perfect day using the practice of art in education.

The Teaching Artist Union and The School of the Future are dynamic and inspirational additions to the education system.  Chris Kennedy will be visiting Philadelphia on March 16th for Groups and Spaces, the next Plausible Artworlds Skype Potluck from 6-8pm at Basekamp. There will also be a potluck dinner on March 17th at 7pm for members of groups and spaces in Philadelphia and anyone who would like to collaborate with this community! During the dinner, Janette Kim of Columbia’s Urban Landscape Lab will share renderings of a physical archiving unit and library that will accompany the Groups & Spaces site to provide a physical interface for the information gathered through the site.