Teaching with Contemporary Art

The Wheels Are Rolling

Interior shot from our visit to Ursula von Rydingsvard's studio

From July 7th through July 14th Art21 hosted our second annual summer institute, Art21 Educators. Art21 Educators is an intensive, year-long professional development initiative designed to cultivate and support K-12 educators interested in bringing contemporary art, artists, and themes into their classrooms.

What made this year so special, along with the fact that we were joined by artists Ursula von Rydingsvard, Oliver Herring and Allan McCollum, was the fact that we (we, meaning the Education and Public Programs team at Art21) had a year under our belt to reflect on the program and make some changes not only to the institute itself, but also the planning for our year together.

The week started with TASK hosted by Oliver Herring, followed by introductions and our first workshop at New York University. And aside from the fact that our afternoon was punctuated with a fire alarm and having to evacuate the building in the middle of Pecha Kucha introductions, the first day was a success. Participants got to share student work and received Flip cameras to begin documenting their work in and out of the classroom, and the evening was spent at 601 Artspace, allowing Susan Sollins to welcome the group and share a new exhibit she personally curated featuring the work of Tabaimo.

Day two began with a workshop utilizing Art21 education materials. The session, titled “Artists, Form and Content”, allowed participants to view Mary Heilmann’s season 5 segment and practice ways of utilizing film in the classroom. That afternoon, after some wild technical issues and feedback worthy of a Christian Marclay installation, we discussed Olivia Gude’s articles, Postmodern Principles: In Search of 21st Century Art Education and Principles of Possibility: Considerations for a 21st-Century Art and Culture Curriculum. Participants had a wide variety of opinions on both, which made for stimulating conversation. Olivia can do that to you. Personally, I loved it.

The following day included a full morning and afternoon at MoMA to work with utilizing contemporary art and approaches to teaching in a museum. Participants viewed other Art21 segments and shared strategies for working with students in a museum context as we looked closely at Mind and Matter: Alternative Abstractions, 1940’s to Now. Afterward, all participants had the opportunity to work independently in the galleries and take some time to reflect on the institute so far before regrouping for some further discussion and sharing ideas.

During the weekend (Art21’s summer institute is scheduled from mid-week to mid-week, in order to allow participants to mentally “digest” what’s being discussed over the weekend. It also allows everyone the opportunity to see a variety of exhibitions and performances in between workshops) everyone got to attend exhibits and special events including Kiki Smith at the Brooklyn Museum, Julie Mehretu at the Guggenheim, Doug and Mike Starn at the Met, Greater New York at PS1 and a special visit to Dia: Beacon.

On Monday everyone gathered back at NYU for a presentation and special discussion with our Associate Curator, Wesley Miller, who outlined his layered approach to making films for Art21 in order to tell compelling stories about contemporary artists. Afterward each participant met with one of us to discuss planning and ideas for a unit of study that would incorporate contemporary art, essential questions, and some of the strategies learned in future lessons. To round out the day, my colleagues Jessica Hamlin and Marc Mayer presented a workshop introducing the Ning site that participants would use to document progress and share ideas after the institute, as well as the Safari Live technology we use in order to have real-time conversations with participants in the program. If that wasn’t enough, we also boarded a train to Brooklyn that afternoon to visit Ursula von Rydingsvard in her studio for two hours. When we arrived, Ursula was deeply involved in working on a small piece, and after a LONG uncomfortable 60 seconds staring at her back, she turned around and launched into a superb talk about her work and process. The day was absolutely exhilarating!

Marc Mayer began Tuesday with a fantastic morning workshop on Video and Multi-Media in the Classroom, which allowed participants to see and share the potential for a variety of online resources to use in teaching. We then followed with some time for participants to receive further feedback on the units being designed before welcoming Allan McCollum for a slide lecture and discussion about his work, which caused jaws to drop throughout the room.

Our final day allowed participants to use the morning to finish writing their unit plans and get hard copies made to share with colleagues in the afternoon. The afternoon was then spent in focused conversation sharing the unit plans and giving constructive feedback before wrapping up with a delicious group dinner that evening at Alias, which has now hosted our final supper for two years in a row.

Jessica, Marc and I are once again exhausted. Our Art21 Educators are exhausted. And Marianna Siciliano, our extraordinary intern who stayed on top of everything from start to finish, should certainly be ready for a spa day at this point. But like last year, this is a wonderful kind of exhaustion that comes from knowing you’ve initiated something big with the potential of reaching, meaningfully, many students. The wheels are rolling: Art21 Educators, Year 2, is in motion.


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