Open Enrollment

Open Enrollment: The BHQFU takes on the USA

The Bruces are going on the road, out of the echo-chamber of New York, to take on America.

image from

It’s been hard for me to take a definitive stance on the Bruce High Quality Foundation (or the Bruces, as they are called) and their university (BHQFU). They talk a big, erudite game of alternatives to the current art world system, which one presumes to be radical and revolutionary in a way that could make Joseph Beuys proud – but they do it all with the very traditional support of galleries and funding from Creative Time, validation from inclusion in the Whitney Biennial, and BFAs from the Cooper Union. It’s hard to tell if they’re enacting change from the inside out, or just satirizing art collectives who aim to enact radical change. I feel like the results are still in the wash.

BHQFU is an interesting component to the Bruces’ practice. Previous Art21 blog posts have done well to describe the context for their proposed alternative to the conventional education system – situated in collaboration, unconcerned with hierarchy – and it’s easy to read into how such a system with its horizontal decision making and imaginative, subversive class topics is a radical alternative. However, BHQFU’s sustainability and effectiveness remain to be seen. It’s difficult to tell if the classes are meant to be the means to an end, or the end destination itself. We’ve seen some of the products of the courses, but I’d like to see more than gallery exhibitions to understand any larger or long-term effects.

Perhaps BHQFU’s latest venture, Teach 4 Amerika, which launches at a rally at the Cooper Union on March 29, was developed to explore that ambiguity. So far, the information about this 5-week 11-city cross-country conversation series seems couched in vague good intentions, the dutiful work of asking tough questions. They’re going to “inspire” arts students, educators, and administrators from various arts institutions and organizations from across the nation by engaging them in dialogue about what arts education, and therefore art, should look like and what purposes should it serve. Which is… cool. These are eternal questions for artists, new and old, and I suppose the point is that the Bruces are giving the students the platform to be heard.

However, the whole thing strikes me as potentially patronizing – there’s the sense that they’re coming to liberate you from your oppressive traditional arts educations in their ironic limo-bus. I’m wary of the self-righteousness of the BHQF, unless the conversations that come out of this ultimately re-shape the Bruces’ own practice of art as education. It’s interesting to note the title of this endeavor is a riff on the name of the national education non-profit organization Teach for America (TFA). TFA injects energetic recent college grads into struggling, underprivileged schools, equipped with a special methodology and rhetoric that’s meant to revolutionize the lopsided US education system. Tensions between TFAers and pre-existing teaching administration sometimes erupt, and the program has been criticized for the short average life-span of the new teaching careers. These conflicts present interesting parallels to those of BHQFU’s campaign. I’m curious to see how Teach 4 Amerika might address changing pre-existing concerns regarding the current status of arts education instead of just creating new separatist paradigms.

I don’t, and can’t, expect BHQFU to have all of the answers to changing the market-driven educational model that currently exists. However, as a grad student, it’s important for me to see their investment in the stakes of making alternative systems truly sustainable alternatives. It’s important for me to believe that this is an actual model of education and not merely an elaborate performance, and that the confusion of the two is not the primary point. The funny thing about the Bruce High Quality Foundation is that their work manages to inspire cynicism just as they seemingly try to conspire against it. Like so many BHQF projects before it, Teach 4 Amerika could be a pointless hoax, nebulous lip service, or (fingers crossed) a terrific opportunity for growth and inclusion.