Saturday, November 20, 2010

Building a Participatory Culture

Though I don't discuss it often, I do have a professional life; yesterday was one of those "peak" days, so I thought I'd share it with you. I attended the annual Art Education Conference at Kutztown University.  I used to attend them regularly until I became active in PAEA, and had to choose between the one-day Kutztown conference and the three day Pennsylvania Art Education Conference, which was held at various sites throughout the state.  I opted for the latter because of the variety and travel.  There was a time when I loved getting away from home; that change speaks to my improved relationship and life circumstances. 

Kutztown held an experiment on Friday.  Building Participatory Culture is just that: an experiment.


We began with a fascinating talk by David Darts of NYU; the focus of his presentation was the effects of participatory media on our society as a whole.  By participatory media, I mean web based programs that allow interaction, like Wikipedia, blogs, social networking, etc. Using the aptly named "copyleft" approach allows a dynamic process of growth and regeneration of ideas, very different from the "entertain me" ethos of previous generations.  I particularly appreciated that Dr. Darts showed me that culture still does exist and is growing rapidly; it's just changing forms, as art and culture will do. Being ensconced in my own history and pedagogy, I couldn't see it.  Though my classes have lead me to a hint of those changes via postmodern pedagogical theories, the electronic media connection makes incredible sense in a hands-on way.

And we did do some hands-on learning,though not with electronic media; well, one group did.  I'll return to that later.  Each group of 20 or so was facilitated by a team of educators provided by Kutztown University.  They led the group in brainstorming, discussing, and shaping the experience, though they did not dictate the process.  It was a good model for higher education, and, to some extent, an interesting approach for some K-12 processes, though there was debate about the practicality of this method on younger children whose social skills and studio experiences had yet to be developed. 

A sculpture / installation / experience was to be created, using simple materials provided by the university. We had about 2 hours to work together, which was also interesting, given that there was little group instruction or formal communication.  Ours appropriately resembled a tornado when it was finished; from the flurry of activity in the many directions we took, I felt that was just about right.  But it was good activity, and people took on the roles that were needed.  There were thinkers, and shapers, movers, organizers, and observers.  We fell into our natural places somehow.  I can't say it was entirely comfortable; I experienced moments of angst and annoyance when things I had been working on were changed.  I experienced great waves of excitement and energy. I can only imagine an adolescent experiencing these things, and wonder if they would have the skills to examine those emotions, and stay stable.  Good lessons, all. The end result was satisfying.

A Creative Maelstrom
Some of the other groups' pieces follow:

This Piece Used Traditional Materials And Electronic Media.

This Piece Used Pants as a Metaphor.  They Used a Looping Recording to Illustrate their Point.

An Entire Habitat.  Cool.
Heather's Group Made a Facebook Page...a Truly Participatory Experience!!/pages/Paper-or-Plastic-KU/167192539978364
 I found the experience entirely stimulating and satisfying, and left with a glimpse of the future.  I'm happy to say that art and culture are thriving; art isn't dead, it's just gone viral, and it looks a lot different than it did a decade ago, which is as it should be. Blog on!

Of course, I still enjoyed the rustle of leaves and the blue sky in between them as I left the campus.  It's all good; fuel for the creative fire.

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