Foundation students at Otis take a very unique second semester class called Ways of Knowing, which pairs two individual classes taught by faculty from different disciplinary fields that both investigate a common topic. The goal: for students to learn about different epistemological approaches or different Ways of Knowing. Only in its second year, Ways of Knowing courses offer students and faculty an exciting way to collaborate, debate, and learn how different kinds of training, perspectives, and priorities can contribute to different positions.
Last year Dr. Joann Staten and I piloted our Ways of Knowing classes about women, gender, and identity. Dr. Staten is a cultural anthropologist who focuses on marginalized communities and how women can use art to connect and affect social changes. Art History is my bag with a focus on 18th century domestic portraiture and fashion. Together we designed our classes to collaborate as much as possible and once our students finished their term papers, they met together for five weeks to turn their research topics into a poster exhibition that was mounted in the library and open to the public. From any perspective, that is a huge undertaking for freshmen.
Our classes this year really raised the bar. Forty-one students with commitment, enthusiasm, talent, and tons of organizational ability meant that Joann and I spent those exhibition preparation weeks mentoring, but the students did all the work. They critiqued each others posters, edited all the copy, determined teams to cover every aspect of production and installation, and took it upon themselves to create an online exhibition of their posters as well. Here are some of them cutting the posters and captions down to the correct size, a time consuming and exacting process.
In the library the project managers, Marlee Christy and Damon Essex, conferred with Jinger Heffner, the Exhibitions coordinator for the college’s Ben Maltz Gallery. Jinger graciously volunteered several hours to walk the class through the many steps it took to transform a stack of posters and captions into a two-wall exhibition. She came equipped with tools, experience, and a lot of information. Marlee and Damon (above center and left) took a lot of notes because next week they would be in charge of the installation teams. Jinger was immensely helpful and we were all grateful that she took the time to share her wealth of expertise with the class.
This was a technologically sophisticated group. River Pilgar (center, seated in red hoody) downloaded all the posters and captions digitally and organized them into groups so that students had a visual map for the actual installation. He also created an online digital exhibition of the work will be posted during the summer. Arguably, studio majors do not shy away from hard work, but River’s willingness to create a digital version of the exhibition was above and beyond the class requirements–really a labor of love and effort that he made for the class. There are no grades for that…just a lot of thanks.
Installation Day was a great success. Under the capable supervision of Marlee and Damon, students worked to cut and measure, prep the walls for the work, mount the posters and captions as well as the exhibition headers, explanatory text and they FINISHED EARLY. Joann and I moved from the classroom to the library exhibition space to answer any questions, offer comments and provide a few snacks. Mostly, we stood back and watched students who had started out the semester with questions, not all knowing each other, sometimes unsure of how well they would work together turn into an efficient and productive team.
The exhibition, Gender Constructs from Past to Present, represented fifteen weeks of learning and demonstrated the ability of first year students to research and write about issues of women, identity, and power and translate those ideas into visual form. That class experience was a critical step for students learning to be artists and designers since that is what they will do professionally–transform ideas and issues into creative, imaginative work that compels, persuades, delights, and takes a stand.
Last year’s exhibition was on display in the library for eleven months, but because of the new campus expansion, the existing library moves to its new quarters in early summer. Although the Gender Constructs from Past to Present will be available on-line, we were thrilled that it was also selected to be part of the Otis time capsule which will be buried in the new quad space in early fall and opened in 2050.
Last week Joann and I packed everything up and handed the exhibition over to the library where it will become part of the Otis time capsule. In a world of increasing digital materials, where images are point and click, and students don’t bring home piles of papers at the end of the semester, there was something profoundly concrete and tangible about packing up those posters and knowing that in thirty-four years another group of Otis students will unearth that capsule and see what earlier foundation students had made. Hopefully, some of our students who worked so hard on that exhibition will come back and wield the shovels.