Originally published: April 14, 2020
Welcome to the second edition of the CAPE Network Forum Newsletter. In this edition you will find the voices of teachers, artists and CAPE staff exploring the new reality in which we find ourselves, a reality that places us all in an unknown and undefined relational space. As William Estrada expressed in a recent CAPE Network Forum post, “I am a big supporter of public education and teaching in front of students in their neighborhood schools, so jumping into remote teaching feels so disconnected for me.”
William is not alone in that sentiment but as he aptly points out, this moment also offers a learning opportunity for us all: “I am curious how this experience will shape our thinking about making mistakes, thinking out loud what our artistic and teaching practice is and what we want it to look like with others. These videos are meant to remind us what art can do, and what we can do with art and I am excited to learn more about it with others in these uncertain times.” Additionally, this moment asks us to collectively question how we all relate to one another and how we form a network.
For years, CAPE has explored the concepts and the interactions of space and identity as a network. Through aesthetic and pedagogical explorations, we have examined the ways in which spaces are both physical and how they are also the constructs of our social interactions. In the context of a school building or a neighborhood, CAPE teachers and teaching artists along with their students have re-imagined and redefined spaces, creating new paradigms that flatten hierarchies amongst participants through art making and dialogue. In some cases, this has involved changing the physicality of a space by painting staircases (see full documentation of that project here) or rearranging furniture. In other cases, the spaces are co-constructed by altering the political and power structures within school spaces wherein teachers, artists and students engage in shared inquiry that follows uncharted trajectories, where there is no “expert” in the room, only a group of collaborating thinkers and doers.
Working in digital spaces is not a new concept for many CAPE teachers, artists and students. In 2018, CAPE program staff partnered with researcher partners Dr. Louanne Smolin and Erin Preston to co-write a chapter in the book Negotiating Place and Space through Digital Literacies entitled “Digital Media Explorations: How Space and Identity Become Sources of Learning.” In it, past examples of CAPE school-based projects illustrated how “CAPE teachers and artists co-created curriculum that diverged from the linearity of instruction, conceiving of digital technology as material to produce space and identity creating opportunities for all to better understand the world and themselves.”
However, the lack of person to person physical interactions still raises many questions about what is possible for the construction of identity in relation to the co-creation of space. How will we as a network navigate this current scenario and maintain upholding the value of shared envisioning of teaching, learning and arts practice? How can we co-create digital spaces in a way that allows for exploration of content and material? And how do we as a network share our insights and learn together in ways that are relevant right now, but also for the future of our shared work?
— Joseph Spilberg
On April 12, Chicago Public Schools central office issued a prohibition on external guests joining in virtual learning lessons. This would prevent CAPE teaching artists joining live, online instruction happening in students’ homes. This should not prevent sharing pre-recorded artist instructional videos for students, nor should it prevent take-home instructions for students. CAPE program staff is seeking further information and clarifications on this policy. CPS central office has also issued a best practices document to parents on live virtual learning, and provided suggestions as to different platforms for remote and online learning. Individual schools know best which platforms they are using and how they are using it. Artists must consult with their teacher partners as to how students receive pre-recorded videos or take-home instructions.
CPS central office has out a guide for accessing internet from various providers:
State Superintendent of Education Dr. Ayala’s message for April 13 includes an interactive map for finding drive-up wifi hotspots (http://illinois.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html? id=23e8046edd2940bc8ad3ad1725e47cd0). In addition, she asks schools and other public institutions who may have wifi accessible from their building to fill out this survey: https://survey123.arcgis.com/share/7dabc7cdbd7149d3ab49254568295502
The Artists For Illinois Relief Fund (AIRF) will open for applications again on Monday, May 4. Artists who wish to receive information and email notification when the application reopens should go to https://3arts.org/news/airf-artists/.
CAPE Network Forum Tumblr Highlight
This week’s Tumblr highlight is a video produced by teaching artist Shenequa Brooks and New Sullivan Elementary School teacher Jacquelyn Limon. Here, Brooks and Limon are filming in split screen, a prime example of co-teaching in the digital space. Click the photo above to see their video: Paper Weaving 3D Object.
CAPE Network Interview
William Estrada, interviewed by Jenny Lee
William Estrada was born to immigrant parents and grew up in California, Chicago, and Mexico. His teaching and art making practice focus on exploring inequality, migration, historical passivity, cultural recognition, self-preservation, and media representation in under-represented communities. He documents and engages experiences in public spaces to transform, question, and make connections to established and organic systems through discussion, creation, and amplification of stories already present. He is currently a visual art teacher at Telpochcalli Elementary School and faculty at the School of Arts and Art History at UIC. He has worked as an educator at many organizations, including as an Artist/Researcher with CAPE since 2002.
Your most recent CAPE Network Forum video was on a read-aloud on the book The Table Where Rich People Sit. Why did you choose this book, and how does it resonate with you in general and during this pandemic?
I’m trying to figure out how to have conversations that we’d usually have at Telpochcalli. How do we start reframing what art education looks like and what it can do.
The Table Where Rich People Sit is about thinking about inequality and wages, but it’s also exploring the idea of decolonizing wealth and what we value. Especially when we think about invisible labor, and who is considered essential workers right now and who was considered essential workers four weeks ago. The online videos themselves are meant to be a reflection of conversations that I would have with students anyway. It’s also a way for me, as an adult, as a teacher, as a parent, and as a community member, to amplify voices that are missing in these discussions.
How have you centered play and experimentation in your projects now?
I’m trying to make videos with intention and me playing, both with the technology and the content. I’m specifically thinking about the audience. I primarily teach elementary
students, so I’m trying to figure out how to engage in conversations with younger audiences, but the content isn’t distilled. That’s how I teach anyway, but I’m really trying to figure out how to play around with words and concepts, like being read to. I’m trying to curate the books that I read. How do we use stories to address inequality? Who generates knowledge? Whose stories get to be told? Those are all conversations that I try to have with elementary age students that I teach, but they’re also conversations that I have in studio courses at the college level. It’s about access to culture, power, and resources.
How do you see community support during this time?
I’m specifically thinking of myself as a cis-Latino male. We’re constantly thinking of ourselves as strong, like we’ll get through this. But what does it mean for me to be afraid? And how do we begin to have these discussions about being transparent, vulnerable, and complex. This is what makes us who we are. And this is how we take care of each other. We don’t have all the answers, but the answers that we do have, they can comfort others. And the fears that we have, others can comfort us. This is what it’s like being in a collective. This is what we do everyday, and this is what relationships are. But in this moment in time, it’s allowed us to be more transparent and intentional, and thanking those that make us feel safe and take care of us. This is a moment to remind people that they’re important to us.
Telpochcalli Community Education Project (TCEP) is really coming together as a community to self-organize and help others gather resources that they might not have the connections to, like diapers and formula. TCEP has always done community organizing, but now all these efforts are condensed into one, and these are our immediate needs. It’s been really amazing to see the love and the hard work that’s taking place, but it’s also disheartening because the inequality that existed in the city was present before, but with this pandemic it’s being emphasized tenfold. Who has access to food? Who is able to wash their clothes?
How have you seen collaboration change?
It’s not the same. The meaning for me to teach comes from the relationships that are formed. The relationships are different when we aren’t necessarily in the same room. It obviously makes it more accessible to others, and we can document what we’re teaching. It’s good. But I feel like it’s one-way. I’m not responding to people’s comments or facial expressions. If I’m filming a video, I can sit and talk for three hours. But in a classroom, I would break it down because I would see students and adults wiggling in their seats…
Right now, the projects are very one directional. They’re very “This is what I want!” But when we’re teaching collaboratively, I usually introduce ideas, and I have an idea on what the final project might look like, but we never end up with that project. The students know that they’re collaborators. They’re part of that creative process. It helps to come in with an idea and structure, but you know that idea and structure are going to change based on the responsiveness of the people in front of you, and that’s kind of missing right now. I really enjoy being with others and creating with others. It’s missing – the conversation that we have with our bodies.
Beginning in the 2000s, CAPE began to see itself as a network. You are part of that network, and you are on the CAPE Board. How do you see the CAPE network in relation to the present crisis?
The CAPE network has been essential in forming and informing the relationships that have been created. One part is the extensive network of artists, teachers, administrators, and schools that has really helped in getting off the ground these remote learning plans. Without these relationships that CAPE has built, it would be so hard to do. The other part is that because CAPE has created professional developments and is in constant communication with all the teachers and artists about needs, about new ways of thinking about our own practice, about how to deliver that practice, it hasn’t been as difficult to reframe what our teaching can look like. Obviously there are still challenges around technologies and accessibility, but I think the underlying threads and foundations that we’ve been dealing with for a really long time: relevancy to the schools we’re teaching, how we’re being responsive to the needs of our particular communities, what resources we’re using….all of this has been so transparent as we’ve been transitioning. It’s CAPE’s model that has been changing, but ongoing, that has alleviated some of the pressure and stress of what we could potentially do because we’ve been doing it all along. The only difference is how it’s being delivered.
As a CAPE board member, as all this was happening and having these conversations about how to support the teaching artists was really heartfelt for me – being able to make that commitment to support the artists no matter what happens. We’re shaping what art education is, and we’re shaping how other people see art education, not only as an organization but as teachers and artists.
Written by: Scott Sikkema
In the spring of 2012, Mark Diaz and I planned a session to look at archives/archiving for a group of teaching artists. We looked at the frameworks through which archives are seen, and how the teaching artists can think about archiving in their own practice and how they represent their own work to others.
In order to get at these notions and questions around archiving, Mark and I first met with Karen Kanemoto from the Japanese American Service Committee (JASC). The JASC was formed after World War II to provide support services for Japanese Americans relocated to the Chicago area after having been incarcerated in internment camps during the war. The JASC has extensive holdings of documents, artifacts, photographs, and other material relating to the Japanese American experience prior to coming to the U.S., early years in the U.S., World War II and the internment camps, and post-war life. With Karen, we looked through a portion of the archives, and settled on a selection of materials.
We asked ourselves, how do we look at these powerful materials in such a way as to build the artists’ capacity to look at themselves and what they generate out of their own practice, and, if they archive, how is that archive used and what can it say to others?
This was not an easy task. After much discussion, Mark and I determined that we should ourselves select what we thought were key frameworks for looking at an archive. Following are the frameworks, with the short definitions we provided the artists:
- Big Idea (Some archives represent an overarching big idea, such as World War II, internment, diaspora, etc.)
- Personal Stories (Within archives there are often potent and compelling stories of individual people.)
- Institutional (Within archives there are often legal documents and processes, which, while official, give another sense of how people were living or how conditions were or were not functioning.)
Taxonomy/ways of categorizing (An archive often uses an organizing system, also known as a taxonomy. Taxonomies provide viewers with a variety of ways to approach and begin exploring the materials contained in an archive. Taxonomies are either naturally dictated by the materials, or are constructed by the archivist.)
Site (While some archives are more geared towards the temporal, other archives capture all the different aspects of a site, including the space, people, physicality, objects, relationships, and more.)
Once we settled on these frameworks, our next challenge was how to explore them, in relation to two things: the JASC artifacts, and the artists themselves (their self reflection). This again proved a debate, but it finally settled us into the final format of the workshop we led at the JASC.
Mark, Karen, and I chose artifacts that were varied in a number of ways. They varied in their physicality: some pieces were in journal/scrapbook form, some were photo stock paper, some were thin and fragile newsprint, etc. They varied in the nature of their content: some were official documents, some were personal, some were text, some were images, and some were commercial ephemera. They were also varied in terms of their levels of accessibility, i.e., some artifacts were not easy to decipher, and some had little or no visual appeal.
The artifacts were divided up into 10 tables. The participants were divided up into groups of two. Each pair went to a table. They were given timed intervals to be at a table, and then we would tell them to switch. During their time there, they would examine the artifacts, and discuss and debate them. Mark and I gave them framework analysis worksheets, using the overarching ideas listed above. For each overarching idea, such as “Site” or “Institutional”, they were also provided with a series of questions to understand the artifacts/archive through that framework, and after that questions to transfer that framework over to how they think about their own archive of work.
In education, we (arts organizations or other similar bodies) often ask teachers or students or teaching artists to document their work, to collect samples, and to write short explanations. That documentation often is used by the organization for its own purposes. Sometimes it is used by the teacher and/or teaching artists to tell the story of what they did. Both of those results have their value. But in our own work, or looking at the work of others, how often do we pull back and try to look at an individual piece or fragments of work? How often do we try to look at the work as a collective accumulation, without immediately forcing it into a story, or into a narrative of what we want?How can we build on collective knowledge by collectively examining an archive? How often do we clearly think about the frameworks we inherently almost always bring to looking at artifacts and archives? How often do we ask ourselves, what other frameworks are possible?
Questions like these can allow us to take more time to become more open to what archives, artifacts, and documentation can say to us, and what meanings they might hold beyond the particular meaning we have predetermined. Questions like this can also help us examine closely how we ourselves actually produce artifacts for our own archives, what constitutes an artifact itself for inclusion, and how one artifact relates or does not relate (without value judgments) to another.
Looking back on this workshop, I am also thinking about what might resonate today, about life before and during the pandemic, our relationships, what artifacts we generate or encounter, and how we frame meaning from this.