CAPE Network Forum Newsletter: Volume I Issue 3 (Archived)

Originally published: April 30th, 2020

Welcome to the third edition of the CAPE Network Forum Newsletter. 

Uncertainty and the unknown seem to define our present time. With regards to safety and health, uncertainty and the unknown must be conquered, and we must protect each other and prioritize those at risk and those less able to care for themselves.

We must also remember that, in education and in art, uncertainty and the unknown are generative. Navigating through the unknown gives students authentic ownership of their learning. For teachers and artists, asking questions they don’t know the answer to engenders a real partnership between them—and gives them a sense of ownership as well. Further, a true struggle with the unknown and uncertainty in teaching can bring a teacher or an artist to what they really believe education or art should be.

We are now in an entirely new world in regards to education. No one knows what works best, no one knows how anything will turn out, and no one knows how long this will go on. This is why, more than ever, teachers and artists and principals and schools must have the freedom to experiment. Compliance enforcement and drives for uniform curriculums are not helpful at this time. We must acknowledge that the only way to build a new way of learning is through the collaborative work of educators, parents and community partners connecting in networks in order to share and debate. A new way of teaching and learning that can set students on their paths of finding ways to positively grow and develop can’t be dictated by the top down, whether by edicts or by associations of those in power positions engaged in long conversations before they issue a document of their making.

In June of 2018, CAPE held a public panel discussion on the critical importance of uncertainty and the unknown in art, education, and science. The conversation took place under very different circumstances than ours at present, and yet what was spoken has real relevance now. During the panel, one of the things we talked about was vulnerability. To be uncertain is also to be vulnerable. Educational policies often seek to remove uncertainty, and thus vulnerability as well. But vulnerability, and feeling okay with being vulnerable together, is what we need now to learn, create, persevere, and help others through this crisis.

— Scott Sikkema


CAPE’s very own Mark Diaz, Associate Director of Education, has a project displayed with Roman Susan (1224 W Loyola Ave, Chicago) from April 24th to May 6th. The project, panorama2(problem) will be on view directly from the street, while the storefront remains closed. For more information, please visit:

If you have exhibitions, performances, or other events coming up that you would like to be announced in the newsletter, please contact Jenny Lee at

Thanks to everyone who attended our professional development meeting with Ernest Whiteman on effective ways to create your own YouTube videos.  This was our fourth professional development online meeting, and our attendance for the four meetings totals around 300 participants.

Our long-term in-school Artist/Researcher Partners program will have an online professional development meeting on Tuesday, April 28, from 4 to 6 pm.

We are excited to note that CAPE teachers and artists have posted over 70 videos. Most of these videos are on the CAPE Network Forum.  In addition, schools are beginning to post CAPE artist/teacher videos on their websites and/or Facebook pages.  Thus far, over 2000 viewers have clicked on these videos!

CAPE teaching artists and Park Forest Chicago Heights District 163 STEAM and visual art teachers have collaborated to conceive at-home curricula for the rest of their school year for grades K—5 students in our STEAM Ahead program.

We want your feedback!  Mark and Brandon will talk to ARP teachers and artists about the possibilities about an online Convergence exhibition, and will be seeking input.  In addition, CAPE staff is thinking about all in-school and after-school programs doing online exhibiting, either at the same time, or one week being in-school, the next week after school.  But—we’re not sure about this, so we need your comments.

Some of you offered feedback to Scott Sikkema for the CAPE spring, Summer, and School Year 2020-2021 draft plan, which was posted on the Forum. We have taken it down now for further drafting, but please continue to contact Scott with ideas and questions.

As everyone knows, schools are closed for the duration of the school year.  ISBE has updated their guidelines accordingly:, and Superintendent Ayala has provided additional information on such matters as retrieving personal items from schools:

CAPE Network Forum Tumblr Highlight:

This issue’s Tumblr highlight is on Mr Knowbody’s Stay Home Art’s Instruction Journal Reflection II.” bAnansi is a multidisciplinary artist based in Chicago, IL. His work offers perspective through a lens of cynicism. By means of conceptualization, appropriation, image and sound manipulation, visceral/violent performance, and audience control, he exposes visible and invisible power dynamics embedded in  our society. bAnansi attempts to guide viewers to assume a different interpretation than one they may already possess, by setting parameters, both physical and cognitive in order to view his work.

CAPE Network Interview:
Panel Discussion – Uncertainty in Art, Education, and STEM

See full discussion here

For this issue of the Forum newsletter we are featuring a panel discussion from June 2018. This panel was held in conjunction with our annual Convergence exhibition of student work from our Artist/Researcher Partners program, and it was followed by a hands-on workshop (led by Patty Whitehouse and Margy Stover). The panelists included Deborah Birmingham, teacher at Durkin Park Elementary School; Erin Preston, independent researcher; Lisa Kim, scientist; Marcela Torres, artist; and Patricia Nguyen, artist and Executive Director at Axis Lab.

Scott: Our topic today is uncertainty in science, art, pedagogy, and other related things that it might generate, like conflict or risk. 

The first thing I’m going to ask about is going to science. What’s the place of uncertainty in science, in scientific investigations by students or by an adult scientist, or in teaching science? How does uncertainty impact the investigation, whether at the beginning, or middle or end? 

Deborah: I think with this particular project, uncertainty was very important. In science oftentimes children, in fourth grade they’re used to being directed to a correct answer, what the answer should be, what you should come out with. 

This time it allowed them the opportunity to take ownership—“Well, wait a minute, you’re not going to tell me is this right? No, explore it for yourself.” It gave them the freedom to do so. And in the beginning they were uncomfortable, knowing that, wait a minute, there’s always just a right answer or a wrong answer. 

This form of uncertainty allowed them to really take ownership, as you said. In the beginning they were leery, but as we worked through the project they became more confident in what they were doing and what they were exploring. I think it’s very important for science that children are allowed to know that they don’t have to be certain about certain things starting out.

Scott: You mentioned a project in particular that your students worked on. It’s on exhibit—can you briefly describe it?

Deborah: The project that I worked on with the artist here, Niema Qureshi, we worked on children trying to see using lines and shapes, trying to visualize energy. So many times you hear of energy, but you don’t get a chance to see what is energy, so how can you use shapes and lines to define what energy is to have a picture of energy, just in a nutshell.

Lisa: I definitely grew up just thinking there’s that one right answer that we’re always looking for. Coming into a new position as a researcher in a lab, we come up with all these hypotheses, but then I was thinking, okay, this is my prediction, and if it’s correct, that’s the best case scenario. Then I ended up having incorrect predictions, and my advisor was saying that’s still great, you still can get so many questions out of that. 

In that way uncertainty is such a huge thing in science, especially, and in research, because I think successful projects bring up more uncertainty. I think that’s a really great place to be, having more questions that you can explore and ask more, just like how is this going to affect this ecosystem, or how is this going to affect this organism. You’re just going to end up getting more questions out of that.

Deborah: I think that’s good, Lisa, because when you think about the real world, we’re teaching children to grow up and be problem-solvers in real life situations. And when you have certain questions, even though you fail, you’re still resolving a problem. You don’t have to be confined to right or wrong. 

I think it’s good in the school setting when we can do something like this with CAPE, allowing children to problem-solve, because when you think about the curriculum, so many times you’re preparing for tests, and with testing there’s just one answer, one answer. If we want children to think outside the box when they become adults and go into the world, we have to give them their freedom in the classroom to know that you don’t have to be right, and your wrong answer can be a right answer. As you say, it can lead to further investigation.

Scott: Now, how about from an artist’s perspective? I’m not trying to set up a dichotomy, but both of you, Marcela and Patricia, work in performance art and other methods. Is there something you could talk about in terms of uncertainty in your process?

Marcela: Well, I was thinking that actually it’s very similar, in certain ways. I began to think about the word uncertainty and that creates resilience and trauma in people, like if there is no certainty, that’s like negative in a way. But within the arts or within science, there’s a structure of things we know, right? There’s things that we are confident and comfortable within, and then you set up that structure to then deal with the uncertain. 

Within my own work, I was thinking there is a lot of risk in the actual physicality of fighting, which is sometimes used in my work, and so there’s a technicality that I know how to block. I trust the person I’m with. But there is uncertainty as to what will actually happen. 

Patricia: I love this question and I love that it’s being approached from these multiple ways, because uncertainty is so much of a place of possibility. And it could be debilitating at times, right? It could be this place of doubt, this place of fundamentally questioning one’s self and one’s ability, what one can contribute in the world, but it’s that place of questioning, as you were talking about, that actually opens up these doors that offer avenues to explore and to investigate. 

For me, when I’m working with students in performance who have never worked in performance, a lot of my students right now are all engineering students, and it’s like they either take performance or they take public speaking. And so they take performance. A lot of them are taking risks. They’re doing things they’ve never done before. There’s so much certainty in engineering, in some ways, it’s like this is why this is, these are the facts. And then I’m like performance can be anything, it can be everything. And then they’re like I don’t know what that means. 

To kind encourage students to, instead of defining what the boundaries are, to use uncertainty to actually question what those boundaries are, how those boundaries were put in place, what institutions created those conditions, what values are laden in those structures, for them to then break it and re-form and reimagine how they can move in the world, or how they can think in the world. I really try to ask students to use their uncomfortability and their uncertainty as a place of digging deeper, as a place of asking more questions and a place of getting to know them well.

Erin: I think that uncertainty affords teachers and students a lot of agency. Deborah, you had mentioned there are these predetermined goals and outcomes that are largely driven by test preparation and what those do, they limit possibilities for both teachers and students to explore curriculum, and content, and learning, and with these kind of structural influences, they limit teachers’ ability to make instructional and pedagogical choices about learning. 

That can be what curriculum, and what content, and even the pacing. That can remove teachers’ own beliefs and opinions about education and learning, their values about learning and what they know about their own students and their students’ needs and their students’ interests. When a learning experience brings in uncertainty and embraces uncertainty, what can happen is it looks more like what you described, where the possibilities open up. You might have an idea of what the outcome could be, but it’s not predetermined, and the students are making the choices along that path in the way that they express their understanding and their path to arrive at those new understandings. 

These structural influences that privilege certainty are so pervasive and really hard to get away from that sometimes we can even be operating from a place of certainty when we think that we’re facilitating student agency. One example from my research that was last year in Collaboration Laboratory—for those of you not as familiar, it’s a two year program for teachers and teaching artists new to CAPE to work together in arts integration and collaborating together on these projects. A teacher shared with me a really powerful learning experience that they had had in watching the unfolding of a curriculum unit of, actually, their student teacher. 

The premise of this curriculum unit was art and social change. The students were asked what would you change about your school if you could change one thing. That sounds really open, right? That sounds inquiry based, and it sounds like it would really facilitate students maybe even having a chance to shape their school space based on their opinions and experiences. But the students came back and said wait, we don’t want to change anything. Our school has actually been doing nothing but changing the past four years based on leadership changes, and teachers coming and going, and physical changes to the school space. 

So when the teacher and her student teacher were confronted with the fact that they had these assumptions based on their certainty that students were experiencing these things and understanding their world at school in a certain way, it opened up the possibility for the students to really bring in their own experiences and understanding of the impacts the changes had on their school experience to their learning. Maybe it would resemble something more of a commemoration of the history of the school or something that was more in line in a meaningful way to their choices. 

Marcela: I keep thinking about modeling and problem-solving in a way, as well, ‘cause I think that in the past when I think about my own teachers, there’s always like a hierarchy, right, where you are…they’re your master, in a way. But to open up and become like the role model for it, you’re trying to pull it all together, you’re trying to make things work, and you’re under a certain kind of limitation through CPS, and students seeing the way in which you maneuver, that also becomes sort of a model for problem-solving themselves as well, and then it also cuts the hierarchy to be like oh, I can do that, we can do that, we’re doing it. 

Erin: I think, Marcella, you just touched on something that is really important about hierarchy and the role of uncertainty in setting off that hierarchy between teachers and students, and it’s also an important process of the CAPE methodology, where, when the teacher is not certain where the class is going to arrive, what the products are going to be, then the students aren’t looking at them to see what hoops am I going to jump through, what path do I need to take to get there, where’s the X that I need to land on, right? 

So the students see that the uncertainty that the teacher has means that it’s okay to kind of wrestle with these questions, and to locate that path on their own terms, and to make choices to get there. So I think that that’s a really important part of it.

Marcela: That ties both of these things together, trusting your teacher, they are somebody that you trust, and you understand, and they have a structure for you, but you’re not going to hit the X. You’re going to hit like a circle, and then a triangle, and then lie on the floor. [Laughter.] 

Contemporary Recall:

CAPE After School program professional development, 2012

Written by: Scott Sikkema

The CAPE program staff, artists, teachers, and students have long been interested in space, especially school space, as a construct and as a material. We have done many professional developments investigating space, and conducted research investigations into the interactions and relationships between space and identities. In this video excerpt from a professional development meeting led by Mark Diaz and Hilesh Patel, we see one break-out group of teachers and artists who created a performance art piece utilizing a high school classroom and one of the classroom’s key components. Click here to see the full video!