So recently I was invited to do a lecture on my work in Portland Oregon for the PNCA/OCAC MFA in Applied Craft and Design. Well I was blown away with everything! Portland is just amazing. Some old VCU folks, Karl Burkheimer and his wife Martha were gracious enough to let me stay with them. I have always been a HUGE fan of Karl's work and he definitely was a big influence on my attitude towards making. I had him as an instructor when I was an undergrad in the Craft/Material studies department at VCU I think for two classes one in wood and one in experimental materials.
Here is a great video on Karl
My Crafts education started in a system of separate majors/fields and more importantly workspaces. I am not sure if that effected the way I approach objects but it most certainly made me think about making within a certain scale. It seemed that everything I made had to fit in a shoebox. The only reason why I bring this up is because I have to reflect on how I navigated the system before giving my opinion on this very new program.
In my personal experience, every department works differently and being an educator, information and it how it is presented is important. When I teach I am always asking questions. "Is this really the right way to teach this?" "Are they getting it?" "Why does everyone have a blank look on their face?" " Wait is my zipper down?" All kidding aside, In academia you are expected to have two jobs. One: to be an educator that has some sort of success rate. You have to prove retention in the form of thesis exhibitions, lectures, presentations, etc etc etc. Your students have to have ended their education with some sort of experience and skill set that they didn't have before. Most importantly students have to be knowledgeable about what they are doing. Two: you also have to be an artist. You have to "actively participate in professional pursuits". This pretty much means you have to exhibit, lecture and generally get involved in your field. Let me be the first to tell you that it is a hard job. Throw in a personal life and a family and it is nearly impossible. For the people that can do it all: I AM JEALOUS.
So on with the show: My opinions about the joint MFA in Applied Craft and Design
Well lets just say I may be going back to grad school. I loved it. It was great! There were so many things about the program and Portland that just seemed to work. It was described to me as the most European city that is not in Europe. Just a little blurb from the website:
"The Applied Craft and Design Studio is housed in a dramatic 8000 sf former warehouse space. Each student has a dedicated individual work space, as well as use of over 3000 sf of work areas shared between the program's 30 students. The AC&D Studio includes: a 1200 sf wood shop; a welding and metal working area; a kiln and ceramics area; a computer lab (housed in an Airstream trailer!); a critique space; and a small kitchen.
Students also have access to all labs, shops, libraries and equipment at the OCAC and PNCA main campuses. Labs are staffed by highly qualified technicians able to provide students with technical assistance and instruction, with specialized equipment for Book Arts, Printmaking, Ceramics, Design, Fibers, Metals, Photography, and Wood. There are several different digital computer labs with professional-level color, large-format printing capabilities.
Each student is also provided with opportunities to display his or her work and learn preparatory and installation skills in professional level exhibition spaces"
While I was visiting Portland JP Reur, the head of the program and I sat down for coffee and had a great discussion on how exciting it is to be maker/designer right now. How incredible it is to participate in forging relationships with industry and other artists. I feel that this attitude is a direct reflection on how this department works. Imagine for a moment, a bunch of artist/makers thrown in a giant, communal workspace add in some critical dialogue mix with a mentorship program, splash in the city of Portland and viola an academic experience that is refreshing and energizing. The whole time I was there all I could think of as that old Reese's peanut butter cup commercial: "You got your peanut butter on my chocolate! You got your chocolate in my peanut butter"
I mean come on the first visiting artist they brought in helped the students design/build the space. The students rented a uhaul and picked up an old barn that had fallen down. Cleaned up the wood and built alcoves to work in. They also re-fabed an old airstream and put their computer lab in it. The space is just chocked full of creative thinking that I found inspirational.
Also as a side note I don't think you can visit Portland without going to VooDoo doughnuts. Apparently their claim to fame came from a NyQuil doughnut. Oh man oh man