Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Student story: creating change by Sara Berg '06

from RISD VIEWS: Inside RISD campus community article,

Three years ago, finding it a challenge to integrate into the Providence art community as a transfer student to RISD, I decided to work off-campus at New Urban Arts (NUA). Founded in 1997 by Tyler Denmead, NUA is a free after-school art program for high school students, serving about 100 students each year. The studio on the wets side of Providence is a center where youth come together to work with artist mentors, learn an art form, expand their creative practice, and most importantly, build strong trusting relationships with others.

Twice a week during the fall and spring semesters I teach a sculpture workshop to students from the Providence area. As an artist mentor, I hope to empower the students as artists and leaders of their communities and help them develop creative practices that can sustain them throughout their lives. Working in a group of about four or five, we develop projects that explore the ideas of shape and form, from three-dimensional sculptures to full wall installations. Some of our most successful projects have been creating African-inspired masks from recycled materials, enlarging everyday objects in papier-mâché (inspired by sculptor Claes Oldenburg) and forming line and paper into wall-drawing installations.

Over the year, a student’s development as an artist becomes clear. For instance, last fall I worked with a student named Rebecca, a freshman at Classical High School, who did not appear to be confident about her artwork, and worked timidly and apprehensively. At the end of the year, to everyone’s amazement, she completed an aluminum, vellum and yellow paper installation over an entire wall of the gallery space. She had clearly blossomed and grown through taking risks and gaining a voice in her artwork.

The NUA studio is an environment that makes me forget the long list of things that need to be accomplished in the day, and it’s rare for me to leave without receiving high-fives, hugs and contagious laughter. I enjoy talking one-on-one with the students and being inspired by them as they develop and change as artists. Their work has positively influenced my own sculpture work at RISD, often reminding me that the best pieces are a result of working freely and intuitively. The relationships that grow between artist mentor and student are memorable and honest, and often continue after students have left high school.

The students and mentors of New Urban Arts exercise muscles to be creative and independent thinkers. It is often the case that this skill set is not promoted in public schools with limited resources and little or no arts programming. The director of NUA has pointed out that “young people must develop a more active imagination, world.” New Urban Arts inspires dreaming, imagination and the motivation to accomplish great things.

Sara Berg

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Conversation between Tyler Denmead and Greg Kelly

March 16, 2006

Greg Kelly and Tyler Denmead's first conversation is the post, "Starting Up" which appeared on our blog on November 29, 2005. This is a follow up conversation. Greg is the co-founder of the Bridge and can be reached at greg@thebridgepai.com

TD: What's on your mind?

GK: The definition of what it means to be an artist in our day and age.

TD: Uh oh.... I'm having a hard time understanding what it means for me personally, let alone the world.

GK: Well, let's get specific. I've been reading more and more about some developing trends in the art world with regards to social practices (i.e. collectives, collaboration, process over product, etc… It seems to run somewhat counter to my education in "art school".)

TD: What did you learn in art school?

GK: I think there was more of a sense of individual success based upon personal vision - getting gallery representation, selling work, making a career of it. However, there was little attention given to the purpose of all this. What it means to be an artist, beyond the passion and romantic portrayals. How we contribute, for example.

TD: My impression of "art school" - and I did not go - so I'm not entirely wedded to these ideas - but my observation of art school is developing an isolated studio practice, in which one refines their technical skills in a specific discipline. At a local arts school in Providence, it seems that the culture forces students to take pride in how much time they spend in the studio. Time and space for any social engagement is not encouraged or rewarded.

GK: Bingo.

TD: I've noticed these schools struggle with what their missions ought to be. It seems like the mission of art and design schools is that they want their students to become the best glove makers and most famous painters, but we are living in a much more complex world. If these students are going to be the image/content makers of the future, and image/content means everything - then it seems that social responsibility and civic-mindedness become essential elements to that education. And, it must extend beyond the artist engaging in the community so that it helps them propel toward their goal of becoming the best glove maker or the most famous painter. In some ways, I think the growing movement of organizations like ours presents an alternative model that they will have to respond to eventually. So many of the artists who are creating these communities are doing so in response to their dissatisfaction with their education.

GK: Tyler, do you have any art history under your belt?

TD: Yes. I majored in it. Though my studies were limited to later nineteenth century Western European - pretty limited department at Brown at the time.

GK: The reason I ask is that through out history these questions have ebbed and flowed between so many waves of focus. In the 20th century there were several, very prominent groups, movements, and individuals who addressed these very issues. (i.e. Dada, Joseph Beuys, Group Material in the 80's...)

TD: The folks at Black Mountain...

GK: They're a great example. John Cage was actually, I believe, on to something much larger than making challenging steps in music. He saw something in the disconnect between all our thinking, framing, and defining, which was actually holding many of us back from richer, deeper experiences, deeper connection. I see this, more and more, as the role of artists. To be stewards, in some way, to that access.

TD: Yes... And, for an artistic practice to be sustainable - it requires deeper connection and providing others access. Relationships are as important to being an artist as the process of making work. For a creative practice to be strong, a network of support - a community must be strong. When one becomes stronger, the other improves. It's a simple concept, what we are talking about, but why does it feel so against the grain?

GK: I think it has to do with taking care of #1. We can't help but be creatures of habit and our deepest habit is ourselves: preservation, survival... Though we both seem to know that this “survival” comes more readily and easily by helping others.

TD: Instinctually, we recognize that we need connections to lead meaningful, rich lives - yet we create lives for ourselves that make this exceedingly difficult.

GK: Is it the culture?

TD: I think so - the culture of competition, heavily programmed/scheduled lives so that we don’t think but consume, achievement…

GK: Do you see echoes of history repeating? Do you believe we're slowly evolving on each go round of new societies, new cultures or have the cavemen simply brought laptops to the bashing? I keep hearing that we are the modern Roman Empire. I think of this as both beautiful and terribly true in other ways, seeing where most empires end up. There's urgency in the air. I think it's collective. We don't want to blow the opportunity yet again.

TD: Where is the urgency taking The Bridge today?

GK: Initially it took us into somewhat urgent and impulsive ambitions of screaming about it. I kept trying to saturate everything with something I simply have not yet come to embody. I believe we have been making the mistake of all revolutions: declaring a way with out embodying it first and foremost. Mastering ourselves, owning up to our own personal work, putting down the judgment. The paperweight says it all. "Be the change you wish to see." I think that we're just waking up to that at The Bridge.

TD: Sounds beautiful.

GK: I'd like to return to our first point of focus. Defining what it is to be an artist.

TD: I don't think these two ideas are too far apart - an artist must be able to sit very comfortably within himself or herself to be effective, in my view. Though I don't think the market rewards this, I think it to be true. Much of being an artist is about dishonesty: ripping off people's images, ideas, faces, position in life.

GK: How do you mean?

TD: If I were to write a poem right now, I'd be using some of your words.

GK: And, I would use some of yours.

TD: Yes. So, I think we need to be honest about that, rather than saying that we're not ripping each other off and that I'm a genius. Our poems originate from these relationships. They are better because of it. And, they are ours. Not mine.

GK: Frederick Sommer, a mentor, said something really beautiful. He said, “All rare things should be lent away and I have borrowed very freely. Let all those who here recognize their wares in turn make restitution lest their sleep be more disturbed than useful.” What he was essentially saying is that the idea of “originality” is somewhat of a silly carrot to chase.

TD: Yet, we obsess. We obsess! (I just instant messaged another friend with that quote asking him what he thought it meant. He responded, "Have a yard sale.")

GK: Everyone's experience is unique and that's what makes everyone's work ultimately useful, beautiful, and needed. The problem is that it takes time to arrive at a sense of who we are.

TD: Lifetimes.

GK: And even more time to love that someone: to share it with your cahoonas hanging out in the wind.

TD: … To not doubt and distrust it.

GK: As we've brought things into focus, I'm seeing that the real service or insight I would like to share with young artists is precisely what we've been talking about. We must give young artists a head start. It's taken you and I 30 some odd years. How cool it would be to have kids empowered with such insight before they even hit high school.

TD: It requires a new form of education.

GK: One I believe we're testing out at NUA and The Bridge.

TD: Right... First, we stop the conversation about "artistic standards" and "artistic proficiencies" that policy makers are using so that arts education does not get cut from schools. I appreciate the effort, but I don't want my kids to be proficient in art - sounds like standing still.

GK: Yes. DeKooning, the crazy ab-ex painter, said he preferred to be sliding.

TD: Then, we stop confining the arts to units and disciplines. We need more ambiguity - more possibilities for freedom.

GK: The art world is reflecting this. Everyone’s tackling everything from every angle. All mediums are accepted. However, we don't have a grasp on what it's for.

TD: Right. Meaning... what is it for if it cannot be sold?

GK: Right. How do we survive without commerce driven mediums or with them, while sustaining the imagination and spirit.

Friday, March 10, 2006


The idea of Correspondence originated from New Urban Arts’ artist–in-resident Holly Ewald in 2000. Over the course of eight years, Holly and her friend Christina sent a book back and forth to each other, responding to images that they created in the book.

Holly started a similar conversation with one of our students who could not attend her workshop because of a scheduling conflict. In one of the responses, the artist, Meg, altered a stamp. Holly presented it to a group of us in the studio and asked us to respond to the stamp with our own artwork. These responses varied in media, image, and thought. This enabled the group to see how one image can be interpreted in different ways.

Over the years, New urban Arts has been challenging the way people make and look at artwork through Correspondence. Last year, we paired students, artist mentors, staff, and board members to respond to artwork made by their partners.

This year, along with students, artist mentors, staff and board members, we have invited alumni, volunteers, and donors to join us in responding to poems written by New Urban Arts’ students.

As we continue to develop new ideas that push us to grow and expand our creative practice, we, in turn, build a collective community of people who create and celebrate the process of artmaking.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

5 Poems

"I have neglected your love"

I have neglected your love
I have your love
Your love has neglected me
I am your love
Me, I,
your love
Neglected I have or have I
Or have
your love
I am your love
I have neglected me.

-Maria Gonzalez, age 16

"I am"

I am from Laban St.
I am from the room that I don’t like, dragon pictures on the door, and the orphaned kitten me and my mother tried so hard to rescue from starvation.
I am from Laurel Hill.
I am from playing make-shift baseball in a crumbling driveway with the kids from second floor and using a leaf, a crack and a rock as bases.
I am Wallace St.
I am from the untamed rhododendron bush that was such a good place to imagine and
the basement floor I used to draw chalk pictures on.
I am from Webster Ave.
I am from Katrina’s pit-bull puppies, the funny fruit trees, the biggest maple tree on the block and going to Marissa’s house.
I am from a moving van.
I am from “AAAH! Mom, there’s a giant bug in the bathroom!!!” and seeing my first Rhode Island mosquito at the rest stop.
I am from the road.
I am from losing a frightened cat and then finding her again.
I am from Georgetown.
I am from the backyard where I learned to cartwheel
and the one where I caught a bull frog.
I am from the middle of nowhere and the trailer that came with it.
I am from the road.
I am from a moving-out room and “I’m not gonna move and you can’t make me!”
I am from Wayland, Massachusetts.
I am from grinding away on the sidewalk in my first set of blades, the Winnie-the-Pooh story book I found under the Christmas tree, and the garage band my dad had.
I am from…
I am from…
Where am I from again?

- Elizabeth Keith, Age 15

"My Life"

And then there’s that time when her father died
However I think of it, it was a big part of my life
Yesterday still haunts me but it doesn’t keep me
Away from tomorrow.
- Jessica Frias, Age 15

"The Structure of a Woman's Silence"



Remote from her own experience

Reflecting negatively

About a sexual

Psyche profound impact

Growing up


Becmes a powerful form of censorship

Intimate deep-seated


Influence the

Nature of space

I'd like to speak phenomenon

denial censorship

- Adrienne Adeyemi, Age 17