Thursday, October 29, 2009

On the studio ecology at New Urban Arts

I’ve been privileged to be part of New Urban Arts since it’s earliest days, as an advisor, board member, volunteer and financial contributor. Over the past two years I worked with the organization in a new way, as one of the first Artist Mentor Fellows. In this capacity I was able to witness the work of the organization up close and in a more meaningful way than ever before. While my official role was to work with mentors to help them develop their teaching practice, I was also able to work with the staff, to see how the ecology of New Urban Arts provides a safe and generative space for youth, and, most importantly, to develop friendships with young people who both find and make a sense of place in the studio.

After years of understanding the organization from a governance and, frankly, theoretical point of view, being a Fellow allowed me to understand the deep value of the organization -- and to see, feel, and know how New Urban Arts is an experience of both intellectual and embodied learning for youth and mentors. While school very often rigidly defines the outcomes and process of learning – to the detriment of students -- New Urban Arts is able to cultivate the inherent curiosity of youth who participate in the studio. Importantly, New Urban Arts helps students find and utilize their innate capacities as learners – enabling learning that’s focused, of deep duration, and that results in discovery and meaningful products. As a result, students at New Urban Arts demonstrate a self-directed passion for learning and the concomitant skills necessary to be critical thinkers in any area with which they become engaged.

Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of adults – many of whom grew up, like me, with considerable privilege, resources and educational support -- say that they wish a place like New Urban Arts existed when they were young. This sentiment has compelled me to consider why New Urban Arts elicits such enthusiasm. While its storefront studio is inviting, it’s hardly spacious. The staff go to great ends to insure that students have the supplies and support they need and want to fuel their creative inquiries; however as much is made of recycled materials as of top-of-the-line art supplies. The value of New Urban Arts doesn’t lie in material assets; rather it resides in the quality of the relationships the organization enables. In an age of disassociation, multitasking, and fragmentation relational learning is, in the best sense of the term, radical pedagogy.

New Urban Arts is a strong organization in many, many ways, but it's also a revolutionary organization in its understanding of the dignity of all who participate and in the way that it values creative practice as tool for personal development and social change. Like those who wish they’d had a place like New Urban Arts growing up, I am grateful to have the organization in my life. While I arrived too late in my life to receive the foundational experiences it offers so many youth, my recent association has offered me a renewed sense of optimism in our cultural ability to be present to one another and to support the curiosity and profound development of young people.

Pete Hocking


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