October 2011 Archives

Thanks for Support of "Putting Creativity to Work"

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Over the next few weeks we will be blogging here about the 2011 Bruner/Loeb Forum: Putting Creativity to Work. I want to thank the talented and inspiring UMN MLA students who helped make this event possible: Erica Sheaer, Tom Campbell, Kevin Clark, Brit Salmela, Emily Stover, Kristen Murray, Miss Emily Lowry, Anna Lawrence, and our resident medical student, Lara. I would also like to thank staff and faculty at the Department of Landscape Architecture: Vince deBritto, Sara Grothe, Amanda Smoot, Lance Neckar, and Dave Pitt.

View Video from "Putting Creativity to Work"

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Watch video from the Bruner/Loeb Forum: Putting Creativity to Work, co-hosted by the UMN Department of Landscape Architecture, here. Juxtaposition Arts and partners (UMN LA) are excited to host this coming together of local and national designers, scholars, planners, artists, non-profit organizations, government officials, and others who are interested in exploring the possibilities of locally rooted art and engaged design as a tool to build stronger communities from the ground up. Some of the most respected practitioners from around the country will convene in Minneapolis to learn from each other and share best practices while dissecting the current conditions and opportunities for arts based development to bring about more equitable outcomes in cities like Minneapolis where there are persistent pockets of poverty and unequal outcomes for people and especially children and youth along race and class lines. We have assembled a diverse group of speakers and presenters with experience in art-based development practices that are transforming the physical, economic and social landscape in communities across the country. In addition the conference will highlight the expertise of our local community. Featured speakers:
  • Rick Lowe, Founder & Artistic Director, Project Row Houses in Houston whose work is an example of how artists can improve a neighborhood without displacing people.
  • Cynthia Harnisch, President & CEO Inner City Arts in Los Angeles a program that engages 30,000 youth from Los-Angeles public schools each year through art education in an award winning urbanist facility described as an oasis in the heart of skid-row.
  • Kate Barr, Executive Director, Nonprofits Assistance Fund, Minneapolis
  • Tom Borrup, Principal, Creative Community Builders, Minneapolis
  • Roger & DeAnna Cummings, Founders & Directors, Juxtaposition Arts, Minneapolis
  • Theaster Gates, performance artist, planner and Loeb Fellow 2011, Chicago
  • Ed Goetz, Director, U of MN Center for Urban and Regional Affairs
  • Seitu Jones, artist, St. Paul
  • Neeraj Mehta, Program Officer, Nexus Community Partners, Minneapolis
  • Kris Nelson, Director, Neighborhood Programs, University of MN, Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, Minneapolis
  • Dan Pitera, Associate Professor, Architecture University of Detroit Mercy; Director, Detroit Collaborative Design Center, Detroit
  • David Ralston, Redevelopment Project Manager, Oakland Community & Economic Development Agency, Oakland
  • Jason Schupbach, Director of Design, National Endowment for the Arts, Washington D.C.
  • Sheila Smith, Executive Director, Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, Minnesota

Sculpture Created by Students and Alumna for Exhibition

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As part of the Bruner/Loeb Forum, we hosted an exhibition of 6 years of collaborative work with Juxtaposition Arts. UMN/MLA alum Satoko Muratake developed the idea for the umbrella installation. At 4pm, 120 umbrellas arrived, and by 8.30pm Erica Shearer, Kristen Murray, Tom Cambell, Kevin Clark, Miss Emily Lowry, Anna Lawrence, Lara Zador (we've claimed you Lara), and Emily Stover made it happen. Here is one piece of the sculpture...

Theaster Gates

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Image of St. Paul artist-in-residence Marcus Young recording his reflections on the presentation of Theaster Gates. You can find Marcus' work here [photo by Brit Salmela].

If you view the video recordings of the Bruner/Loeb Forum, be sure to watch the presentation of artist Theaster Gates. In addition to being a compelling visual artist, Theaster is a gifted lecturer, singer, and community builder.

In this video
you can see him working with elementary school kids in St. Louis to identify the assets in their neighborhoods. You can also see some of his sculpture, and see him perform. Theaster is one of the most talented, committed, approachable, humble and sincere people you will ever meet. We talked about how when he started, noone wanted to give him any money to do his work and now its a completely different story. I'm particularly excited about a project he is starting in St. Louis that will combine artist housing with housing for families who have an interest in the arts. His goal is to house artists and families from the community where the housing units are placed - not to bring in artists from other parts of the city. Locally rooted art and design at its best. Theaster will be back in the Twin Cities this fall through the Walker Art Center. We hope we can entice him up to Juxtaposition for a presentation to our and Juxta's students.

Press Coverage of Bruner/Loeb Forum

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Here is a great article about the Forum from the Twin Cities Daily Planet.

Reflection and Community Engaged Scholarship

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Last May the University of Minnesota's Community Engaged Scholars Faculty Development Group held its last meeting. I will write more about this program and some lessons learned but wanted to begin this blog where the group left off: What is reflection? Why is it vital to community engagement work? Why are teachers so good at doling out reflection assignments and so bad at consistently reflecting on their work and ideas?

I was reminded of this topic again when a new 1st year graduate student in landscape architecture shared his blog with me—a very thoughtfully written and clear account of his first experiences as a design student. I'm always amazed by the courage it takes to return to school, move to an unfamiliar place, and find your role in a cohort of strangers. His reflections on the first weeks of school reminded me again of exactly what is at stake for many of our incoming students. As someone who is still paying off student loans, I'm reminded of the financial commitment monthly. But I forget the stress of the newness of it all—new apartment to set up, new bureaucratic systems to negotiate, new skills to learn.

Students in my Research Methods class are at the other end of this trajectory: developing what will be their final capstone project and preparing to graduate in the spring. Having mastered a set of skills they are in some ways returning to the reasons they started the program in the first place. What is it about the landscape that they value: the city, a river's edge, a neighborhood, a sidewalk? How can the work of a designer improve lives? What are the strengths of our profession and what are its limits?

In this blog I'll share some thoughts on these questions. Part of the fear of reflection for academics may be that an ongoing record of our answers shows shifts in our thinking and perhaps doubts about what we think is possible. But a shifting account is a more honest account of the processes of teaching and learning, of collaboration and expression set within a constantly changing landscape of money, ethics, and regulation. Just as good research is based on good questions and leads to even better questions, engagement and teaching are shaped and reshaped each time we ask ourselves if what we are doing reflects what we know and what we believe.

Imagining America

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Last spring a group of staff and faculty from Winona State, University of Minnesota, Carleton College and Macalester College met at the St. Paul Student Center to plan next year's Imagining America National Conference which will be held in the Twin Cities.

"Imagining America is a consortium of colleges and universities committed to public scholarship and practice in the arts, humanities, and design. Imagining America supports campus-community partnerships that contribute to local and national civic life while furthering recognition of the value of public scholarship and practice in higher education itself. Each year Imagining America hosts a national conference that engages broader themes as well as the local context of the conference site."

For me and for other planning committee members the words "Imagining America" indicate that things could be otherwise - the ways we work together, the economies we work within, and the boundaries of our fields. These words also indicate something ongoing rather than one-off, something whose starting points are hopeful and whose commitments are long-term.

Landscape Architecture has an important role to play in Imaging America. As I've said elsewhere, design is a way of considering, representing, and constructing relationships between people and places - designers envision, present, and create.

Today brought two examples of how landscape architects inspire and implement sustainable futures. Students for Design Activism, a group of talented and engaged Landscape Architecture students, transformed a parking spot into a park where people could learn about using plants to treating urban runoff before pollution enters waterways like the Mississippi River. UMN MLA alumni Craig Wilson, CEO of Sustology, a sustainability consultancy and UMN MLA Adjunct Assistant Professor and CEO of Murphy Warehouse, Richard Murphy announced plans to transform three of Murphy's warehouses into the largest generators of Minnesota-manufactured solar energy in North America. Parking spots become parks, warehouse roofs become energy generators. Imagine that!