Thoughts on Open Public Art

“…what if these fading languages contain words we never realise we need.” ~Ella Frances Sanders, one my favorite illustrators who participated in the #100DayProject

I just had four glorious days of being out with two friends who I enjoy sharing time with in the backcountry woods (it’s a small club). I have the blisters, bug bites, and sore muscles to prove it. It’s my second backpacking trip this month–once to the coast and once to the high alpine of Glacier Peak. Another glorious set of days in this fabulous July. I haven’t been to an airport in a month, and I’ve been able to ride my bike more than I have in two years.

I’ve spent a lot of time curating and cleaning up planning documents during the workdays and in the evenings, I’ve gone through a lot of old writing. Planning documents. Checklists. Outlines. Some of it I decided to end for good, and one project I’ve committed to finishing (again). I’ve scoped out a nice project for the jobby job and the hobby job.

Let me get to a few threads I’ve been toying with in my mind as it relates to writing–this will help me transition back to front country/workaday concerns.

I’ve been following Ella Luna’s 100DayProject with great interest and I need to mourn that it’s over. For now. A daily practice for me since it started back in April. I’m a fan of the idea of practice as a path for life-long-learning. Self-efficacy. Reflection. Meta-cognition. Choose your educational paradigm.

I’d like to explain these ideas without using theoretical lens at all. How do we do that? Well, I feel like I’m truly learning when I can let my mind fall into a few rabbit holes about things I love doing. Things that I love thinking about. I lose all track of time.

Sometimes it’s hiking in the woods–the hours I’ve spent looking at maps. Measuring. Usually incorrectly.

Doing yoga. Writing. Riding my bike–the trails that used to be so hard only to become easier–so fun now.

Knitting. How many rows will have to rip in order to learn I can’t drink and do math? It’s always such a great idea at the time.

Researching places I want to see. Reading. Reading. Reading.

Whatever The Practice–whatever one is valuing most at this time as a learner. 

This is why structured curricula based on the academic clock hour does not make sense when it comes to life-long-learning. The italicized words above capture what I’m trying to sort out. Time and place–those are usually the themes my kaleidoscope-like brain twirls around and around when I’m in the woods.

1. Time.

The-practice-something-for-100-days idea is popular with motivational speakers, theorists, yogis, and anyone who may be trying to sell you something. It’s got a catchy title. Like a good memoir.

What fascinates me about the 100DayProject is threefold and beautifully simple.

1] It’s hospitable for all walks of creativity with no rules for participation,

2] It’s free and open to anyone who is willing to commit the time, and

3] The only thing that binds together the common experience is a hashtag. Just a hashtag, yo. Nothing fancy. Brings together any platform that uses a hashtag.

Brilliantly low-tech with high-culture. Wiki-like. Easy.

A long-term schedule of daily practice around an idea. That’s it. If you can make it, wonderful. If not, that’s okay too. Just do what you can when you can. You’re never late. You’re never early. You’re right on time when you want to show up.

My inner-Ed-Tech-designer-trainer–in-higher-education voice frets a bit and says, “How scary, nobody can own a hashtag! [wrings hands nervously] Things will get messy. Who will own the project? What will it become? What if somebody mean hacks the good intentions of the artists?  What if somebody starts using the hashtag to sell__________? What if____________?” You know, those kind of thoughts.

My inner-teacher-writer-Self says, “Excellent. [taps fingers like Mr. Burns] Wow. Yes. Hotdamn. Where do we begin? This is going to be awesome.” And it was. Every damn day. I didn’t participate but I felt like I was a part of the communal practice by following the hashtag everyday mainly through Instagram. It was a reading practice for me. Meditative.

My favorite collection was from the illustrator that I cited in my epigraph. I love her work and I can’t really sort whether her work is ekphrastic or something in between. Mostly, I admire her practice–it’s something I haven’t been able to perfect in my life. I once tried to write for 100 days publicly and I got 58 posts with five drafts. It’s my best attempt at brevity to date though I didn’t make it to 100 days.

If you search for the words “100 days habit” you see a lot of “challenges” and “motivations.” When you start to dig into the advice literature, you see mentions of “automaticity” and “habits.” I’m also reminded of Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, a book that I read only to congratulate myself for not needing since I’m writing The Rage Project (jk). I was simultaneously in awe of how much people loved Rubin’s work and how utterly boring the whole enterprise was to read. A lot of the advice/self-help genre involving time, practice, and/or habits can be too Eat, Love, Pray which makes me want to Puke, Fight, and Sin.

2. Practice

Merriam’s Dictionary defines the word “practice” to perform or work at repeatedly so as to become proficient. I’m not sure “proficiency” is satisfying here when one considers the pure joy of creating. The pure joy. The 100DayProject brought together a lot of entries of pure joy. Learning. Contemplation. Reflection.

Okay, so where am I going with this? I had a moment of pure serendipity–joy– two weekends ago that hasn’t quite left me. After spending time with a friend doing a gorgeous sunset mountain peak hike, I drove home the next morning, and decided to stop at a Co-op. I was reading The Stranger and stuffing my face when I looked up to see an installation of a Before I Die public art, the brilliant and visionary global art project by Candy Chang.

I’ve never seen one in person yet I look in every city I go to. Every city. There it was in Mt. Vernon, WA of all places.

I stared out the window at its sweet simplicity. I watched a shop owner and his daughter wipe down the chalkboard surface clean with a brush and water. I wondered if they just maintain it or if they helped build it. I watched three people stop and write on the board. When I finished my salad, I walked over and wrote “Learn to Surf.” Drew a heart. Instagrammed my thoughts. Reflected on how surfing is the only sport I haven’t tried in life that I know I’ll love. Yet. Drove home thinking about the things I’ve done. The things I haven’t done.

3. Space

When I got home, I immediately read up more on Candy Chang.  Her Looking For Love Again located on an abandoned building in Fairbanks, Alaska is pure genius. She somehow blends the vulnerable with architectural– the word, the image, and the poetic.

Chang is unabashedly sentimental in situations where cynicism makes more sense.

She takes (in her words) the “neglected space” and turns it into a “constructive space.”

From her website:

By drawing emotional attention to the neglected building and providing residents with a platform to share, the project explores the impact that buildings have on our lives and how they can become meaningful again.

Italics mine.

You should listen to Candy Chang describe her work in this lovely Ted Talk:

So. I’m trying to sort out something here, and I’m not sure what it is.

Truth be told–this scattering of blatherings is to help me sort out what I want to say at the PechaKucha Night La Conner: Communities and the Commons at the Museum of Northwest Art.  I’ve been asked to talk about open education to a community of artists at one of the sweetest art museums in the PNW (my friend works there). I’m humbled and so honored. And I’m so excited! I want to talk about something different than higher education while teaching about open education, art, and curation.

I want to teach people about open education without ever calling it that until the very end.

Open. As in public art. As in Public Art. Wish me luck. If anything, I get to confuse people in a really beautiful art museum.

For now, I’m going to record my thoughts here until the preso. During these last few days of July as I research for this talk. While the sun still takes a long time to set. While I have a few days to climb mountains. While I let my body heal from my month of adventure. While I’ve had some luxurious time to think.

For now, let me end on this quote from the Association for Public Art:

What distinguishes public art is the unique association of how it is made, where it is, and what it means.

Public art can express community values, enhance our environment, transform a landscape, heighten our awareness, or question our assumptions.

Placed in public sites, this art is there for everyone, a form of collective community expression.

Public art is a reflection of how we see the world – the artist’s response to our time and place combined with our own sense of who we are.

Remove “public art” and enter “(open) education.”

Spacing of the words? Mine.

Emphasis on the italics? Mine.

Thoughts on Public Art? Ours for the next few weeks. Here.

About Alyson Indrunas

Always learning about instructional design, educational technology, professional development, adult education, and writing.
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