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Spotlight on Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education

Non-profits like Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education were among the highlights of this year’s Art Chicago lineup. CAPE is an organization which works on many levels to advance the arts within education by working with teachers, artists, and students.  The organization is involved in very important work within Chicago, but people may not know much about what they do.  I was recently able to follow up with two of CAPE’s Program Associates, Hilesh Patel and Mark Diaz, and dig a little deeper into CAPE’s work.

CAPE booth at Art Chicago, April 2011. (Photo credit: Jennifer Nalbantyan).

Jennifer Nalbantyan: You had an intriguing booth at Art Chicago. The “censored” quilt piece stood out in particular and also the piece with little hanging couches and carriages. Can you tell me a little bit about those pieces?

Mark Diaz:  The censorship quilt and the mobile were made in 2007 by 7th grade students from Mark Sheridan Math and Science Academy.  The class was part of a CAPE special project with the Japanese American Service Committee, commemorating their 60th anniversary and reflecting back on the Japanese Internment camps during WWII.  Japanese American elders who survived the camps spoke with these students about the process of displacement from the West Coast to camps, living in the camps, and subsequent relocation to the Chicago area.  This project also paralleled the regular class curriculum on social studies in which students reflected on the relationship between their readings and the testimonies from the survivors.

Students worked in groups and made those pieces in response to their interpretation of the sources.  The mobile, or memory mobile, refers to what Japanese Americans had to leave behind when they were forced into camps.  With the censorship quilt, students were interested in relating how the correspondences from Japanese Americans in the camps were censored by the US Government.  In this work, students found images of actual postcards from the camps and transferred them on to fabric.  The students then went on to fabricate their own letters and redacted information from each other’s letters.

CAPE censorship quilt made by students. Booth at Art Chicago, April 2011. (Photo credit: Jennifer Nalbantyan).

JN: Do you feel like CAPE’s presence at Art Chicago brought visibility to its mission? Did you have any interesting or noteworthy conversations at the fair?

Hilesh Patel:  I think so.  I think what was more intriguing than the visibility was having, as noted by our colleague Rashida Walker, a booth dedicated around contemporary arts as pedagogy within the context of contemporary art as commercial, since none of the artwork in the CAPE booth was for sale.  The dialogue that inevitably happened between this archival student work and the work of the Next and Art Chicago shows is an extension of the dialogue that we strive for within many of our programs and exhibitions.

The Art Chicago installation came from collaboration with Jorge Lucero, a former high school teacher who has worked with CAPE and is presently an Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois – Champaign Urbana.  Jorge was teaching a class this past semester entitled Contemporary Arts as Pedagogy and we sent the class archives of student work and documentation of professional developments. From their looking at this work came a response in blog and then later zine form that informed our installation of the work at Art Chicago.

CAPE memory mobile made by students. Booth at Art Chicago, Aprill 2011. (Photo credit: Jennifer Nalbantyan).

So while we did have unique conversations at the event, this was as much a conversation that we were having internally about what our work means and how we, and subsequently an outside audience, view these archives of student-based work.

My favorite conversation at the fair by far was a Japanese American woman who talked with both Mark and I about her family experiences in the Japanese internment camps and how she was immediately drawn to the quilt.

JN: The CAPE website is very elaborate – there are obviously a lot of projects that CAPE is involved in. Can you break down the main initiatives of CAPE for people who may not have any knowledge of this organization?

HP:  The core of what CAPE does is teacher – artist partnerships. Contemporary working artists of all disciplines work with Chicago Public School teachers, K-12, of all subjects. There is no vended curriculum.  The curriculum is designed by the teacher and the artist around curiosity, arts practice, and academics.

What is important is the dialogue between the teacher and artists and also among the network. CAPE has many different programs, working in-school and after-school.  When the organization first started in 1992, we did in-school work: artists would partner and work with teachers during the school day from 10 to 20 classroom sessions. This is still happening and the core program where this work started and continues is called the Veteran Partnerships.  In 2004, we started after-school work in a program called SCALE.

CAPE video installation. Art Chicago booth, April 2011. (Photo credit: Jennifer Nalbantyan).

With all our programs, we utilize similar models for the school year that involve professional development for the network of teacher – artist teams who work within each program a few times a year.  Additionally, the teams have a lot of planning time with each other.  All teams document the work they are doing and use that to inform the work and dialogues that happen in the future.

These dialogues, critiques, and reflections shape and shift the program. This year, the Veteran partnerships are engaging the idea of critique and continuing the idea of creativity. The after school program, SCALE, is addressing the idea of efficacy and ownership, what happens to the space during after-school, how do ideas of ownership exist with the students? How is it defined?

What exactly do “co-teaching partnerships between teachers and artists” look like?

HP:  It looks different every time.  There is a basic model we have for the partnerships which includes a lot or professional development but it’s more about what both partners are curious about, artistically and academically, and where those curiosities intersect.  There is a lot of planning/sit down time between an artist and a teacher before they get in the classroom. Obviously the partners plan out their curriculum together, but that might completely change once they co-teach it in the classroom.  That time in the classroom is a real experiment and learning process.  What works?  What doesn’t?  How do we teach together?  Give each other space?  How do the other collaborators (the students) change the dynamic?

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