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The Magic Art School Bus Rolls Coast-to-Coast

No names, Joe said.

And see, I already broke the first rule of the Bruce High Quality Foundation roadtrip, in revealing here the first name of the cross-country chauffeur and commentator who would be anonymous among a gang of five artists (4 men, 1 woman) who make up this funny-name foundation that has people going the Bruce High what? The collective of five are  in seek of “anarchy” in art, and, on day 20 of their roadtrip coast-to-coast, hit downtown Santa Fe for a brainstorm and vent session about arts education and what’s so “higher” about BFAs, MFAs, and their establishmentarian degrees? (Subhed: Higher Education and the Debt Ceiling).

April 22nd in Santa Fe followed a rally held April 20th at Santa Fe University of Art and Design around the Teach4Amerika mantra. An invited-guests town hall was hosted the Friday night at SITE Santa Fe (and opened up by director of education Juliet Myers) , and 40 or so local presenters, educators (including John Gordon, president of Laureate Education‘s new university Santa Fe University of Art and Design) were on hand.

Teach4Amerika – as their rasta-dyed t-shirt proclaims the mission – has a curatorial statement that goes straight to  defining “anarchy” as a “non-hierarchical” approach to organizing a new kind of art school. And  organizing, per the gang of  BHQF five, is organized around the formative idea, according to one of their number (James?), that “credentialized education is choking off possibilities for arts.”

Among the things I learned: 170,000 self-described artists now live in Brooklyn. The yellow limousine painted Crayola colors gets 11 mph city, 22 mph highway. A movement in Rust Belt states and cities (like Detroit), where abandoned manufacturing buildings can give rise ad hoc to new arts spaces, is not probably going to work in a city like Santa Fe, where the price of real estate reflects its desirability as a destination for rich gray-hairs – but where (big BUT) dying strip-malls may offer the local scene some of the potential that a dead factory offers, say, to Wichita.

In an interesting though elliptical comment about ground-up arts, James (Joe?) said about Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, and Chicago – each a city that the BHQF roadtrippers had visited – that “Five years came up as the half-life of people (artists) staying in the city (after school).” What does this mean?

All these statements and more made up an attempt at a conversation locally in Santa Fe about yes, art credentials (along with some spatting as to whether the MFA is or isn’t a terminal teaching degree); the economics of becoming self-supporting as full-time artists; the problem of audiences for small arts groups; the controversy over online ed for classes such as drawing that would appear to need flesh.

While it was not entirely clear from the discussion whether the efforts to move toward a non-hierarchical method of organizing also go with larger methods of trying to reorganize our defunct credit economy into an alternative that merits arts practice as an economic and creative  activity, I did grasp that local arts practitioners and activists in Santa Fe feel somewhat marooned. “Really great underground scenes” including High Mayhem, MIX, Meow Wolf (which won a purse of $7700 at the first community micro-funded SPREAD dinner), Red Cell and others were alluded to by Santa Fe activists (Daniel?) who said leveraging redevelopment of blighted strip malls – such as efforts to revitalize the Cinema Cafe along St. Michael’s Drive near SFUAD – is perhaps the local equivalent of industrial wreckage-turned-artist-spaces in the Rust Belt. Up in Denver, said the BHQF 5, the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design has had a road deserving of the name (rocky) in being “purchased by a corporation and moving to online classes.”

I did learn from Joe (sorry, Joe) that he has his BFA in art from Cooper Union, where the new building by Thom Maynes of Morphosis has transformed the urban street of my old neighborhood even though, as he pointed out, the building is not open to the public. Insofar as we talked Manhattan, architecture, and his point that Cooper Union although it doesn’t on the books privilege its engineering curriculum over studio art, might be doing just that, it was a great encounter on a street in Santa Fe. Ideas were exchanged, a little disagreement brooked, and we parted friends. As to the problem of arts in culture, now that remains a big old subject.

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