Outreach program

photo: View from The Tower by me

In September 2018 I had the privileged to visit School of the Art Institude of Chicago (SAIC), and to explore how they have developed outreach-programs for the community of Chicago. I have tried to summarize some of the valuable things I’ve learned in this post. Many thanks for Paul Coffey and SAIC for their support.


School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) is one of America’s largest accredited independent schools of art and design. The total amount of students is about 4000. In 2017, US News ranked SAIC the fourth best overall graduate program for fine arts in the U.S. Their website states: “Our students translate the most complex ideas into tangible forms—paintings, sculptures, films, performances, books, installations, inventions, buildings, community projects, and, more often than not, a combination of the above. Few schools in the United States provide such a broad range of possibilities.” (SAIC, 2018).  I was interested in finding out how they work with local community projects and outreach programs.

Why start an outreach program

During our adventure we met with Paul Coffey. He has held the position of Vice Provost & Dean of Community Engagement at SAIC since 2010. His answer to why outreach programs matter is it should matter for any organization with a considerable size and impact. As organizations grow and formulate their vision; part of that process will include; ‘what will you give back to the community?”.

For an art academy collaboration with the community can be an attempt to prevent being seen as this ‘isolated ivory tower’ that is detached from its environment. Art outreach programs can be part of the everlasting question: “what is the role of the artist in society?”. Those I spoke to at SAIC believe that art can bring people together on ‘the right side of change’. It can contribute to the awareness of future possibilities because it involves experimentation and exploration. It can be a way of supporting the community in a ‘forever-changing-complex world’.

How to start

It’s relatively easy to start with isolated-time-based community projects. However Coffey is critical about these projects. He believes they often do more harm than good to the community. “If you’re going to start into community projects, think long time and be prepared to invest”. At SAIC they began by reflecting upon their core values. They came to the conclusion it was essential for them to make a contribution to the city: “We are urban”. Coffey formulated it as: “ Chicago is a troubled and magnificent city and we (SAIC) want to contribute”.

Once the decision was made he started with setting up an umbrella organization by the name of: “ the office of engagement”. This resulted in a variety of interventions who were all part of their outreach programs. For example: artist in residence, projects for young as well as elderly people of the city. A community is not defined by where the members live; but by their participation. The office of engagement always made sure that they did not dictate the programs. Instead a consortium of local partners always got the vote; for example on who to select for the artist in residence program.

A second important realization for SAIC in this process was that realizing a form of sustainable contribution to community service requires collaboration that goes beyond that what any singular art academy can offer. It requires partnerships within the city that allows for the development of at least a 5 year program. It helps when you can find partners who can offer a wide spread of knowledge and expertise on topics such as ; government, law, finance. The office of engagement if currently proposing an agreement of infinite support from their partners.

How to continue

Once all requirements and resources are in place; the biggest challenge is to stay focused on your ‘values’. For Coffey this was a reason for example to never buy property or expand/upscale their programs. They believed programs should be deeper and more meaningful instead of expanding their area of influence. Quality of quantity. Key-players and role-models are the next essential step in order to make an authentic connection to the community. In order to make that connection at SAIC they decided to start with a ‘community audit’. It is important to understand the needs and desires from the community. For SAIC finding out that people liked drawing classes was not enough reason to organize them. They decided that their program always needed a bigger dimension than artistic self-expression. For example the relation with career opportunities became an important factor in every program they started.

From paper to practice

Once you have everything down on paper, you can expect new challenges. A community is forever in flux. Theory is the easy part, and theory cannot be compared to the reality of practice. Teachers can believe they are committed to contribute. But it’s hard work. Some of them will find out through the process it’s not for them. The process has taught Coffey to stay open-minded. In a community of collaborations you cannot push-over your opinions. You have to be able to take a step down and be patient.

The aspect of safety throughout the process is always important as well as vulnerable. When teachers or community members start feeling alone and not-supported things can go wrong quickly. It takes time to support teachers. Debrief them, allow them to work in teams, and provide support from partner schools. Some teachers receive specific training for example  about trauma; because of the complexity of the participants of the program. “You don’t want teachers to feel it’s just them and the students and no one else that understands what is going on”. One teacher says he starts his programs with a ‘temperature check in’. “How do you feel coming into this room and can you rate that in numbers?” This method allows participants to reflect upon themselves and give insight to the teacher.

Challenges for the future

Gentrification is a challenge you can expect when things go well. The Tower is located in an area that is marked for gentrification. Population of the area has gone down in the past, but with its large potential to grow and located within a valuable position in the city. To study at SAIC is exclusive, but with the outreach program they try to bridge the cap by doing ‘materialized things’. Participants of the SAIC outreach programs can get work, and an opportunity to study at SAIC.



How is the assessor taught to assess?

Reflection 1: SKE-course

This week I have started my first meeting of the Senior-Qualification-Examination (SKE) course at our institute. The ‘SKE’ is a Dutch certification in assessments for higher professional education. This post is a reflection on why this course is important to me.

I’m not a fan of the aspect of selection in education. I like to believe that education without assessments could be something beautiful. And the aspect of measuring quality art education is something I find challenging.

However I see a strong relation between ‘selection’ and ‘society’. If education is a tool to prepare students for society then selection must be part of the curriculum. The question is how? “What is the best way to frame selection in higher art education?”.

As head of the education station at the Willem de Kooning academy I am interested in how we teach our teachers. And how we assess new teachers in our teacher training program. How we assess new-teachers will influences how these teachers will assess their students. I believe the teacher training program should be a role model for teaching and assessments.

I am looking forward to see how the SKE-course will contribute to my understanding of assessments in art education. I am excited to find out what new insights it will bring me and how I will look back at this first post around July 2019. The die is cast.

Any thoughts and feedback on the topic of assessments in higher art education are always welcome.


Questions that Drive Us

image by Joe Sacco

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending a lecture by Joe Sacco at our institute. He was invited to talk about his career as political cartoonist for students of the department of Illustration.

Joe Sacco is born in Malta, went to Australia at the age of 3, and moved to Oregon Portland at the age of 12. He did not attend an art academy, but instead studied journalism. His desire was to become a foreign correspondent, but he found out it wasn’t that easy. After doing some ‘small-jobs’ for large cooperation’s, he decided to move to Berlin at 28. He made his living by doing artwork for bands.

Interested in the conflict in the middle east he decided to make a bold step. He took a plane to Cairo and move to Gaza by bus. A trip which now is no longer possible. During his stay of more than 2 months he went to meet with Palestinians and asked them about their stories. This was published in 1969 as “Palestine”.

Sacco was not trained in comic books, but he had always been fond of drawing. “Where most young people stop with drawing around 14-16 years; I decided to keep doing it”.  Sacco explains he only uses the computer to scan his works. “I like the sound of my pen scratching the board, and try to avoid looking at screens as much as I can”. He uses pen & ink, and doesn’t work much with preparing an overall composition. He explains he loves the tension of not really knowing in advance where his work will take him.

In his earlier work his characters were depicted in a free- and cartoony manner. Throughout his work the depiction of people became more representational. He explained: “even though I like drawing cartoon-characters, the story I was telling needed more representational depiction of humans. It became less what I like doing for myself, and more about what I can do to support the story”.

The output of his Gaza-project developed in a series of related projects in which he went to war-torn places such as Sarajevo and the Gulf war. When a student asked about how did he arrange funding, and if he wasn’t scared he replied; “funding is very difficult, sometimes I had to borrow from my parents”. Once his work was picked up it became a little easier; publishers would give him an advance to work with. Fear was something that was always there. “You would be crazy not to be scared in these places”.

He didn’t go to Gaza because he believed it would be a ‘lucrative-investment’, and to a certain extend he was aware of the dangers. He explained he felt he had to go, despite the risk and challenges. He felt the urgency to listen to the stories, as gruesome as they could be, and share them through his drawings. His initial question for his Palestine-project was: “I wanted to know how it was for people to live under occupation”.

I hope the academy can be the place where students have time and space to explore the questions that drive them.

KAOS masterclass

“the goal of education is not to let students ‘fit’ in the future, but to offer them a structure by which they can shape that future”.

KAOS pilots

Last week I attended a 3 day masterclass hosted by the KAOSpilots. The goal of the masterclass is to design a ‘course on pedagogy’ for experienced teachers at the Hogeschool Rotterdam (HR). The masterclass was attended by a variety of HR-teachers of different disciplins.

On day one we reflected on how to stimulate ‘involvement’ of ‘the learner, and what would be important values for us in designing a course. The basis of our dialogue was constructed by creating a large collage with visuals of our ideas. It was interesting to see our shared values in pedagogy among these different teachers.

The values seemed related to the principles of the KAOS pilots such as: – humanism, self regulation, and positive psychology. My first impression is that the KAOS pilots use team/community-building, learning-by-doing, and focus on rituals.It’s not hard to share these values; but the challenge will be in the interpretation and incorporation of these values in the construction of our ‘pedagogical course’. (Weten wat te doen wanneer je niet weet wat te doen; Max an Manen & Geen prestatie zonder relatie: Luc Stevens)

On day two we explored collaboration and teambuilding with a game of ‘silent – Lego’. We were introduced to the ideas of KAOS in relation to complex situations and the Cynefin-model. We reflected upon what our recommendation for leaders would be.

Next we followed consecutive steps of the KAOS-pilot curriculum model (vision backcasting). KAOS concepts that I liked were the verbs used for project phases; prejecting, projecting and ejecting. The time-based process of developing was new, but the vocabulair of the program became familiar: learning goals, desired outcomes, knowledge/skills/attitude, and competencies.

On day three we were prepared to present our ‘project development’ to an audience of stakeholders/guests. At this moment the process of decision-making went fast and another familiar vocabulair was presented: sense-of-urgency, vision-statement, customer-journey, value&impact, commitment, marketing, and hook-up words.

The presentation went well, and I believe some important questions were raised by the audience such as: why develop a program for teachers who are already doing well? What is the role for digital learning in this course? Looking back I think it was a wonderful experience to learn about the KAOS-method, but I have questions about what we have delivered.

In my perception we haven’t yet begun to design the course. What we have done is preliminary research and orientation on the topic of pedagogy and the ideas of KAOS pilots…I’m looking forward where the flight will take us further.





Authentic Relationships

Yesterday I had the pleasure of giving an introduction for teachers of the Willem de Kooning Academy during the opening of the ‘Drive & Development Week’. The event was organized by the Education Station. Our goal was to stimulate the exchange of ideas between teachers beyond the boundaries of disciplines or departments. The topic of the event was project-based-education.

In my introduction I shared personal experiences and ideas about crossing borders and learning from ‘the other’. I think it’s often difficult to let go of our own ideas, and to remain open and curious to others. It’s difficult and important.

I believe if we want strong departments; we must create strong department-teams. If we want a strong academy; we must built a strong community. And if we want to make a difference in the world of art&design; art academies must collaborate beyond borders.

Collaboration to me implies building authentic relationships. These are relationships that are: sustainable, honest, and can at times can be painfully open. If we choose not to built authentic relationships; we deprive ourselves the opportunity to learn. In my presentation I phrased it as: “we will be no more effective than a ‘bunch of beautiful frogs”.

I presented the example of the ‘global goals‘. In September 2015, the leaders of all 193 member states of the United Nations defined 17 specific goals. One of their aims for example is to make an end to poverty. “Guided by the goals, it is now up to all of us, governments, businesses, civil society and the general public to work together to build a better future for everyone.” (globalgoals.org). To end poverty in this world takes more than one country can ever accomplish. I believe ‘a bunch of beautiful frogs’ can not accomplish this.

The question is no longer about who you are, but what you can bring to the table that will bring us forward. The concept is simple, not easy. I was excited to have teachers from different departments together collaborating on finding answers to improve our project-based-education.

At the Education Station we provided six workshops and finished with a shared lunch for all participants. There will be 2 more meetings during the academic year. We will present a publication of the outcome of these 3 events in July 2019.

Question on Design Education

At the moment I am busy preparing for a trip to the U.S.A to visit 2 art&design academies.  We are looking forward to learn from them as well as share our own ideas and experiences. There are several topics that we hope to talk about. I am looking forward to share an overview of the outcomes of our meetings after we return. Feel free to leave comments or recommendations if you wish to share your ideas on ant of the topics below:

  • Best-practices of art academy ‘core values‘ translated into strategy and operational management. How do academies ‘position’ themselves between other institutes and how is this translated into daily activities?
  • Best-practice samples of ‘modulair/flexible‘ art&design education. When the program is not a lineair-proces; how can the level of proficiency increase throughout the years? How can growth be measured?
  • Best-practice samples of art academy ‘outreach programs‘. How are these connections made, and are they sustainable for the long term?
  • Best-practice samples of ‘inclusive pedagogy‘ in terms of protocol. For example how are admissions organized? What is the role of language and cultural background in this process? How do you create ‘safe spaces’ and prevent conflict for students and teachers?
  • Best-practices samples of online-learning-tools for art education. What tools are used for; student project interaction, feedback form, and grades? What are the lates tech-innovations in art&design educations and how are teachers and staff trained in using these tools?

Gap between Academy and Work

Last month I had the pleasure of contributing to an interview for Dude, Dutch Designers Magazine #1 2018, which is out now.

The article was about the transition from art academy into the professional design practice. It argues that a smooth transition is rarely the case for many students. There are questions if design design training sufficiently reflects the reality of the professional field. The author spoke to teachers, designers and design-buro owners.

I was happy to inform how we try to bridge that gap at the WdKa by using the following tools;

  • specify the design practice into 3 different ‘area’s of expertise’
  • offer authentic and challenging design projects
  • offer integrated courses in business and value creation for design
  • let students collaborate (multidisciplinary) in open workplaces (stations)
  • open dialogue about the professional practice through assessments
  • provide student coaching

Last month we had a presentation by Gert Gerritsen & Markus Praat (owner of the ‘New Chique Agency‘) about the BNO, the Ducth Design Union, which received many positive reviews by students. I believe in many ways we’re trying to make that gap smaller; by having dialogue with students about how they see their future.

No More Homework

Illustration by 2nd year exchange student: Alice Cousely

Last Friday I made a visit to Gorssel where our 2nd year WdKA illustration students were spending some days to draw and paint outside, visit musea like Kroller Moller Park.

Our goal of the fieldtrip is to strengthen the bond between students and stimulate informal learning. We chose for an isolated location to be away from distractions of life in the city.  We hoped that students would feel safe to experiment in this new environment.  We asked students to make a 150 drawings to give them the experience of the pleasure of drawing. The illustration is I used is one of the many drawings that were made.

I find the text on the illustration interesting. We tried to generate freedom; and there were no deadlines or grades. It seems this students still felt something ‘had to be done’ instead of him/her ‘wanting to do it’.  I think the key to successful education is when we can convince students; that learning is something they want to, instead of have to. I think that by giving students homework we’re not giving them the opportunity to reflect upon this.

2018 Personal Change

“Sad Satan 2018”

The sculpture above was a gift made by Han Hoogerbrugge. He gave it to me for my new job at the WdKA. The title is “Sad Satan’ and it has two holes in his head; where his horns used to be.

Since January 2018 my position at the WdKA has changed from course director illustration into coordinator of the education station. It felt as a big step, but at the same time a great new challenge. If I have lost my horns; I have also gained the opportunity to grow something new.

I am still passionate about illustration, but my focus will shift towards higher art education. As coordinator of the education station (WdKA education centre) I will be working on topics such as; teacher training programs, projectbased- education, off- and online learning tools, inclusive pedagogy, and international classroom.

Looking forward to inform you on what this year will bring.


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