Latest Publications

My debt to the National Endowment for the Arts – by Neil Baldwin

Today is the first day of Arts Advocacy Week and the timing is propitious:  a chance to raise our voices and protest the proposed elimination of The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). And the place is perfect: Montclair State University, a public educational institution where the arts matter, truly and deeply.

For my part, having led an Arts Advocacy life, I am moved to revive some affectionate memories about the NEA –and how, during its first decade as a new federal agency, its financial assistance enabled me to make my mark as an emerging poet.

Yes, you read that right: poet.

In June, 1973, I received my PhD in Modern American Poetry from the State University of New York at Buffalo. My mentor, the great Robert Creeley, wrote the preface for my dissertation, a descriptive catalogue of the manuscripts and letters of William Carlos Williams. I began to send out my own poems, and translations from French verse, and, after enough of my work was published in the so-called “little” magazines, I brought forth a slender letterpress poetry collection with the Salt Works Press.

Most thrilling of all, I launched a three-year career as an itinerant teacher in a program called New York State Poets-in-the-Schools. I got up each morning bright and early in my little apartment in downtown Buffalo, made a cup of coffee (Starbucks hadn’t been invented), gathered my looseleaf notebooks and box of chalk and well-thumbed copies of various poetry anthologies, stuffed them into my satchel, jumped into my car — and drove.

My travels would take me to the inner city one day, a sprawling K-12 suburban campus on another, and, farther afield, fifty miles due north, to the midst of windswept, snow-crusted farmlands where the rural district school building stood like a fortress.

This long-haired, skinny, wire-rimmed glasses wearing, language-obsessed, earnest young fellow in his twenties – that’s me — striding around like an adrenaline-fuelled, idealistic minstrel (“Here comes the poetry man!”), inspired kids to write down their earliest memories, a dream they had last night, a few lines about their favorite animal, what it felt like when their grandmother got sick, or the first time they spent a weekend away from home. Then we read them aloud and tacked them to the bulletin board.

I actually had a paying job as a working poet. Thanks to funding received by the New York State Council on the Arts from the National Endowment for the Arts, I made $75 a day. Moreover, the literary magazines with stapled bindings and mimeographed pages that published my early poems, the independent press that brought forth my slim volume of verse, and the poetry magazine I edited and published all thrived, thanks to grants by The Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines and Small Presses; the writing workshops I taught at prisons, senior citizen centers, daycare centers, and psychiatric hospitals were subsidized by Poets & Writers, Inc.;  and residencies in the NYC public school system were underwritten by Teachers & Writers Collaborative.

All of these visionary presenting and regranting organizations came to life through the generosity of the Literature Program of the NEA.

I have read the economic-impact success stories and the voluminous economic studies attesting to the millions of tourist and employment dollars exponentially generated by the vast institutional nonprofit sector and the culture industry. Thanks to the leveraging impact of federal funding, the arts in America have always been an engine for growth.

However, today I express my personal indebtedness as just one author and teacher whose writing life was given its initial imprimatur of support by the National Endowment for the Arts; and to remind my readers that we need the NEA, now more than ever, to make investments that will inspire the next generation of our young artists during these troubling times.

CRC 2.0 – The Next Five Years – by Neil Baldwin

September 2015

In July of 2010, I breathed a sigh of gratitude when the Montclair State University Board of Trustees formally approved the establishment of The Creative Research Center.

Five years have gone by — and we are still here.

Much has been accomplished; however, there is no doubt that much, much more remains to be done.

That is why we are conceptualizing CRC 2.0.

As I review our informing principles, they still do hold true: to serve as an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary forum/platform for works — and words — predicated upon the uses of the imagination among students, faculty and administration. The CRC was born, and lives, in The College of the Arts; but the arts are not the sole exemplars of the imagination. We have reached out and will continue to do so across the entire campus. In my earliest prospectus for the CRC, I said that our commentary would be a rich combination of voices from within and outside the MSU community; however, as the years have passed, I have found, much to my continuing delight, that — although our annual Symposia on the Imagination in all its forms have brought a multitude of personalities into the mix — there are more than enough fine minds right here on our home ground to populate the CRC.

Another major component of our early mission that has become more important over time is the CRC as an archive for the imagination. This purpose has grown in tandem with the exponential growth of the Web as a valid place for scholarship. Five years ago, I had to struggle to make this case. Now, it is self-evident, and the concomitant “problem” has become one of excess, giving rise to the intensified curatorial function of the CRC. We want to continue to be regarded, and respected, as a highly-selective and conscientiously-edited site, where content is refined through collegial interaction with our contributors, where the long form thrives, where students will continue to play a foregrounded role, and where junior faculty can feel secure that they will find a respected platform for their work.

I don’t know whether it’s because I have been a college professor now for almost a decade and therefore am sensitive to a life in academe that I never had before — but, whatever the reason, I cannot go through one day of my resolutely mediacentric, information-addicted life without coming across a dark declaration that we are in the midst of “the end of college as we know it” or being told to stand accountable to the underlying existential question, “What is college for [or worth]?”

Facing these issues and questions fracturing the facade of higher education, I will conclude this piece by saying that as CRC 2.0 gears up for the next stage of its institutional existence, I most certainly do not believe that it is the end of college. I believe it is the beginning of a commitment that all of us in the teaching profession must make to our students: We must teach them to learn how to learn, transcending the subject matter in which we specialize. Insofar as what college is “for,” I believe it is a place where our students should be given the opportunity to discover and understand and exploit the workings of their inner (i.e., imaginative) landscapes so that when they graduate they are equipped to face the world with the strong mentality of intrepid, undaunted explorers.

— N. B.

Neil Baldwin, PhD






A New CRC Monograph – Strategies to Manage Censorship Issues and Controversies in Museums – by Kyle San Giovanni

September 9, 2013

Dear Neil:

I am pleased that you are publishing my MA thesis on the Creative Research Center website.   I came to this topic through discussions with you a few semesters ago.  After researching several other topics, I wrote on managing controversies and censorship issues because I think that discussions about artistic freedom must continue to be at the forefront of museum managers’ concerns.

With this study, I identify the elements that go into successfully managing censorship issues when mounting museum exhibitions that may be considered controversial.   I create a proactive, business management approach modeled after “plan, do, check and act”.  I hope to ensure that any museum organization can better anticipate and successfully navigate issues that may arise when planning and presenting exhibitions. The problem is of interest to the museum industry because they are likely to struggle with the issue of censorship at one time or another, whether they are prepared to or not. Therefore, museums need a positive, proactive way to stand up for their actions and communicate with their public.

I find that while controversy can occur in any museum throughout the country, even in sophisticated cultural centers, organizations continue to have a hard time controlling the fallout. This can make it difficult and disruptive to maintain the relevance of the show, without exerting great effort to defend their decisions against dissenting opinion. There are legitimate reasons for deciding to present challenging, even difficult subject matter. Such actions expand the boundaries of art and culture, while engaging the public. For better or for worse, challenging exhibits have a way of complicating the operational process. However, the extra work brought about by producing demanding exhibits may be a windfall for an organization, if managed deftly. Enticing and demanding subject matter may create interest, thereby helping to enhance or sustain interest in museums. It is no secret that tantalizing shows attract visitors. Regardless of how the exhibition is produced or why scrutiny is brought to bear on a given museum, the organization needs to be in a position to take advantage of the situation.

While the difficulty in sustaining any museum is rooted in a healthy economy, contemporary art has become more sociologically and politically based during the last several decades. In order to best engage the public, the museum industry must continually look at itself critically. Understanding demographic and changing tastes are a few of the ways museums have changed for the better. In order for museums to move forward and continue growing stronger, they must reinvent themselves for new generations by incorporating contemporary subject matter and new perspectives into their exhibitions. This keeps shows fresh and young audiences attending. By addressing challenging socio-cultural issues, museums have captured the attention, imagination, and identity of the country and individuals. Connecting with the audience will enable longevity.

Enticing exhibitions, challenging subject matter, and great works define museums. Visionaries, solid leadership, and hard work will get an organization to where it needs to be. However, managing the museum of the future comes down to accountability to the public. Understanding the public’s desires and giving them what they want, sprinkled with what they need to know, will do more to solidify a museum’s place in the mind of its patrons than anything else it might do. Museums remain a substantial draw to visitors and residents alike. Devising a plan to include the public and other organizations before a controversy erupts will go a long way toward sustaining a museum’s place in the community.

My motivation for researching censorship controversies in art museums is to allow me to delve more deeply into the juxtaposition between art and culture, and the practice of organizational leadership. Through my research, I identify a need for a more proactive and innovative approach to managing controversies that arise from mounting challenging museum exhibits. This approach requires understanding, not arrogance, and the courage to refrain from bending to any political pressure that may arise. I hope this approach is valued by the museum industry as a way to manage such issues.

You asked me include some background about myself.

I have been a professional in Environmental Management and Public Health for more than two decades.  My vocation has seen its fare share of controversy through the years, from vaccine safety to global warming, so I am no stranger to the subject. Some early controversies I confronted came from being overtly philosophical and from my curiosity with the scientific theory of evolution. Additionally, I experienced “censorship” at an early age, in a variety of situations. My scientific curiosity, especially regarding prehistoric times, was met with disdain in my early school years. My interest in the sciences stems back to my childhood, but my passion has always been the arts.  Yet even the art topics I explored, which were typically of a darker nature than was expected from someone of my age, came under attack by school teaches, peers and even family members. Along the way, I developed a fondness and curiosity for all art forms, from literature, to performance and visual arts, especially for those that “push the envelope”.

Over the last decade and a half, I have performed extensively and increased my involvement with various arts organizations from the production side. I have worked with many performance groups throughout New Jersey, in addition to founding and operating my own theater troupe and music ensemble. Over the years, I have functioned as director, producer, writer, treasurer, fundraiser and board member. This work has amplified my interest in my thesis topic. Presently, my years of experience and education have culminated in my completing a Master of Arts degree in Museum Management. My educational background, personal interests and work experiences make me distinctly capable to undertake controversial subject matter involving museums.

To read my thesis, Strategies to Manage Censorship Issues and Controversies in Museums, click here.

Kyle San Giovanni

Zeros and Ones vs. “The real thing” – by Neil Baldwin

At first glance, does it appear contradictory that the Director of a virtual Center should express ambivalence about its medium?

I have remarked before that the Web does not care what I think of it; the Web continues to extend its fibers exponentially; new blogs are born, flourish, diminish and die.

Every month or so, I am moved to set down my ideas in this space, consonant with the mission of The Creative Research Center, and my columns begin self-referentially. If I were just writing per se, it would be with a different voice, because there would be less of an omnipresent other out there. It’s the difference between writing on paper with the door closed, and writing with pixels with the door open.

Part of this distinction is generational: My students have no basis for comparison. To them, writing is inputting, so they are not media-conflicted, except when I ask them if they would rather forget about coming to class and merely stay in the dorm and check in with me remotely. Oh no, they protest with vehemence, we need to get out of our rooms — and be with other people.

This glaring midpoint of the summer –  the farther shore of spring classes receded out of sight behind me, the fall semester promontory still beyond range – is the natural spawning-ground for idealistic ruminations.

For example: The academic culture in America today is supposed to be in turmoil, but it does not feel akin to the social unrest my generation experienced four decades ago. The current disturbance, as my headline intimates, resides rather in the constantly-shifting frame of how information and knowledge are delivered, and to whom.  A new crisis in the humanities has arrived this summer. Defined through acerbic commentary in the Wall Street Journal, and dire reports from Harvard University, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, the  crisis is spurred by widespread skepticism about the value of humanities degrees “rendered [supposedly] obsolete” in a warp-speed global culture desperate for marketable technical skills.

To which I respond that as I look back upon my lifetime of immersion in the humanities and the arts — digital and analog — they have provided me with not so much an arsenal of specific facts as a mentality that continues to be more open and permeable as  I get older.  When I entered the Academy as a latecomer half a dozen years ago, I was worried that in becoming confined to a college and a specialty within the University, I would sacrifice my habitual eclectic pleasures.

Much to my relief and delight, I am more interested in what the other people around me are doing than ever before.

This past academic year was also the year I realized that my so-called course load was inaccurately expressed. I do not teach three courses in a semester; I teach sixty-five individual students. Sixty-five individual human beings.

And teaching, for that matter, is likewise a term that has outlived its usefulness. It strikes me as unadorned and one-directional. We educators in arts and humanities are going through an upheaval questioning the micromanaged viability of disciplines.

Despite my belonging to a department, I do not think of myself as teaching a subject; rather, I try to convey my hunger and enthusiasm so that students will become emotionally engaged and thereby convinced of the enduring uses of all learning. 

I remind my students that at the root of  “the humanities” resides the spirit of inquiry that makes us human.  This spirit has weathered many crises.

“A Day in the Life” – The Research Academy for University Learning @ Montclair State University – Fourth Annual Teaching & Learning Showcase/Symposium – by Neil Baldwin

At nine a.m., at the top of the first sheet of yellow legal pad, I scrawled this note: “Think about Personal resonance — what crosses my mind during this day.”  I had once again agreed to the request of my colleagues Cigdem Talgar and Julie Dalley to serve as rapporteur for the ambitious RAUL Symposium/Showcase.  I resolved as I took my seat in the cavernous lecture hall that I could not be in more than one place at a time, that I was not going to preach to the choir, and that the best way to serve readers who were not at the multitude of events and sessions would be to try to capture the ambience and spirit of the day, rather than the particulars.

So — a ‘shout-out’ to all of the presenters with thanks for your inspiration, discipline, perseverance and devotion to the field.

I first attended Ecoliteracy and Sustainable Pedagogy because I was seeking a new voice, and had not heard of Michael Lees, a charismatic self-described specialist-practitioner-scholar in “Contemplative Religions, Buddhist Studies, Indigenous Life Ways, Ecoliteracy & Sustainable Education” whose proposal had come in over the transom. The new voice was certainly present in the rhythmic, hypnotic and young/timeless Oglala Lakota song he sang to start, accompanying himself on a hand-drum. It was a song, Michael said, “sending out a voice…calling out to the different nations…[declaring that] I am here as a human being…saying what it means to be a human being on this planet…”

I alighted upon the irony that while native peoples base their entire world view on that very fact — that the world must be seen in one view – here we were at a big University struggling with how to integrate “interdisciplinarity” into an educational system parceled into multiple divisions.

The second song Michael sang was, he told us, about the necessity to “pause and look up at the sky and remember the bigger picture…What does it mean for me to engage with the world?”  As educators, we must ask ourselves this question daily as we stand in front of the classroom: just what it means to take on the responsibility to engage with such a diverse, demanding range of young people. What do we hope and dream for them, and for ourselves, at the other side of the semester?

Michael’s third song was from the Apache tradition, another hypnotic circling around the eternal truth of a holistic universe and the imperative to remind ourselves that each and every thing in nature is connected to each and every other thing. Synergy: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  Our speaker declared that today’s students suffer from “Nature Deficit Disorder.” The remark was greeted with knowing laughter.

Michael kindly sent The Creative Research Center some useful links to a selection of the diverse subjects covered in his talk: EcoliteracyEcologyEarth CharterGlobal Nomads GroupRed Hawk Native American Arts CouncilThe Journal of Sustainability EducationEcophilosophy & Deep Ecology, Peace Education, and Educational Psychology Interactive.

The session that followed exemplified what was to become a day of juxtapositions making bizarre sense in the context of the myriad of problems (“challenges,” to use the current euphemism) facing higher education in America. The conference planners deserve kudos for constructing such a diverse assemblage. Felice Frankel from the Center for Materials Science and Engineering at MIT was skyped in so that she could talk us through Virtual Strategies for Research Presentations, her display of digital Nikon lens science photography, framed and designed and lit and focused to “command attention” first and foremost, as the prerequisite for putting any pedagogical message across. The minutiae of nature – and even smaller essences – were atttended to and glorified. It did not matter if at first one did not know what a “hydrophobic surface” was.  “I need to show the morphology of a thing,” Frankel said. “I do not want my viewer to be distracted by technique.”

Her oft-repeated disclaimer was “I am not an artist.” Her introductory explanations to awe-inspiring and seemingly-impossible images were prefaced by the words, “All I did was…” or “It was very simple to…” or “you don’t need expensive equipment to do this.”  I wrote on my pad, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” The supersonic switch from Apache organic nature songs in the oral tradition over to high-tech electron microscopy of neural fibers in technicolor had the desired effect – on me anyway: intellectual vertigo, and the realization that the world of specialized knowledge cannot be the province of the few.

The keynote speaker, introduced eloquently by Cigdem Talgar and by MSU Provost Willard Gingerich, was Susan Ambrose, Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning, and Professor of Education, Northeastern University, and co-author of the best-selling book How Learning Works: Seven Research-based Principles for Smart Teaching (Jossey-Bass, 2010), widely praised for integrating fundamental research in the cognitive sciences to practical application in the classroom. An energetic woman constantly in motion and proudly microphone-less, Dr. Ambrose led the appreciative crowd through a brisk graphic succession of  principles aimed at making the classroom into an environment in which students will engage and learn. “However, to do this,” she told us, “the teacher must understand what the students bring into the room in the first place…We must understand students as complex beings,” she said. “They are the novices and we are the experts; and one of the pitfalls of expertise is the dangerous assumption that the students understand what we are saying.”

Reflecting upon her words now, I realize how deceptively-simple Dr. Ambrose’s talk was at the time of its iteration, as opposed to how complex and profound in retrospect.  [Hmmm…another cognitive exercise…”emotion recollected in tranquillity?”]  Sitting in the sanctuary of my study at home on a Saturday morning surrounded by dozens of papers waiting to be graded, I do not conceptualize my current “course load” as three classes or nine credit-hours. No — I think of my course-load this semester as sixty-five students.  The other day I actually said this to one of my classes, and there was a palpable murmur of agreement. These are individuals. Each person possesses his and her story within, and each discrete story must be coped with from moment to moment in the context of an entire room of people gathered, arbitrarily, twice a week for one hour and fifteen minutes each time —  with the (ostensible) purpose of “covering” a syllabus in a given term. [Now that is the proper example of a true challenge!]  Dr. Ambrose’s talk touched me at this  pragmatic and affective level;  judging from the rapt expressions on the faces of the attendees as I looked around the dining room I was not the only one to feel this way.

Dr. Ambrose’s rousing conclusion only made me resolve more — even now, when there are only two days left of classes! — to improve my technique, to seek, as she called it, “progressive refinement,” and to recognize that no matter how many years we have been at this job, “it’s never good enough.”

Onward — to another juxtaposition in this RAUL day of epistemological contrasts that served to reinforce each other in amazing ways. We were privileged to have a scholarly visitor from The University of Cyprus, Prof. Zacharias C. Zacharia, take us through Examining the Learning Experiences of Students in Physical versus Virtual Laboratory Experimentation. Within five minutes, after having witnessed an experiment in electrical circuitry take place before my eyes onscreen, complete with battery, wiring, voltage flow, and the ‘eureka’ illumination of a virtual lightbulb, I found myself questioning the “versus” in Dr. Zacharia’s title.

Rather, I thought, “why not?!” — everything else is going virtual — why not the lab? Our speaker’s rather transparent dialectic to help power his argument only served to align the virtual lab with the foregone conclusion that we are in the midst of a universal tsunami/migration of all analog things. Last night I was reading the current issue of The New York Observer and there was a fascinatingly apt article in the Arts section on the increasing use of Instagram as a vehicle through which to sell art work in the secondary market. Dealers are mocking this “crass” vehicle with one hand and espousing it with the other.

Dr. Zacharia’s metaphors were in the end redemptive. We desire what he called “active touch” in the laboratory as a place where, at least until recently, “physical manipulation is preferred,” and where virtual practice has, again, at least until recently, been stigmatized as “surrogate.” Likewise over on my side of the quad: I was recently criticized for proposing that the weighty, $95+ textbook that had been the standard tome for one of our introductory survey classes for over a decade be ditched in favor of a series of Web sites I had carefully curated and researched which, in depth and exhaustive detail, could step in at no cost and offer much freer navigation and variety to student and instructor alike.

Scientists tell us that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction; current practice in all fields tells me that for every “way we’ve always done it” there is an equal and, what’s more, possibly richer way awaiting us in the digital realm.  MOOCs as the panacea for our educational system are the one gargantuan exception right now, for me — but that is the subject of another essay.

The digital realm does not care whether I want to integrate it into my life as a teacher or not.  It already lives there.

Finally —  to the undoubtedly crowning event [is that the right word for it?] which cannot be properly described, and therefore in aid of which I am thrilled to provide these fertile, explicatory and highly-entertaining links. I just checked my email, and it is amazing but true that my first contact with artist Anuj Vaidya was on February 21, 2013, shortly after he arrived on the Montclair State University campus to begin his artist-in-residency opus, Hand Spun Tales: At the Crossroads of Sustainability in Art and Science.  (I had known and worked closely with Anuj’s brother, Prof. Ashwin Vaidya, for several years as a colleague and collaborator with the CRC.)

This is how Anuj introduced himself:

          I am trying to find students to collaborate with me on a project which will culminate in a multi-media performance on campus at the end of April/early May. Julie Dalley of RAUL suggested that I speak to you as you might be able to offer advice on how to recruit students for this project, and also because the themes that we are exploring would be of interest to you personally and to the CRC. The project is an exploration of sustainable practices in the arts and is a collaboration with the science department. I am working towards a multimedia performance piece to be performed/exhibited on campus around the theme of ‘ecology in mythology’. More specifically, the piece will be a conversation between Sita, Loowit and Gaia – three embodiments of the earth from different mythological traditions (South Asian, Native American and Greek respectively). 
          In keeping with the ecological theme, the project will be created and exhibited without the use of any electricity – instead, all parts of the project will be human powered: hand-crank mechanisms will power our video and audio recording devices, and bicycles will power the monitors that we screen the films on (both developed by Prof. Ashwin Vaidya and his students in the Physics Department); the background score and text will be performed live by musicians and performers.  I would love to have a conversation with you about how to recruit/whom to recruit, in terms of performers, to be part of this project.
A couple of weeks passed, during which Anuj and I remained in contact, and I received this provocative and interesting addendum from him which he had forwarded to the University community:
          The project as it is unfurling addresses my current concerns around sustainability in my own artistic production – both in terms of the personal and the ecological – and how much I consume in the production of my films. There are some who have argued that artists are already on the margins as a social group, and therefore do not need to consider this; while others have argued that art is a noble calling and a work of art determines its own limits of production – that any amount of resources are justified in bringing to life an artistic vision. As I inch towards a production of means, especially through this project, a questions arise that perhaps you can help me answer: Should artists be concerned with the carbon footprint of their practice?
I soon received this additional request to actually participate in one of Anuj’s avant-garde film works, to which I demurred, respectfully but, in retrospect, with what now seems to be inordinate fear. He wrote as follows:
           My project has taken another slightly different turn as it’s been hard working out the schedules of all the participants. So the final piece is going to be a live performance interview – a Diane Sawyer exclusive interview with Miss Piggy (BFA Theatre major Aryana Sedarati will be playing Diane Sawyer and I will be Miss Piggy) to talk about her new celebrity cause – Ecology. The performance will be peppered with video clips (made using the hand-crank cameras). Why Miss Piggy you ask? I have been interested in animal voices – or giving voice to other species through my work – and I want to approach these topics with a sense of humor (humor/satire are a big component of my work).
          The focus on the work is still ecology – but i want to take a children’s entertainment format to drive home the point that we as adults are just like children when it comes to questions of ecology – and that we have a lot to learn still about how to responsibly live on this planet – which we share with so many other species. I don’t want my work to be dogmatic – and i think humor is a great way to get folks to enter the work.
Introduced by Prof. Ashwin Vaidya and his longtime research partner, Dr. Mika Munakata, Anuj Vaidya showed us three videos drawing upon the multitude of interlocking themes described in his own words above, so pertinent to the overall theme of the Symposium — for your viewing pleasure, here they are.
[And also here.]
It was a trail unlike any of us in the lecture hall that afternoon had ever followed: From the syllabus of a physics course which began with the premise that neither the professor nor the students knew how it would end; to the construction of a generator from spare parts and a recycled and repurposed bicycle; to the “empowering” of a battery cell at the rate of six hours of pedalling for every minute of usable electricity; to the installation of that homegrown cell into a video camera; to the casting, staging, scripting, acting, directing, and hair and makeup by MSU students of three surreal, instructive and frankly unforgettable videos that must be seen to be believed.
You intrepid readers who are still with me know that the journalistic long form is still alive and well on the Web — and in that spirit and conviction, I offer thanks to The Research Academy for University Learning at Montclair State University for encouraging this kind of expansive institutional discourse and, most importantly, for taking just one day out of our encroached lives to reaffirm the enduring power of multiple platforms both analog and virtual where the pedagogical imagination will live long and prosper.




Noteworthy Eclectic Selections from This Month’s Virtual Mailbag – by Neil Baldwin

“Digital platforms are worthless without content. They’re shiny sacks with bells and whistles, but without content, they’re empty sacks. It is not about pixels versus print. It is not about how you’re reading. It is about what you’re reading.”  — Maureen Dowd, The New York Times, March 10, 2013.


March 2013

[I am coming around to believe that it is a curatorial syndrome of running a virtual Center — as time passes, more and more items of interest move to the forefront of my thinking. And you…? — NB]

Claremont Graduate University presents The STEAM Journal [“on the intersection of STEM and Art”]

Ian Bogost and Nick Montfort introduce Platform Studies, an important and timely initiative from MIT Press.

The New Media Coalition 2013 Horizon Project Summit Communique on The Future of Education.

Kenneth M. Price and Ray Siemens, editors, present Literary Studies in the Digital Age, the first born-digital open-access anthology to appear on MLA Commons.

Mark Eisen in the University of Wisconsin Isthmus on A new campus to lead a new world [the mission of David Krakauer and his Wisconsin Institute for Discovery]

Jennifer Howard in the Chronicle of Higher Education on New Ideas in Scholarly Publishing: Look to the Library.

Ellen Garvey on Writing With Scissors: American Scrapbooks from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance.

The Cultural Studies Association Annual Meeting: Beyond Disciplinarity – Interventions in Cultural Studies and the Arts.

David Brooks on What Data Can’t Do.

The CUNY Graduate Center on The Future of Longform.

The Indigenous and American Storytellers Conference in Commemoration of The 400th Anniversary of the Guswentha “Two Row” Wampum Belt.

Will Miller of The Wallace Foundation on their New Website,

Titus Kaphar on The Vesper Project: Remnants of a Fractured Family.

Sven Birkerts on The Pump You Pump the Water From

Ada Louise Huxtable [her final published article] on The New York Public Library’s New Development Plan.

Timothy van Laar and Leonard Diepeveen on Artworld Prestige: Arguing Cultural Value




Curating performing arts/Montreal, revitalizing American Studies/Newark, improving quality of life in South Africa/Stellenbosch – by Neil Baldwin

[One of the many benefits of running a virtual interdisciplinary Center like the CRC is the ‘news and views’ we receive from our diverse listserv friends around the nation and the world. This month, we chose just three recent notices to bring to the wider attention of our readership.  We were impressed by the intensity of mission, ambition of subject-matter, and breadth of constituencies. Click on the links below — and let us know what you think.]

Envisioning the Practice: Montreal International Symposium on Curating the Performing Arts, April 2014.

ACAQ [Montreal Association of Arts Curators] is organizing its first symposium, Envisioning the Practice: Montréal International Symposium on Curating the Performing Arts, April 10-13, 2014.

The symposium will be hosted by the PHI Centre and the Faculté des arts of the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), Montreal (Canada).

Envisioning the Practice strives to create further parameters and grounds on which to foster theories and critical thinking about the practice of curating the performing arts through the presentation, discussion and publication of academic papers on related topics.

This symposium brings together proponents of recent critical and practice-based discourses on curating the performing arts (dance/movement, émergent practices, interdisciplinary forms, media arts, music/sound, theater/text-based) in order to enrich, structure and theorize the practice of curating in the field, with an interest in best practices.

Over the last 40 years, there have been numerous events, publications and graduate university programs dedicated to examining the role and deepening the knowledge base of professional curators in the visual arts. However, curators of the performing arts – who variously call themselves presenters, programmers, artistic directors, producers, diffuseurs,cultural agents and more — have been missing from these developments. In recent years there has been considerable momentum generating through formal and informal conversations on the subject of curating in the performing arts, aiming to flesh out issues about the practice. A first collection of texts, for instance,“Curating Performing Arts” was edited and published in 2010 by Frakcija Performing Arts Journal #55 in Croatia. Two exploratory meetings of artists and arts presenters were organized in North America and Europe:  “The Culture of Curation in Toronto, Canada in 2010 by the Canadian Association of Performing Arts Presenters, and “Beyond Curating: strategies of knowledge transfer in dance, performance and visual arts” held in Essen, Germany in 2011 by Tanzplan Essen.

As well as these specific conferences and publication, over the years an increasing number of international performing arts marketplace events have included conferences, round tables and discussion opportunities that sometimes move towards consideration of the vocation of the performing arts presenters.  A premiere graduate programme Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance (ICPP) at Wesleyan University (U.S.A.) began in 2011.

Building on these previous advancements, “Envisioning the Practice: Montréal International Symposium on Curating the Performing Arts”  strives tocreate further parameters and grounds on which to foster theories about the practiceof curating the performing arts.This symposiumseeks tobringtogether recent discourses on curating the performing arts (dance/movement, music/sound, theatre/text-based, interdisciplinary, media arts and emergent practices) in order to enrich, structure and theorize possibilities of curating in the field, with an interest in “best practices”.

To identify shared critical curatorial methods among practitioners, artistsand institutions and to devise new territories for expanding the practice, the symposium will present current research and critical thinking on topics related to curating the performing arts.

Curators(institutional, independent, artist-curators, critic-curators, among others), artists, artistic directors, programmers, presenters, producers, scholars, art administrators, art historians, art critics, independent scholars and graduate students are invited to submit proposals.

For more information, go here or email Symposium Planning Committee co-chair Dena Davida:

‘Battlegrounds’ in Newark/Challenging Modes of Oppression: The American Studies Graduate Student Conference April 2013. 

It is the province of the historian to find out, not what was, but what is. Where a battle has been fought, you will find nothing but the bones of men and beasts; where a battle is being fought, there are hearts beating.” – Henry David Thoreau, A Week on Concord and Merrimack Rivers

The Rutgers University American Studies Graduate Program seeks papers for its upcoming conference “Battlegrounds.” Even as “battlegrounds” implies a divisive undertaking––a material or rhetorical cleavage, or even an academic violence between fields, ideas and scholars––we encourage subverting oppositions that only serve to reify the modes of oppression they challenge. Thus, we embrace intersectionality, affect theory, post-humanism, borderlands studies, and other realms of interdisciplinary inquiry. To limit this conference and conversation to a single discipline or intellectual approach would be to undermine the very nature of “the battleground” as a multi-ocular and multi-modal space.

Interested graduate students should submit a 300-400 word abstract by January 7th, 2013 along with your name and department. Please send submissions as a PDF attachment to

We will inform selected presenters by January 31st, 2013.

This conference will approach battlegrounds in the following contexts:

Cities: Post-industrial and global cities are battleground spaces. The geographic home of this conference, Newark, has long been made visible as a battleground. Both the events of 1967 and the histories of industrial pollution have marked Newark as such. The project of neoliberal urban renewal of which Newark is today a fragile example now reorganizes and sublates that history through a new securitization of the city, a total collapse of public and private logics of “development,” a deployment of superpanoptic technologies of surveillance, policing, and imprisonment, and state-sponsored gentrification.

Weather: Recent weather-related events such as Hurricane Sandy, the Colorado Wildfires, and the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami remind us that issues of “climate change” and “climate science” are often contextualized through the rhetoric of “battle.” What are the ramifications of couching terms like “climate” and “weather” within the discourse of “battle?” How have battles related to climate, weather, and the “ecological” been waged in physical space? How have they been made manifest in political, social, economic ideology and policy?

Digital Culture: Physical “battlegrounds” are still hallowed ground to some in our country–– commemorations are held, souvenirs are sold.  The technoscientific invitations of a digital age, however, radically reconfigure what counts as “cultural production” altogether.  How are today’s culture wars fought on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube? Are the Culture Wars over? Is using that term even appropriate? Or, are the Cultural Wars entering a new phase that is related to digital technology? What is to be done when divergent, battling groups see their “culture” as increasingly dominant precisely because of their choice of media? The technoscientific innovations of the digital age have seemingly calcified divergent “cultural” groups into even more oppositional categories. Groups of varying political persuasions are able to mobilize using the cultural edifices of sites such as Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter. Yet older technologies like TV and Radio still garner frenzied listeners as well. How might “cultural production” be re-conceived so that we may at once classify the divergent groups by both their physical and electronic presence?

Gender &  Sexuality: The presidential election cycle is a reminder of the ways in which the bodies of women are made available for circulation between male subjects in a phallocentric political structure.  The “battle” over access to birth control and abortion rights is being reformed along new tactical lines as the administrative state takes an increased regulatory role in a healthcare system whose growth remains one of the largest reliable engines of the economy. At the same time, other bodies become differently a battleground: transgender youth deploy their own counter-tactics to survive schools in the shadow of the newly protected white, gay male body of the teen bullying and suicide “epidemics” of the United States.

Race: In the twilight of the first-term of a presidency in a so-called “post-racial” era the call to examine the battlegrounds constitutive of and constituted by race and racialization becomes ever more urgent.  Certain contemporary battlegrounds are explicitly marked as racialized: mass incarceration, the erosion of affirmative action, new technologies of immigration, surveillance, detention and deportation; yet, others are not: the obesity “epidemic,” the dismantling of the welfare state, and the State promotion of gay marriage.

Transnationalism, the State, & Globality: America’s hegemonic positions in flows of transnational violence, war and capital, are more complicated than ever.  Where does the threshold between a “foreign” and “domestic” conflict begin and end? At the deployment of occupying armies and bases around the world? At the racialization of sexuality through the regulation of the bodies of Black and Latina women in domestic welfare reform? At the new frontier of NGO-governance funded by the United States to replace the postcolonial state? What is the structure of American discourses of battle and struggle on the contemporary international scale?

To learn more about The Rutgers University American Studies Program, go here  or email Sara Grossman,

A Case Study from the Global South:  ‘The iShack Project’ to Improve the Quality of Life in Stellenboch, South Africa [An Ongoing Transdisciplinary Conversation.]
Enkanini is an informal settlement of about 8,000 people located in the vicinity of Stellenbosch University, South Africa.  Small shacks, water sanitation challenges, poverty, lack of electricity characterize this informal settlement as does its tight social networks, groups and religious organizations.  As part of their doctoral training in transdisciplinary research, PhD students at Stellenbosch work with colleagues across disciplines and Enkanini inhabitants in order to strengthen the local capacity to improve living conditions. The students’ task is to employ disciplinary, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary inquiry approaches to meet their development goals in sustainable ways. Working in Enkanini where actors have not yet organized in rational and democratic institutions reveals the need for new approaches to local engagement, transdisciplinary knowledge construction and development work.This case study documents the Enkanini initiative. It outlines the project’s context and goals; the composition of working team and recruited forms of expertise; key moments and challenges in the project’s life as well as emerging lessons and challenges.  A concrete instance of transdisciplinary research in a developing country and a training ground for researchers employing transdisciplinary approaches, the case provides a common ground for deliberation around two questions:

Question one:  How might current conceptions of transdisciplinary research be enriched through the lessons learned from developing contexts where rational democratic practices and institutions are only emerging?

Question two What lessons can be drawn from the case to address the challenge of preparing masters and doctoral candidates to conduct research that is at once rigorous and responsible and able to address problems of our time—e.g. from poverty to climate change to the protection of universal human rights?

State of the Art : THE CONTEXT

Approximately 25% of South African urban households live in informal structures of various kinds, despite a massive house building program put in place by the South African government since 1994. In recent years, a new housing policy introduced by the government, called Breaking New Ground: A Comprehensive Plan for the Development of Sustainable Human Settlements (commonly referred to now as BNG), shifted the emphasis from building new structures in greenfield sites on the urban peripheries to the “incremental in situ upgrading” of informal settlements where they are more or less currently located. It was envisioned that this Upgrading of Informal Settlements Programme (UISP) would move the focus away from building housing units to addressing the need for more integrated sustainable human settlements. However, the shack dwellers in line for incremental upgrading often wait an average of no less than eight years before the electricity and water grid is installed.One such informal settlement is Enkanini, located within walking distance of the center of Stellenbosch, which is a town of nearly 200 000 people located 40 minutes by road from Cape Town. Enkanini is a growing informal settlement, currently home to about 8000 people. It is a proper illegal settlement and un-serviced, unlike most of Cape Town’s settlements that are legal informal, or legal serviced with shacks. Its location on a steep slope has made it an unlikely candidate for the upgrading programme because of the engineering difficulties involved. Any provision of services would come at a high cost, and neither the municipality nor the poverty-stricken inhabitants have any incentive to press for upgrading.As such, Enkanini presented an opportunity for a project group from the University of Stellenbosch and the Sustainability Institute to test the idea of an alternative trajectory for incremental upgrading with ecological design, in particular with energy, sanitation and waste technologies. Using an ecological design approach, the iShack project based in Stellenbosch developed an approach that provides shack dwellers with immediate solutions that can improve their lives before electricity and water grids are installed. The iShack project, the focal point of this case, is one of three related innovations in Enkanini. The other two projects addressed sanitation issues and social processes of social mobilization and institution building respectively.
For more information, and to join the conversation, click here and here and here

A view of Enkanini

     [A view of Enkanini]

Catching up with the Zeitgeist…finally! – by Neil Baldwin

The CRC has been so busy for the past six months producing our critically-acclaimed one-hour documentary on The Scientific Imagination that we have fallen behind in our annotated readings. [Not an excuse…a reality.]

So, herewith a curated selection for your interest prior to archiving into our Web-Bibliography/Living Document.

– The “buzz” on technology in the classroom, and the concomitant blurring of information with knowledge, has become significantly more noisy of late: Learning How to Learn, by Neil Baldwin, The Teaching Times in Higher Education, I.2, Spring 2012; Search Gets Lost, by Anthony Grafton, The Nation, May 29, 2012; The Trouble with Online Education, by Mark Edmundson, The New York Times, July 19, 2012; Don’t Confuse Technology with College Teaching, by Pamela Hieronymi, The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 13, 2012; Future of Data: Encoded in DNA, by Robert Lee Hotz, The Wall Street Journal, August 17, 2012; In Defense of the Living, Breathing Professor, Adam F. Falk, The Wall Street Journal, August 29, 2012; Back to the Future: Will distance ed be the future of higher ed? by Cynthia Eaton, AFT on Campus, September/October 2012; For Better and for Worse, Technology Use Alters Learning Styles, Teachers Say, by Matt Richtel, The New York Times, November 1, 2012;  Hey, Academic Writers, You Can Have Style and Substance, by Julie Dalley, The Teaching Times in Higher Education, III.1, Fall 2012; Face Time at the MLA Convention [launching the MLA Commons], by Rosemary G. Feal,  MLA Newsletter, Fall 2012; Highlights of the Tenth Anniversary Report, by the New Media Coalition Horizon Project, Fall 2012.

– These fascinating, timely new/forthcoming books from university presses caught our eye as pertinent to the mission of the CRC: Being Given: Toward a Phenomenology of Givenness, by Jean-Luc Marion (Stanford University Press);  Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting, by Sianne Ngai (Harvard University Press); The Total Work of Art in European Modernism, by David Roberts (Cornell University Press); Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks, by Tony D. Sampson (University of Minnesota Press); The Digital Condition, by Rob Wilkie (Fordham University Press); and a dynamic new journal series from Northwestern University Press: FlashPoints, IDIOM, and LitZ.

 Four new Web sites that CRC friends will definitely want to visit: The Creativity Center at the Plains Art Museum in Fargo, North Dakota; The Motion Bank, a new four-year project of The Forsyth Company; The Agency of Unrealized Projects; and The Journal for Artistic Research.

A forthcoming conference at the Beinecke Library of Yale University, April 26-27, 2013, free & open to the public, registration required: Beyond the Text: Literary Archives in the 21st Century.

A lively debate [still open for comments] about Walter Benjamin’s seminal 1936 Work of Art essay and the perennial question of “The Aura” on New Media Narratives.

And last but definitely not least, a visionary book that has been out for a while but only just came to my attention, thankfully; imagine my surprise when I found a citation from my book, Edison: Inventing the Century, on p. 69 of Rhythm Science, by Paul D. Miller, aka DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid (MIT Press/Mediaworks, 2004).

Art’s New Media – The 50th Anniversary Issue of ARTFORUM – by Neil Baldwin

“Media resist unification. They resist ontology. They are much like art. And art, we might say, is always becoming media.”Michelle Kuo, editor, ARTFORUM, September, 2012.

This 500-page “embarrassment of riches” arrived on my doorstep three weeks ago. It has taken me until today to read it selectively and carefully and set down my admiring thoughts.   That said,  to begin by addressing Ms. Kuo,  let’s assume she means, in the above citation from her lead essay, that the various “existences” and “beings-in-the-world” of media cannot be categorized; and therefore, in that respect, media share evolutionary essences with art.

And that the two possess this shape-shifting and fluid quality and will continue to do so to the point of intermingling…?

Then the set of cultural and aesthetic references that began to assemble in the previous mid-century won’t go away, and instead the pre-digital part of me weighs in with the notion that surely art has always been manifested via different media;  the medium is the vehicle through which the artist finds expression and conveys his/her intentions…?

Or is that definition obsolete, now that we inhabit the virtual?

My question was (temporarily) answered when I flipped a few pages along and came across an advertisement for Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, an art gallery at 620 Greenwich Street.  An “enterprise,” a place in a building, but not a place by name; rather, an entrepreneurial state of being, looking to the future.

Deeper into the magazine, in one of many fascinating side-bars called Media Study, film-maker Michael Snow itemizes the disappearing media that governed his work: “35 mm, 16 mm, Super-8 and 8-mm film; 35-mm slides; quarter-inch audio tape and cassettes; LP’s; several breeds of video…” Snow responded to the MoMA’s conservators’ plea that — if they were going to collect him — they required a more permanent iteration of his legacy. His existential response? To “shoot an HD-video documentation that could be used in the future when all the slides have finally faded.”

Does anybody out there remember Jack Burnham‘s 1968 manifesto on “System Aesthetics?”  It defined art as “a disparate, sprawling, yet rule-bound system within which artists must strategically acknowledge dealers, viewers, performers, participants, buyers, fabricators, curators, programmers, institutions, infrastructures…”   Caroline A. Jones argues in her fine essay, System Symptoms, that over the past half-century the artist him/herself has likewise become a system: “systems are us.”

In Critical Condition, Hal Foster meditates on the changes in the concept of the canon that have taken place during the lifetime of ARTFORUM, and wonders whether we are better off now, at a time when the status quo is built upon shifting sands, and fundamental dialectical and modernist criteria have been “junked.”

John Rajchman offers an excellent essay, Strange Trip, on the revival of interest in the work of Vilem Flusser (1920-1991), first introduced into the pages of ARTFORUM by editor Ingrid Sischy in the mid-80s.  Flusser’s deracinated personal journey informed his theories on what he called a “search for a home” for communication; that “the real problem…is how to actually make a real image or piece of writing, one that causes us to think…”

The next page that seized my attention — given that every page of this compendium is worth attending to for one reason or another, I needed to exercise editorial selectivity — was a fabulous ad for another innovative gallery that has captivated me for its four years in NYC, Haunch of Venison, at 550 West 21st Street, where a stunning exhibition of sculptures by Kevin Francis Gray opened a week ago.  Speaking of media: porcelain, brass and marble are contoured in blatant homage to classical tropes.  Gray’s work is a chorus of paeans to romanticism and antiquity in an of-the-moment context.

David Velasco recalls the prophetic editorial stance of Annette Michelson in the early 1970s during a proliferation of articles about dance in ARTFORUM. Indeed, nowadays, it is becoming just as feasible to view dance in the Whitney as it is at the Joyce or City Center. In the Facebook era, “performativity” is no longer the sole province of those who set their bodies in motion.

The retrospective essay on photography by the brilliant Robert Pincus-Witten, Artificial Paradises, speaks my language, “the training of my distant generation,” he writes, “formal analysis and iconography.”  Those of you who likewise became enamored of Susan Sontag “back in the day” will know what Pincus-Witten references.  There once was a time when what you saw was what you got. There was the moment within which you stood in full confrontation with the work; you were inside that moment, and then, when you left the room, it went away. This forced attention without recourse to infinite access made for a different species of perception. Photography’s analog identity reinforced that perception.

There’s another seductive Media Study box, this one by Thomas Hirschhorn, that leaps out at the reader. The first sentence, boldface and all caps, is “I LOVE TO PRODUCE MY WORK!”  The artist goes on to assert that “To not produce or to refuse to do something, or to not participate, can be as important as doing something. As an artist, I have to confront this question every day.”

Further on, a “heads-up” I want to share with CRC blog readers: The NY Art Book Fair presented by Printed Matter, Inc., is returning to its old stomping grounds at MoMA/PS 1, September 28-30. I’ve been a faithful visitor for the past five years; this show never fails to deliver. Such variety! It’s cool and hip without being in the least bit pretentious. The people at the booths are friendly, cosmopolitan, engaging, and love what they do. There are books and book-like items for every budget, from pamphlets and posters and manifestos and stickers all the way to one of a kind artifactual pieces. The show is crowded, but in a good way, and when you get tired of milling about inside, the vast, unadorned courtyard with its concrete geometry welcomes you to hang out and enjoy a cool drink, listen to a DJ, chat and people-watch.

Tacita Dean‘s work has been of interest to me since I first saw her video of Merce Cunningham on view in the vast basement space of Dia:Beacon four summers ago. Rosalind Krauss, in Frame by Frame, discusses Dean’s Film, 2011, made for the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern, with provocative perceptions about the artist’s continuing  glorification of “the intrinsic object of pure aesthetic judgment.” Film, 2011, reductively speaking —  it must be seen to be believed — takes the medium’s “old” visual qualities, including frames and sprocket holes, and blows them up to fill a giagantic doorway-like void. It’s hard to know “where” the “film” actually “is” — [hmmm…shades of Michelle Kuo’s ontology.]

Dave McKenzie echoes Thomas Hirschhorn’s rumination on choices in his Media Study “box,” reminding us assertively that “The ability to do something, to participate in something, or even to access something should be critiqued by acknowledging one’s desires and needs and by imagining the possible outcomes of one’s actions.”  I will confess that as I sit here typing the foregoing, I wonder whether, in my case, the decision to put this decidedly long form essay/blog out there was made with sufficient imagining of the consequences, i.e., will anybody even read this far into it, once they see how extensive the piece is turning out to be?  [One reflexive (or narcissistic) way to find out is by asking anybody who does read to this extent to email me at]

Fans of Theodor Adorno will enjoy On All Channels, Diedrich Diederichsen‘s reflection on Media, Technology and the Culture Industry. Do not be put off by the portentous title. Again, as in so many of the essays and sidebars in this magnificent ARTFORUM, the core concepts are sharply-etched. Diederichsen enacts some eye-catching riffs on Martin Heidegger‘s concept (with which I was heretofore unfamiliar) of  “The Gigantic.”  And guess what? Heidegger was writing in the 1950s about the still-emerging medium of radio: “The Gigantic presses forward in a form which seems to make it disappear; in destruction of great distances by the airplane, in the representation of foreign and remote worlds in their everydayness produced at will by the flick of the switch.” Once more the theme of predetermination applied to deployment of media comes to the surface — a predictor of the Internet.

Greil Marcus steps up to remind us, in Twentieth Century Vox, that Marshall McLuhan’s first book, The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man,  was published six decades ago.  [An appeal to re-read it.]

“The computer is just another tool, another technology that has become part of the industrial frame. Inventing forms is not dependent on software.” That’s Richard Serra talking about his journey through “site-specific works in steel [taking him] out of the traditional studio.”  Serra’s world is monumental, foreboding/inviting, rustingly beautiful, grandiose. Conceptualized by him, it is fabricated by others — however, his vision conditions every step — even to the degree that for the MoMA 2007 retrospective they literally removed half the west-facing side of the building in order to deliver the works by crane into the galleries. [I was strolling along 54th Street at the time; you had to be there.]

Is an editorial statement being made by the fact that the final essay in the issue is Ghost Story, Eric C.H.DeBruyn on Kinetic Art and New Media? I referred earlier to the incursions of modern dance into “picture galleries.”  DeBruyn drills down to a deeper level. Kineticism, he writes, resides at the “very foundation of contemporary modes of experience.”

Spectacle is inherent in the arts, be they overtly “performative” or not.

Analog or digital – perhaps as a result of reading the 50th anniversary issue of ARTFORUM the best takeaway is, indeed, to forget such tired dialectical distinctions and categorizations,  abandon the tight paths of ontology — to look, listen, read, feel, enjoy, ponder, move — and, yes, theorize — with intelligence and without boundaries.




CRC Field Report – Promoting Interdisciplinary Teaching Ventures – 3rd Annual Teaching & Learning Showcase – Research Academy for University Learning – Montclair State University – May 2, 2012 – by Neil Baldwin

As our followers around the globe already know, The Creative Research Center is resolutely virtual. That said, we still have not quite [to our satisfaction] met the challenge of serving as the rapporteur for this generous, iconoclastic conference, unable to clone ourselves so that we could be in more than one session at a time.  What follows is an anecdotal account of one transcendent day in the life, with a link to all the concurrent sessions beyond those we were able to visit, as a tribute to the pioneering pedagogues who presented last month at University Hall.

A quick note on the concept of interdisciplinarity and its supposed expansion in the past few years. The term has certainly become more widely-known and used — but is the practice really as pervasive in higher education? The mind, in and of itself, is already an interdisciplinary cognitive landscape; perhaps academia needs to catch up with its own human nature.

Cigdem Talgar, Acting Director of RAUL, set the tone in her Welcoming Remarks when she spoke of “best practices,” another key term worth re-evaluating, because as interdisciplinarity becomes integrated into our work of teaching, albeit incrementally, the wider the reach will be of best practices when they morph from codified lists to internalized modes of behavior conditioned by every unique classroom situation.

In her session on A Collaborative Approach to Online Course Design, Kristin Curry alluded humbly to the “adjustment issues” experienced as she put together her first course for the launch of MSU’s nascent online program in Arts Management. It is one thing to know your subject, as all  scholarly and professional content-providers want to do; it is another to cross the digital Rubicon and become comfortable with the newest methods of delivery.

Kirk McDermid spoke animatedly of his new tactic Using Semantic MediaWiki to Power Constructive Learning and Collaboration Among Students.  So doing, he has tapped into the paradigm-shift away from the distanced lecturer engaged in one-way delegation of information to masses of students, and toward assembling course content along with these students, hoping to empower them, through the Facebook-fuelled propensity to “like” , to learn more effectively, enthusiastically and permanently.

In How I Picture It: Teaching Mythology with Visual Aids, Joanna Madloch jumped in with bravado, invoking the dictum of Roland Barthes that “myth is a type of speech,” followed by John Berger’s noted “reading images” and “theatricalization of reality,” topped off by Jean Baudrillard’s subversive “simulacrum.”  Her dense semiology was refreshing, penetrating and inspiring, especially to those of us who love theory but shy away from imposing it upon undergraduates. Au contraire!

Down the hall, Ting Ho and Christine Magee spoke of Adjusting to Teaching Online as requiring clear “rules of engagement” established through presenting real-life curricular analogies to our students. How many times has the classroom resounded with pleas to make topics more “relatable.”  In past generations, we ourselves as students often spoke of being “relevant.”  If we cannot figure out ways to harness technology to our advantage — and stop the tail from wagging the dog — we shall never make progress as teachers.

Innovative Experiential Education and Community Engagement was the focus for Lenore Molee’s presentation. What could be more quintessentially interdisciplinary from an environmental standpoint than taking students out of their comfort zones and into the institutions of our society that need them most — in this case, public schools? Montclair State is already an acknowledged leader in this area; every time this University reaches beyond ivy-covered walls it is a plus-sign toward a socially-integrated society.     

David Lee Keiser ruminated eloquently in advocating for Mindful Teaching for Excellence and [what he called “the sweet taste of”] Equanimity. His two collaborators in this enterprise were The Self and Silence; his muted hiatus from the hurlyburly of the conference day was a treasure.  The Tree of Contemplative Practices, its roots and branches extending into realms of the spirit, stood as the perfect symbol for the ideals of education — and a reminder of the imperative need to stop, breathe, and ponder why we do what we do in the classroom, and how we can do it better. 

Introducing the day’s Keynote Speaker — Rhonda Roland Shearer, founder [with her late husband, Stephen Jay Gould] and director of the Art Science Research Laboratory in NYC — Provost Willard Gingerich praised the core mission of the MSU Research Academy, referencing its “deep DNA of instruction and learning.”  This apt metaphor brought to mind the spiral spatial structure of the molecule and an idealized three-dimensional image of interdisciplinarity combining elemental substances and extended through space in multiple directions with  variety and persistence.   

Committed to the creation of an intellectual environment advocating interdisciplinary study encompassing research, collections and publishing, Ms. Shearer explainted that ASRL provides a unique setting wherein art historians, scientists, artists, designers, and programmers work side by side, encouraged to contribute ideas, participate in a dynamic environment, and challenge the “outdated but still prominent structures of practices” in the arts, sciences, and humanities. The ambitious goal of ASRL is to promote and facilitate fast, thorough, and efficient global exchange of knowledge in fields ranging from art and science and journalism ethics to the cyberBOOK+ system, all aiming to build a network of people sharing knowledge and research methodologies for mutual understanding of cultures and histories.

Ms. Shearer’s leading assertion was well-received by the conference audience: By virtue of its infinitely-permeable structure, she insisted, the internet gives greater facility to doing interdisciplinarity. Such techno-intellectual free-association, when working properly, feeds upon itself, giving rise, [again, hopefully], to a healthy dissipation of distinctions.  To some in Academe, this accelerated process will appear as a threat; to others, it is an invitation to cast more widely: “Disciplines are conventions,” Ms. Shearer said, and so it naturally follows that late-adapters will resist peremptory invasions of their boundaries.

“Disciplines are mental constructions that become difficult to change,” Ms. Shearer continued; and then, in another unerring metaphor of the day,  she reminded us that “a square bowl creates square water… thus, we need to think about ways to disaggregate and reformulate our vested areas of interest — to defeat categories. ”    Ms. Shearer’s own imaginative artwork and the brave trajectory of her multifaceted research over several decades demonstrate her commitment of thought and feeling to these encouragements. 

[The question leapt to mind: Do we at MSU have the courage of our convictions; and, if so, what intellectual and pragmatic actions will be necessary to help further institutionalize interdisciplinarity?]

Milton Fuentes, in his afternoon session, provided one viable answer: Motivational Interviewing to Improve Academic Performance. Our inherently conservative — or, let’s say, intellectually hesitant — first-generation college students here at MSU often need to be jump-started into inquisitiveness, and then require continued guidance to stick to their forward motion.  Inspiring motivation can lead to a commitment to  change in a young life heretofore victimized by educational stasis.  Motivation demands other-directedness and collaboration on the part of the teacher, i.e., “You and I can do this together,” s/he says to the student.

Bryan Murdock and Christine Lemesianou — seasoned veterans of service-learning — invited their audience to Envision the Possibilities [through] Innovations in Service-Learning and Community Engagement, sounding a theme that had resonated throughout the day. Their campaign in close collaboration with Soyoung Lee and Deborah Ragin and the students and staff of the Rosa Parks School in Orange NJ was an inspirational tribute to the effectiveness of learning outside  conventional parameters. This reminder that the world is the best classroom of all was underscored by Elizabeth McPherson’s session on Embodying Folk Dances from Around the World, where everyone was on their feet and thoroughly enjoying themselves.   

What was my so-called takeaway from this densely-packed day of exploration into Digital Learning, Pedagogies of Engagement, Creativity, Promoting Teaching & Learning, Active Learning In & Out of the Classroom, and Contemplative Pedagogy?

As I write these words, I am more resolved that representative enactments of interdisciplinarity require the kinds of collaboration that I witnessed throughout the conference.  However, we must keep in mind that the May 2nd RAUL symposium was a series of demonstrations by colleagues who were already like-minded; hence the term “Showcase.”

Let’s take the clarity of the conference content as a mandate to transcend preaching to the choir — and go out and find the unconverted.