AAD 450/550 Art in Society, Professor Fenn
Module 1 Essay: Caldera: Metamorphosis Through Art
Caldera: A Snapshot
Caldera is a nonprofit organization in Portland, Oregon. Its mission: “Caldera is a catalyst for transformation through innovative art and environmental programs” (http://www.calderaarts.org/caldera/about-us/). Caldera provides mentorship for both rural-Oregon and Portland-area youth who have been identified as struggling by teachers, starting in middle school. The program provides each student with artistic training and more broadly, a structured outlet for creative self-expression. Opportunities are also available for leadership skill building, apprenticeships, and scholarships for college education. The organization, which now includes year-round student mentorship, grew out of an arts and nature summer camp held at Caldera’s Arts Center in Sisters, OR. Invited artists mentor students in a variety of different mediums, ranging from logo t-shirt creation with marketing firm Wieden + Kennedy to drumming workshops with world-renown Ghanaian master drummer Obo Addy.
See video “Caldera: The Support of Many,” here: http://www.calderaarts.org/caldera/
The organization expanded its programming based on the success of its original project, Caldera Summer Camp, which itself was inspired by the idea that supporting a child’s creativity ultimately creates a more well-adjusted contributing member of society. Caldera is concerned not just with incubating new artists through its programs, but with using art to encourage the personal development of its participants. From video:
“…if you nurture artistic creativity in children, those children will grow up to deploy that creativity in all the other parts of their lives. This is the story of how a theory was put into practice, and how that practice became a place….Today we have a community…”
Caldera’s community also includes practicing adult artists. In addition to its youth program, Caldera invites artists to participate in their Artists in Residence program. Some artists work with the participants of the youth program, and some share work they’ve created during their residency in the town of Sisters. The organization’s primary goal, though, is to transition kids from middle school to high school, and to ensure that those students graduate from high school. As of 2012, 100% of the 8th-graders with whom Caldera has worked have transitioned to high school, and 93% of 12th-graders have graduated from high school (http://www.calderaarts.org/caldera/youth-program/).
Three values that exemplify Caldera and represent connectivity in models of social or community art are: community involvement, equal opportunity, and potential (the creative and personal potential of the participant, and the potential of collaborations).
Caldera holds a strong sense of community involvement. The organization’s staff works closely with the public schools to which they are connected, seeking potential students who will become program participants. By involving local schoolteachers, Caldera opens up a channel of communication between area educators and their organization. Without these public schoolteachers who share Caldera’s compassion for and commitment to at-risk children, Caldera may not exist, at least in its current incarnation.
Since 2006, Caldera has conducted annual or biannual themed art projects through alliances with its partner schools and local communities. Artists and well established cultural workers are also brought in to work with the kids. This way of pooling resources creates a unique engagement for the artists, the students, and the community; their interaction with each other creates a vibrant nexus of creative work and ideas. In these projects, Caldera exposes its students to various disciplines of art, whether performing art, visual art, or filmmaking, and provides a way for the students to have an expressive outlet. Through the “Words Without Walls” program in 2008, Caldera collaborated with the organization Nature of Words in Bend, Oregon. The program enabled students “to interpret traditional poetry, study the history of hip-hop and create and present their own original work” (http://www.calderaarts.org/caldera/youth-program/annual-projects/). The original poetry produced by Caldera students was shown in storefront window displays, incorporated into self-portraits, and even printed on items that the students could take home and show their parents, like coffee cup sleeves.
The hip-hop element broadened the idea of what art can be for these students. In this particular project, students were able to learn about oral tradition and then fuse the traditional and the modern to create something of their own. Poetry and the history of hip-hop were not used purely as curriculum, as they may have been in a traditional high school English class. Instead, students were guided by mentors to produce their own original content and then engaged with the local community to exhibit it publicly. This model has the power to enhance the students’ sense of self and feeling of belonging to a larger commonwealth, who in turn may come to have a greater stake in the students’ success. This type of model could be viewed as social insurance. Here, the aesthetics of the created art are secondary. The process of creating that art and how the community responds to the kids’ hard work is what is important to all those involved.
Caldera’s projects clearly demonstrate the organization’s mission and goal. Students are given equal opportunity to create and to grow—students who, due to their socioeconomically or otherwise disadvantaged status, are more likely to drop out of school. Supported by mentors, each student’s creative potential is drawn out; meanwhile, the student becomes an essential part of the project and/or community. This helps each student develop a sense of self and negotiate their place in society as they grow into young adults. The leadership of Caldera, as well as the mentors and visiting artists, all see an opportunity to optimize each student’s development by using art to educate, and along the way create a better member of society. This is the principle around which Caldera is organized. Additionally, the organization is always looking for new organizations with which to partner by renewing its programming theme every year or two. Caldera seems to see potential collaborations everywhere, and in keeping its horizons for novel partnerships broad, manages to keep students engaged who perhaps have already been involved in the program for a few years. This flexibility and embrace of new ideas keeps Caldera fresh.
Transmediation and Aesthetics in Caldera
Often technology-based and participatory in nature, utilizing transmedia is a great way to keep kids engaged in a project. Participants in Caldera’s programs have been exposed to many transmedia aspects of the art world. Students have designed billboards, created PSAs and even a television segment for America’s Most Wanted. Youth have made an ad campaign for Caldera itself, and designed everything from shoes to MP3 players to tea. In fact, Steven Smith Teamaker (www.smithtea.com) now sells Caldera Chai.
Howard Becker (1982) speaks of a possible way to define the aesthetic value of an artwork: it may derive from the consensus of the participants in that art world. As stated previously, Caldera does not overtly emphasize the value of aesthetics, although the high caliber of artists who partner with the organization likely contribute to student work of commensurate quality. Instead, it is the value of community collaboration and the mentors’ commitment to students that is especially powerful. The organization is participatory and interactive to its core, as evidenced by the framework of Caldera’s programming. And it is the process of the art creation, rather than the product, that community partners and mentors might find beautiful, moving or inspirational. The message, in this case, is much more powerful than the medium. This echoes Danto, as quoted by Becker (1982, p. 149): “Art exists in an atmosphere of interpretation and an artwork is thus a vehicle of interpretation.” If a marketing firm created an ad campaign or branded a tea for Caldera, it would not likely be interpreted as art. Even though Caldera’s programs are not necessarily aesthetically driven, the organization has called what its students do “art,” so regardless of what product is created, it is interpreted as such.
The transmediation of art might be especially important for struggling students because many of today’s youth may not believe that the world of contemporary art has anything to offer them. When the average young American thinks of “art,” they most likely conjure the mental image of great canvases displayed in far away museums, to which only the highly educated are granted access. In reality, the definition of art is wide enough to accommodate a whole spectrum of participants and methodologies of practice.
Harrel Fletcher speaks about traditional art practice in his interview on teaching public art (Willis, 2008): “Everything that students are learning in art school is based on a studio practice model. The idea is that you go to your studio, have your genius moment, come up with a painting, sculpture, or whatever it is and then the way that it is presented—if it is ever presented—is in a commercial gallery and then in a museum. Hopefully.” (p.121). The studio practice model makes the art world exclusive to the already fortunate class of youth who are lucky enough to attend schools that encourage and support personal artistic growth. Caldera aims to take art out of the restricting studio context and create an approachable outlet for creative students.
The variety of media used by Caldera is praiseworthy. The participants are not assigned simple arts and crafts projects, but rather are exposed to a huge range of experiences that “are open to artists from any field, as well as scientists, engineers and environmentalists” (http://www.calderaarts.org/caldera/arts-in-residence/). Again, this aspect of transmediation is important because it demonstrates to at-risk youth that art is not a limiting field; art can be applied to almost any professional discipline.
This summer, Caldera brought Kansas City, MO-based nonprofit Whoop Dee Doo (http://whoopdeedoo.tv/about_about.php) to its summer camp to teach kids about radio. Whoop Dee Doo has a contemporary and transmedia-oriented take on arts programming for kids and adults, bringing together a wildly diverse cast of performers and teachers for a faux cable access show that hosts live, free shows and workshops. This organization is worth noting because of its absolute refusal to serve one narrow audience or utilize one area of art or experience in its quest to entertain and educate. Whoop Dee Doo takes the kitchen sink approach to its programming, imagining that its events will spur unique and surprising alliances within the community. This is a prime example of the “social practice art” that Fletcher (2008) speaks of. Caldera is much more directed and selective in its programming, but the two are similar: they both share the values of equal opportunity, a belief in the creative potential innate in youth and the potential of artistic collaboration, and community involvement.
The Caldera Method
Ultimately, Caldera’s goal is to impart hope to youth who may not have much, and to transform the lives of these students through the process of art making. This socially responsible model, which Caldera has proven to be successful, could be applied to many different types of organizations. As it stands now, Caldera is an independently functioning program that draws select students from public high schools and middle schools. In the future, perhaps a new approach could help Caldera to further penetrate the nonprofit sector and extend the organization’s reach. Developing its own educational system (the Caldera Method, let’s call it), the organization could train a representative to go to other youth nonprofit organizations, providing a seminar on how to introduce art as a creative and educational outlet. Alternately, Caldera could partner with organizations by designing art projects that cater to each one’s particular needs. Some organizations that we preliminarily identified are: Albertina Kerr, Outside In, Portland Youth Builders, and Sexual Minority Youth Recreation Center. These programs work with children who are developmentally disabled, homeless, struggling to graduate from high school, or facing challenges due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. How could Caldera use its experience and expertise in the field of youth community art to nurture creativity in the kids served by these organizations? Could Caldera’s programming be added into the curriculum or support services that these organizations already employ? Or perhaps participants from each group could form one symposium that guides the planning of the art project for the following year? Could the students from each group mentor each other in some capacity, trading skills or information, or could they meet regularly for participant-led art-making workshops? The possibilities are endless, with collaborations initiated by Caldera’s staff, by participants, or some combination thereof. However executed, Caldera has developed a successful model for transforming the lives of young people through art, and it is one that can (and should) be shared and instituted by other organizations.
Becker, H. S. (1982). Art worlds. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Willis, S. (2008). Teaching Public Art in the Twenty-first Century: An Interview with Harrell Fletcher. In C. Cartiere and S. Willis (Eds.), The practice of public ar (pp. 120-130). London: Routledge.
(n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.calderaarts.org/
(n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.whoopdeedoo.tv/
References For Class Discussion
(n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.albertinakerr.org
(n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.pybpdx.org
(n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.smyrc.org
(n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.outsidein.org