Author Archive

November 27, 2011

Building community, kneading dough.

by alexandrakellyg

Last month, Nadezhda Savova, founder of Bread Houses Network hosted a breadmaking workshop in Clinton Hill at MIMA Studios.  The space was beautiful – newly refinished wood floors, an area for performance and a perfect, long table for us all to sit around and knead the dough.

In addition to several people from class, there were also community members from the nonsense listerv who attended the workshop.  We all introduced ourselves, bringing our varied experience and interest to the table before we put our hands into the group work of kneading the dough.  Nadezhda opened up my eyes to a few key elements in event planning to promote group cohesion amongst strangers:

1.  Candles.  This may seem simple, but as Nadezhda said, “It would have been a completely different workshop if there were no candles on the table”  And, it’s true.  The candles contributed to the intimacy of the workshop – a tone established by lighting and the collection of people around the candles themselves; almost imitating the gravity of a circle of people around a campfire.

2. Getting back to our hands.  “We are all constantly moving away from every sense except for the sense of sight,” Nadezhda said.  By collecting as a group to use our hands, there is a powerful quality of togetherness that is facilitated.  We are building something and connecting with a part of our bodies that we do not often used.

Here are the photographs of the event below – I encourage anyone who is interested in hosting a breadmaking workshop to consult Nadezhda for her global experience and inspiring dedication to group building through breadmaking.

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October 17, 2011

Participatory Learning…Virtually.

by alexandrakellyg

Josephine Dorado is a professor at Parsons and an expert in the field of “creative collaboration and theatrical performance in virtual worlds.”  I attended her demonstration on Participatory Learning Through Performance at MobilityShifts on Saturday afternoon.  Dorado explored, most specifically, improvisational dance in the virtual world of Second Life as a tool for participatory learning.  I must admit…I’ve always been a Second Life skeptic.  This is partially why I chose to attend this demonstration.  How does Second Life work?  What is the appeal of using my computer to transport me away from my immediate environment into an atmosphere of aliases that interact in real time?  What makes this virtual world of improvisational dance more fascinating and effective then my neighborhood contact dance group?

Photo credit:  Josephine Dorado

The demonstration displayed Second Life aliases (including Dorado’s alias) dancing to music that was being mixed by a DJ in the physical Orientation Room at Parsons.  The physical audience could sometimes be seen on a big screen within the virtual world.  We could watch ourselves watching the dancers.  The dancers performed many moves which seem physically impossible in real life; such as rapid fire upside down splits.  At one point, colorful ribbons were received by the dancers as props to use in interaction or alone on a corner of the floor.

A photograph I took at the demonstration - Josephine Dorado at center

The element of individual ‘choice’ and experimentation is still very much alive in the virtual world, but it seems less intimidating to choose to approach another dancer on the virtual floor then on the physical floor.  In Augusto Boal’s approach to participatory learning through improvisational performance, he gradually works with people to allow them to slowly start to grow into their own bodies and connect with other bodies onstage; at their own pace.  In Second Life’s dance world, there seems to be a much lower threshold to full body participation and collaboration, right from the beginning.  It is not as intimidating to throw your body onto a virtual dance floor, but in what ways does that test your comfort zone?  What does “embarrassment,” “shyness,” or “tentativeness” feel like online as opposed to on Boal’s stage?  And, what sense of accomplishment does a person feel when they have worked through Boal’s exercises (mistakes and all!) as opposed to ribbon dancing for twenty minutes with a group of anonymous people from around the world?

I left Dorado’s demonstration – my first official viewing of Second Life on a screen – feeling even more curious about this new notion of participatory learning through improvisation.  It tests many of my own definitions (mainly those formed through personal experience) of what performance is and what it does to inspire dialogue and create community.  Boal’s theater inspires community dialogue and individual senses of agency.  What are the post-effects of an online dance collaboration on a virtual community and within the physical lives of the people on their computers?

September 27, 2011

The Video Lab: “Geeking out” at The New School

by alexandrakellyg

“[…] as youth engage in DIY efforts, they are learning to critically read and write the world.”

– Yasmin Kafai and Kylie Pepper in Youth Technology and DIY: Developing Participatory Competencies in Creative Media Production

Tevin Campbell is a Senior at Washington Irving High School.  As he presents his film “A Nice Day at Oval Park” to an audience of over 100 graduate students in an Understanding Media Studies lecture hall, he doesn’t flinch.  “Making this film, I got to know the ins and outs of being a filmmaker.  It was cold on some days and I didn’t want to go outside, but I made myself.  And now, I want to be a filmmaker as a career.”

Tevin’s aspirations to be a filmmaker were inspired by this small participatory youth media program at The New School, The Video Lab.  The Video Lab was started over nine years ago by Carol Wilder and Dawnja Burris as a way to bring our Media Studies knowledge into the community and teach students how to tell their stories through film.  Many students have access to filmmaking equipment through their phones, but very little access to mentors who can work with them to understand media through creating media, rewriting the metaphor of reading the world to read the world (Freire & Macedo 1987) as filming the world to see the world.  Washington Irving High School has minimal art programming, but is overflowing with students who have stories that need to be exploded onto the big screen.  The big screen is not just for celebrities.  At The Video Lab and many other youth filmmaking programs, the big screen is for the everyday; for our ideas and our lives.

The Video Lab Spring 2011

At The Video Lab, curriculum is guided by the students.  Their attendance and commitment to the weekly program dictates the depth and bredth of the filmmaking process.  Below is a short film that depicts a “typical” brainstorming session.  Students come up with ideas and, like clay, shape them into short documentary films over the course of a semester.

At the end of the semester, students present their work to an audience who asks them questions about their process. Every student has a different way of explaining their own storymaking journey, but ultimately there is an increased group cohesion that comes with spending hours and hours editing films with Final Cut Pro, scarfing down late night pizza and then pulling it all together for the public together, as a group.

Highlights from Tevin Campbell’s film, “A Nice Day in Oval Park” – about a park in his neighborhood in the Bronx

September 20, 2011

The Silversmith’s Accolade

by alexandrakellyg

When I woke up this morning, I went through the list of MacArthur Genius Award recipients.  There are writers, scientists, historians, medical doctors and musicians.  There is only one fourth generation silversmith.  Ubaldo Vitali, 67 years-old from Maplewood, New Jersey, restores silver masterworks and fuses old with new to create original art.

Handmade Sterling Glass Modernist Tea Pot by Ubaldo Vitali

The way he synthesizes art history, art production and family tradition are quite powerful.  “My art comes from my mentors,” Vitali says. It is wonderful to see the MacArthur award be granted to someone who works with his hands and his mind, using physical materials to create and restore art.  And now, he has $500,000 to continue to create.  DIY well-rewarded.


September 13, 2011

Back to the Grange

by alexandrakellyg

Growing up in Maine, I have become quite familiar with what a grange hall looks like.  My earliest memories involve bean suppers at Escatarsis Grange Hall, the four story paint-chipped white building on the corner of Tannery Road in Lowell, Maine. Right next door to the post office.  Three-quarters of the town gathered at 4:45 pm to eat pies, mashed potatoes and bowls full of beans.  These community gatherings only really required space.

The history of the grange hall goes back to the late 1800s when farmers used the space as a way to organize efforts to keep agriculture local.  There were also dances and dinners, but organizing for local, economic solidarity played a key role.

Although identifying grange halls in rural Maine has become second nature to me, I was surprised to find out that the term ‘grange’ has been adopted for locations beyond big buildings with chipped paint and a front porch.  The Brooklyn Grange, a rooftop in New York City, connects people in the city through “green business and good food.” The rooftop represents a network of urban farmers that are tending crops in community gardens, fire escapes and other urban nooks. (The grange was not built without structural difficulties – one million pounds of dry dirt is a lot for one roof to hold.)

Brooklyn Grange - Photo Courtesy of Manchester Pub NY

I am curious about other grange halls around the country.  It seems like this movement towards sustainable living, will inspire people to go back to the grange, connecting a new generation of farmers as they learn from each other, strengthening their crops, their communities and their voice.

September 13, 2011

Bio: Alex Kelly

by alexandrakellyg

Hello, my name is Alex. First and foremost, I consider myself an ‘educator.’  At least, that’s my answer to the “What do you do for work?” question that is all-too-common loud New York City bars. “I’m an educator exploring my own pedagogy and open to enlightenment and instruction with every new decision and experience that I enter into.” <–That would be my ideal on-the-spot response.

For now, I’ll write about the work that I want to hone, expand and reproduce through fresh insight gained at The New School:

Handing over a microphone to other people excites me. As a Facilitator at StoryCorps in Brooklyn, NY, I introduced 1200 people from around the country to the power of listening and capturing conversation through recording.  My favorite parts were the “words of wisdom” – moments when lessons were shared with the awareness that strangers would discover them in the depths of The Library of Congress archive.  People want to know that their lives and life lessons will be remembered.

Duct Taping the Airstream...A DIY Moment

During the Summer of 2009, I completed a self-designed project entitled Listen To This:  Recording Stories of Bangor’s Homeless ( where high school students interviewed homeless shelter residents in Bangor, Maine and shared their stories with the community.  This project promoted community and youth awareness of homelessness from the voices of people who live it.  Most of the 15 people that were interviewed attended the final listening event, sitting in different parts of the audience and watching people listen to their stories.

After traveling around the country with StoryCorps and then finishing the project in Bangor, it was my personal goal to settle down for awhile; to be part of a community.  New York City can seem so huge sometimes, that the act of seeking out community can often seem like a daunting task!

I wanted to get to know my new neighbors in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Their life stories have shaped the history of this community, and continue to shape it as it changes over the years. Where is this history going as the community changes?

Before We Present Our Work to the Neighborhood

Four students at Paul Robeson High School joined me in this community-seeking mission. The students were the backbone to this project.  They planned it from the beginning.  They set goals, talked about interviewing techniques, planned for and implemented presentations at a local nursing home and a Precinct 77 Community Council Meeting.  They asked the librarian at their school to accept this archive.  They interviewed over 45 people who have lived in Crown Heights for over 20 Years. For the most part, I stepped out of these interviews, sitting off to the side and letting the students take over.

Our Listening Event

Our final listening event attracted over 130 people from many different community backgrounds and interests.  To listen to some short pieces from this project, go to Silence Without Doors.  You can also read about the project from the students’ perspectives at Crown Heights History Project.  (I will be speaking about this project with some other neighborhood historians at Medgar Evers College on Sunday, October 23rd at 2:00).

Currently, I am continuing work with high school students in Crown Heights at Brooklyn Children’s Museum.  They are editing film portraits of 14 people from the neighborhood who they interviewed on the subject of change.  I have included one example of their work below:

I would love to answer any questions about these projects and am always open to collaboration and other ideas…what else is Graduate School good for?