Above Image: Raphale Zollinger, Welcome II. Location: Pratt Institute
Above Image: Raphale Zollinger, Welcome II.
Location: Pratt Institute
As schools are being pressured more and more to perform, it seems that creativity has become a quaint idea of the past. But there are still opportunities out there and public art is a great example. Although the process can sometimes be slow, and the present economy has put a strain on resources, there are still projects being commissioned. But public art and education go hand-in-hand, and it is crucial to support this new generation of teachers and artists who embrace the importance of art in the classroom and in their communities.
Shari Fischberg is an art educator and professor for Pratt Institute's Art and Design Education Department. She received her BFA from The School of The Museum of Fine Arts Boston and Tufts University, and her MFA from Queens College. She has also been elected to serve on the committee for Rockland County's Art in Public Places program. In her spare time she has been getting back into her craft by taking classes at the Art Student's League at the Vytlacil campus in Orangeburg, NY.
A+C: As Student Teacher Coordinator at Pratt Institute, what do you see happening with Art Education today?
Shari: I can definitely see a shift happening. We've spoken in our department about bringing more of an emphasis to design. As we become more of a media based world, there needs to be that focus, and I think people come into the program now expecting more of an emphasis on design. Weather that means adding more courses or changing present courses, the shift has to happen. There has also been more of an interest in craft, which can mean a lot; it can go back to a lost art such as weaving. Pratt has always attracted students from all facets of the art-world, especially graduate students who are also working artists, and a lot of them have backgrounds in textiles, fashion and ceramics. They're wanting to find placements to student teach that have craft in [their programs]. We want to embrace that more. One issue is that we like our students to have experience in the public schools because they are going for certification, but public schools don't generally have craft, and [for the design side] a huge percentage of the urban schools don't have the technology. It's a dilemma to figure out how we can give our students these experiences in public schools. But it is something we want to address and it's important to prepare for our students.
A+C: As a parent, what role would you like to see as far as education in the arts goes?
Shari: Ha, ha. It's sort of like a musician going to a concert and having something to say. Right now, I'm not going in with a very positive feeling, although I may be jaded by public schools. In my community, Nyack, I don't know if they embrace the arts that are alive here in Rockland county, and all of the organizations here. It's hard, though. There are pressures with test scores and there is a lack of freedom and creativity in the classroom. I feel though that art teachers in NYC still have a lot of autonomy. There are standards, but I think in general if you're lucky enough to be an art teacher in a place that supports you, I feel like you still do have a lot of freedom and there is still is a place for art. In the most challenging of environments or under-served schools a lot of special things do happen, the art room can still be an oasis and I hope principals continue to recognize that; I think its just a matter of exposing that [reality]. I hope that art teachers would embrace the communities that they live in more [often] so that they do gain that exposure, weather it's through public art or exhibits.
One of the common things I do see is that, in general, a lot of us don't practice what we preach. We talk-the-talk but we don't walk-the-walk. One of things [you focus on] when working with other artists and teachers-to-be is [learning] about being reflective, and about process, and encouraging questioning, and listening, and experementation. Those things can only help you when you get into a place with your work where you're feeling stuck or frustrated. Those are really important things [to think about] when you're making work. I taught a course in the Spring about artists as researchers. I really liked it because it was a thematic approach to curriculum and I feel like I've always worked that way either as an artists or as a teacher myself. I like to exhaust every possibility of a certain idea or concept It's very similar to the way I think and the way I work. A lot of the time I'll come up with an idea and I like to just play around with different materials to see how I can work that idea out. I don't limit myself to one thing. I felt excited about teaching that and it made me want to start doing my own little research project.
A+C: You're also on the committee for Art In Public Places in Rockland county. What does the committee do and how does this tie into your experience with art education?
Rockland County is one of the only counties in New York State that has the one percent law. Anytime the county has a building that they're constructing—a community center or a court house—one percent of that budget has to be allocated to go towards public art, so it all depends how much is being built at the time. The process can take a while but they are taking proposals. A lot of the work now seems to be going towards restoration. One of the things they want to start doing as far as education is coming up with materials that they could lend to educators, so that if teachers wanted to take their students to view public art, they would have some sort of literature or eventually some curriculum they can base [the visit] off of.
A+C: Do you see that as something that could possibly be connected with education in the future, that they could work with the schools? It seems like it would be a great recourse for schools to let students create pieces to place around the county.
Shari: I think that would be great. I'm new to the committee and I think there has been a turnover in committee members. There has been an initiative with myself and other members to gear it more towards education. It has to be thought out more, especially about where the money will come from because it can't be part of the [established] once percent. It would be a shame [to not see that happen] though, because there are other great models out there that put out literature about public art. The MTA in NYC, with all of their public works that they've been doing over the past few years in the subways, they put out a ton of educational materials and distribute them to public schools, so I definitely see a future in it.
A+C: If you could work with any artist, who would it be and what would you want to do?
Shari: Well, I think I have to pick somebody contemporary because there's a lot of people in history that I really admire. I always think of Giacometti. He had an incredible way of seeing things but he was a little bit OCD and a little tortured and I don't think he would a been a great collaborator. So, I don't know much about this artists but what I do know I like. Her name is Sarah Sze, she's a New York CIty artist. She does these big instillations. I've only seen them in interiors, and there's one in New York that the NYC public art funded. They're incredibly playful, she uses lots of these little tiny things and kind of draws in space with them. They're very whimsical and magical. It seems like it would be a lot of fun to work with her, she seems like she has the kind of playfulness of a child.