An Interdisciplinary Collaborative Experiment in Art Education: Architects Meet Arts Administrators

By Rutherford, Janice Williams | Art Education, July 2005 | Go to article overview

An Interdisciplinary Collaborative Experiment in Art Education: Architects Meet Arts Administrators


Rutherford, Janice Williams, Art Education


This article describes a successful project that demonstrates the effective practice of two important trends in art education today: (1) creating space for art education that is informed by scholarship on community-based pedagogy and environmental design; and (2) collaborating to achieve more comprehensive learning outcomes. The project was a 6-month collaboration between students in the Architecture Department and the Arts and Administration Program at the University of Oregon. I believe that this collaboration experiment, while rather small in scope, can serve as a model for more complex interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary projects.

In the fall of 2003, adjunct Associate Professor of Architecture at the University of Oregon, Otto Poticha, approached me with a proposal for collaboration in a community arts project. He asked if I might know of five Arts and Administration (AAD) graduate students who would be interested in collaborating with his architecture studio seniors. Poticha's architecture students would be collaborating in yet another way with a local arts group to design a new building for its programs and operations. The Downtown Institute for the Visual Arts (DIVA), a new nonprofit arts organization in Eugene, Oregon, currently occupies a small rented space in the city's center. The organization's ultimate goal is to develop an ambitious program that will require a multi-use facility in downtown Eugene (Poticha, 2003).

The DIVA center is to be an exemplary locus for the practice of community arts, that is, arts that are distinct from the "so-called fine arts" that are typically the subject of academic study (Congdon & Blandy, 2003). In their description of community arts in Christensen and Levinson's Encyclopedia of Community, Congdon and Blandy write, "Community arts are first and foremost community based, community focused, and integral to the everyday life of the community" (p. 242). In their view, community arts programs "encourage all members of the community to participate in the creation or enjoyment of art" (Congdon & Blandy, p. 242). The DIVA facility would be a hub for community art education: "Lectures, films, classes, discussions, meetings, reviews, etc." and "classes at a variety of levels: children, teens, young adults, seniors...." (Downtown Initiative for the Visual Arts, n. d.). These programs will constitute what Congdon and Blandy call "community-based pedagogy," recognizing different perspectives and learning styles (p. 245).

The architecture students in Poticha's studio were to design a 25,000-40,000 square foot building to accommodate DIVA's activities. After consulting with DIVA board members, Poticha envisioned possibilities that included a number of galleries, workshops, sales areas, and studios; archives for architectural drawings; library and research room; gift shop and café; and even an apartment for artist-in-residence programs. During the first term of this two-term studio course, Poticha planned to divide his class of 16 students into five teams, 3 or 4 students to a team. Each team was to enlist the assistance of an arts management "resource person," one of my students. The resource person's task would be to critique developing program ideas from the perspective of the facility's users and to suggest source material about arts centers. After an architectural program had been developed, the architecture teams would disband. During the remainder of the project, the arts management students were to advise individual architecture students who worked on their own building designs (Poticha, personal communication, September 23,2003). As an AAD faculty member, my task was to oversee the arts management students' participation in the collaboration.

The Larger Context

Susi (1999) observes that art teachers must be aware of the physical characteristics of their classrooms, and "experiment with ways the many variables available can be manipulated to enhance the teaching and learning process" (p. …

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