Third Floor Skybridge Installation Merges Art and Science

Eugene Lang College’s Skybridge Art & Sound Space is now home to Artifix Mori, a new exhibit that brings together the arts and the sciences with help from members of the New School community.

From now until January 31, the exhibition, featuring silkworm cocoons and LED lights, will hang across the Skybridge wall through actuators that convert energy into movement. With these tools, the piece simulates the sights and sounds of silk production.

Artifix Mori, named after the Bombyx mori species of silkworm, is the brainchild of Brooklyn-based artists John Ensor Parker and Jason Krugman. Despite initially studying physics and economics, respectively, they both feel that art, and their installation in particular, thrives on similar principles.

“This exhibit is about people cultivating relationships with nature,” said Parker, who has spent much of his life studying math and physics. “What better way to do that than with art?”

The project was also constructed and curated in conjunction with members of Lang’s School of Visual Art Studies. Students registered in workshop classes that emphasized the bonds between science and art.

This is the second time in the school’s history that this process has been used to create a visual arts exhibition at the Skybridge. In 2009, artist Eve Mosher worked on an ecological exhibit, entitled “Signs of Growth,” in which students took part in a workshop and assisted in the construction process.

“That was a great exhibit,” said Simonetta Moro, co-curator for Artifix Mori. “But this project is much more contained, and it has left the school with something fresh and tangible that will make a great impact.”

Students who attended the exhibit’s opening reception expressed an overall sense of gratitude for their ability to contribute.

“This has been a really great project to take part in,” said Piera Yerkes, one of the student participants from the program. “It was just such a cool thing to build, and we had a really fun time doing it.”

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The New School for Jazz Celebrates 25 Years

As the lights went dark at Tishman Auditorium on October 15, The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music alumnus Brad Mehldau’s piano began serenading the audience. Martin Mueller, executive director of the Jazz School, looked toward the stage, watching the music connect with the audience. With this year marking the jazz program’s 25th anniversary, school alumni, faculty and music enthusiasts are taking time to look back at its legacy.

Mueller has been the executive director for The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music since its establishment in 1986. With help from former Parsons Dean David Levy and saxophonist Arnie Lawrence, he was able to facilitate a musical environment that not only featured members of academia, but also professional jazz musicians with lifetimes of experience.

Since then, other notable musicians have attended the school, including Robert Glasper, who has played at the Bonnaroo Music Festival; Marcus Strickland, who was ranked “Best New Artist” by JazzTimes magazine in 2006; and Kyle Wilson, who has played on stage with critically-acclaimed musicians such as organist Lonnie Smith.

“With Brad and so many members of the university and city community, it means quite a lot to our school and to our 25 years,” Mueller said. “It’s a chance for reflection, a chance to look back at where we have been and where we go. It’s an association of who we are as leaders in jazz, a truly unique New York art form. We all have a responsibility to project that.”

As a child growing up in Oregon, Mueller recognized the responsibilities of education at an early age. He recalls his mother’s journey as a teacher and his brothers’ subsequent careers as pastors, noting that the ability to weave education, spirituality and community is part of his DNA.

“The broader role of education is an important part of my story,” he added. “It has moved into academia, and it is important to my responsibility. This world needs the spirit of community creativity, healing, and balance between individual and collective.”

Wilson, a tenor saxophonist, believes that the The Jazz School fosters an environment in which more than music is cultivated.

“When I think about The New School for Jazz, I think about family, community and freedom,” said Wilson. “I had a chance to take so many creative paths, and I simply couldn’t have gone anywhere else.”

As the program moves forward, professors such as Richard Boukos finds that teaching at the Jazz School is a constantly changing process.

“I am always changing my curriculum, since the people I am dealing with are always different,” said Boukos. “I’m just rowing the boat, watching over the different corners that we can check out. The only way to get students to achieve maximum potential is to create an ambiance of hopeful interchange. Teaching is an improvisational process, just like a set of chord changes.”

Walking to his office, Mueller nodded his head in appreciation of the shared academic approach. Getting behind his desk, he picked up his vuvuzela, the instrument’s surface featuring his handwritten letters, “Blow the horn! Tell our story!” He blows the horn and smiles.

Music to OUr Ears

Dissecting A Science Department

At the Vera List Courtyard, just a stone’s throw away from the busy intersections and fast-paced crowds of Sixth Avenue, the middle of the day approaches. After a morning of classes, a group of students make their way through the revolving doors and walk to the nearby steps, where they set their bags down on the ground and take their seats. There, they begin their lunchtime conversations, discussing current events, social problems, student life. This environment, where an open exchange of ideas is welcome, is their sanctuary.

For decades, Eugene Lang College has held a curriculum focused on literature, psychology and history. However, those in the interdisciplinary science department emphasize that knowing the hard sciences — fields like biology, chemistry and physics — are also crucial for understanding social issues. And despite all the complex equations, periodic tables and scientific language, the discussions they have, from the classroom to the courtyard, are no different.

“Most undergraduate science programs just don’t work like the interdisciplinary science program,” said Andrew Zimmermann, a senior interdisciplinary science major at Lang. “The department has offered me a venue to explore science in a way that I am certain could not occur at the typical university.”

According to a report from the academic journal Science, by as early as 1919 nearly one-third of American universities offered classes that intertwined history and science. But in the past 14 years, those in Lang’s interdisciplinary science department have seen changes in the way science affects everyday life. With spikes in extreme weather, including wildfires, heat waves and hurricanes, communities around the world are being forced to change the way they live. Faculty members like associate professor Katayoun Chamany believe that now, more than ever, is the time to look at science in a more social lens.

“I definitely think science is an art form in itself,” said Chamany, the department’s founding faculty member. “It thrives on passion and gut instincts a lot more than some of us like to realize. And it all begins with a conversation.”

In addition to seminar-based discussions, Chamany added that students best understand the artistry of science through hands-on experience, both in laboratories and in the field. Interdisciplinary science students have been given credit-based opportunities to conduct research with programs like Harlem’s Children’s Project, EngenderHealth, and Doctors Without Borders.

For students like Brittany Fowle, who came to Lang unsure about her major, the discussions and hands-on experience instantly caught her eye. After walking into her freshman science seminar, featuring discussions about urban sprawl and climate change, she decided to major in environmental studies. Despite not majoring in interdisciplinary science, the classes she has taken through the department have helped her make more sense of the scientific world.

“[Lang] is very successful in giving qualitative characteristics to subjects that are traditionally quantitative,” said Fowle, a sophomore. “So many of the required readings are from today’s newspapers. We grapple with the same issues that our society is trying to figure out itself.”

In 2005, Bhawani Venkataraman, Assistant Professor of Chemistry and the Interdisciplinary Science Department Chair, was given an $82,000 grant for promoting “active learning,” a teaching method heavily focused on case studies and experimentation.

“There is an increasing need for such professionals,” said Venkataraman. “People who are not necessarily themselves the research scientists or policy makers, but who understand fundamental science, research methods, and their applications to informed policy and action.”

In April, Congress issued a series of public-sector budget cuts to science education initiatives. As a result, annual funding for the National Science Foundation has decreased by about $68 million, while subsidies for the Department of Education’s Office of Science and the National Institute of Health have been cut by about $310 million and $35 million, respectively. According to Katherine Denniston, director of undergraduate education for the NSF, in light of these spending reductions universities must continue pulling together their resources in order to keep science education alive.

“From the headlines, we are witnessing oil spills, climate change, hurricanes and so many natural disasters,” Denniston said. “Schools and governments must take responsibility and understand how these are affecting civics and economics. Places like The New School keep the humanities in touch, and we need more of that.”

At Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, members of the environmental studies department are incorporating visual arts and design into the sciences, and hosting lectures featuring faculty from Parsons and Chicago’s The School of the Art Institute.

“There is a tremendous need for analytic and investigative environmental writing and artistic expression on contemporary problems,” Charles Zerner, professor of environmental studies at Sarah Lawrence College, said in a statement following their program’s development last year. “The role of the arts in creating… sustainable approaches to environmental problems cannot be underestimated.”

In recent years, similar interdisciplinary programs have been established nationwide, at institutions such as the University of California – Berkeley, State University of New York at Buffalo, and Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania.

As science education faces a crossroads in the years to come, those at Lang believe they are ready to expand their program. Once the 16-story University Center, located at 65 Fifth Ave., finishes construction in 2013, the interdisciplinary science department plans to open three more laboratories.

However, those involved with the program insist these changes will enhance the university’s focus on the sciences, not overwhelm it.

“Take a single course in interdisciplinary science, and you might find the way you think of science all together transformed,” added Zimmermann. “It has made me truly care about social issues, and has given me a sense that there is something I can contribute to issues that face people today.”

The department is currently offering sixteen seminars, including Science and Politics of Infectious Diseases; Energy and Sustainability; and Genes, Environment and Behavior. Next semester, classes such as Urban Public Health, Chemistry and the Environment, and Stem Cells and Social Justice will be added to the list of offered courses.

“Our job is to open the door more widely for students, to expose the different ways that they can see their art,” said Chamany. “Because maybe there isn’t only one right answer.”

Additional reporting by Danielle Balbi

Mobility Shifts Takes the Classroom Into the Cloud

After roughly two years of planning, one of the largest events in the history of The New School, the Mobility Shifts Summit, opened its doors on October 10 to an international community of scholars, activists, artists and professionals.

Mobility Shifts

The week-long summit was part of a biennial conference series at The New School called “The Politics of Digital Culture,” which explores the socio-economic impacts of modern technology. Mobility Shifts featured seminars, lectures, and exhibitions aimed toward exposing the roots of digital culture and developing new approaches to digital media and education.


“This is an historic moment for the university,” said Trebor Scholz, Mobility Shifts summit chair and associate professor of social media at Lang. “Clearly, people are just fed up with education and its spiraling costs, so this is a sign that things are changing and that society is beginning to place an even greater value on the idea of self-learning.”

Throughout the course of the week, international academics and representatives from groups such as the Ghana Think Tank and Storybuilders added their own thoughts and experiences to Scholz’s idea of digital learning.

Professor Zvezdana Stojmirovic and MFA candidate Aggie Toppins, from the Maryland Institute College of Art’s graphic design program, led “Out of My Hands,” a workshop that attempted to simulate the creation of information superhighways such as the Internet.

Participants passed around a sheet of paper and a pen, each one writing down a different word or sentence. By the time the sheet reached the end of the line, it consisted of diverse contributions from every person in the room, thereby representing the ways that personalized actions have changed the way people access ideas through the digital world.

Mobility Shifts 2

“We need to see that digital culture is changing the way we do things,” said Stojmirovic. “The traditional classroom setting of students learning passively is no longer valid.”

Lisa Dush, a professor of new media at DePaul University, took that idea one step further. At the “Developing a Tablet-Based Course to Train International Advocates for Social Change” seminar, she described her work with Storybuilders, a Boston-based workshop that teaches slideshow and montage-making techniques to low-income residents.

“Digital storytelling creates a means for advocacy, a voice to all members of communities of every kind,” said Dush, who has since expanded her program into nations like India and Kenya. “With tablets like the iPad, cameras, and apps like iMovie, getting people to share what they know and what they’ve done is getting simpler to do both inside and outside the classroom.”

For the summit’s duration, representatives from the Ghana Think Tank, an organization focused on “outsourcing America’s problems,” operated a digitally-equipped cart — featuring computers, TVs, and webcams — outside of 66 W. 12 St. They asked students, faculty, and other passersby to record or write about their everyday problems; in exchange, they would get the opportunity to receive advice from citizens of developing nations.

Since 2006, the Ghana Think Tank has held similar campaigns in cities throughout the Western world, asking citizens from all social and economic backgrounds to exchange their thoughts and curiosities through digital media. By attracting the attention of New School students and faculty, those involved with the program believe that digital media can turn the idea of collective action into a more globalized reality.

“It’s a reversal of transferring problems and resolutions,” said Amanda Ghanooni, a graduate student in The New School For Public Engagement’s international affairs program, who assisted with the summit. “Just by getting new perspectives, we are opening ourselves up to a world of answers that people might not have thought of before.”

New School President David Van Zandt said he hopes that Mobility Shifts’ vast exchange of ideas will allow the university to play a prominent role in the discourse over the state of education, technology and media in the modern world.

“Education is at a crossroads,” Van Zandt told The Free Press via email. “Mobility Shifts offers students a great opportunity to meet the people — non-profit leaders, educators, developers and writers — who are leading this effort. Being able to not only participate in a conversation like this, but also lead it, is an important role for The New School to play.”

NYC To Be Flooded With Bikes

Starting next year, the New York City Department of Transportation will finalize its plans to create a citywide bicycle-sharing program that is expected to provide more publicly accessible bicycles than any program of its kind in the nation.

Bicyle

The program, a partnership between the city and Oregon-based company Alta Bicycle Share, is expected to bring 10,000 new bicycles to the city. In addition, 600 kiosks will be located along sidewalks, plazas and other popular public areas in Manhattan and Brooklyn. City transportation officials predict that it will provide 200 local jobs, primarily associated with maintenance and customer support.

“Bike share is a new form of public transportation that will help connect New Yorkers to their own neighborhoods, to other neighborhoods, and to public transit,” said Alta President Alison Cohen in a press release. “At the same time, it will make New York City a healthier, cleaner, greener and safer space.”

For New School students like C.J. DeColvo, bicycle riding is a logical way to traverse the city. DeColvo is one of many New School students who bike the commute to class, tying his bicycle to the racks just outside the Lang building at 66 W. 12 St.

“It’s a great way of getting around,” DeColvo said. “It’s fun to ride a bike, and it sends a good message… making them available to more people will help us become more conscious of what it means to travel.”

In 2012, 10,000 bicycles will be available to city goers as part of NYC’s bike share program.

In 1980, Mayor Ed Koch, in cooperation with then-Traffic Commissioner Sam Schwartz, implemented a $300,000 project to make the city more bicycle-friendly, bringing two six-foot-wide bicycle lanes to Sixth Avenue, stretching from Central Park South to Greenwich Village. But following opposition from City Council members who claimed that it cost too much money and resources, Koch backed away from plans to expand on the initiative, which also included adding more bike lanes around the five boroughs.

Now, those working under Mayor Michael Bloomberg say that the city must fully engage in efforts to provide access to all forms of transportation.

“Bike share is about choices for New Yorkers,” said Howard Wolfson, deputy mayor for government affairs and communications, via email. “In New York City, you should be able to walk, take the subway, drive, take a bus or bike safely, economically and efficiently.”

The program’s green light is the latest victory for area bicyclists. In August, legislators in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn passed a proposal allowing for the continuation of bicycle lanes around Prospect Park after opponents filed suit against the Department of Transportation, claiming that the lane posed a safety threat to street travelers.

Some, like Lang student Davide Pivi, are glad that the city is paying closer attention to bicycle transportation. Pivi argued that, though further measures could be taken, the bicycle-sharing program is a step in the right direction.

“Bike sharing is a great idea, but hopefully, there will be more safe bike lanes and spots in the city for bicyclists,” Pivi said. “That will help the way this city travels.”