Reconstructing Practice: Toward an Anti-Racist Art & Design Field

Page 1

ANTI RACIST CLASS ROOM Q antiracistclassroom D antiracistedu Š Antiracist Classroom 2018 The information contained in this document is the exculsive property of Antiracist Classroom. Content, Editing and Design Lauren Williams Contributions from Nidhi Singh Rathore, Godiva Veliganilao Reisenbichler, Bianca Nozaki Nasser, Kati Teague, Sophia Delara, Arden Stern Photos by Joel Aaron unless otherwise specified Composed in Overpass, Spectral, and Rubik Mono One

The Antiracist Classroom is a student-led organization at Art Center College of Design. We create spaces for students, faculty and staff—especially People of Color—to engage in dialogue, community-building, and activism around issues of racism and white supremacy in the classroom and in design practice. On July 13 & 14, 2018, we convened our first conference—Reconstructing Practice—which drew over 100 participants to Pasadena, CA. Participants contributed to panel discussions, workshops, and a gallery. This book documents, reflects on, and offers proposals about how we might move forward from this event.

PROGRAM INTERROGATING PEDAGOGY: Justice in the Core Jennifer Rittner, Faculty at School of Visual Arts Ash Alexander, Student, Photography & Imaging, Art Center College of Design

DESIGNING ALTERNATIVE FUTURES FOR MUSEUMS AND GALLERIES Alyssa Machida, Oppressive Systems Analyst, The Dreamspace Project

EPISTEMIC INTERFACES: Art, Design, and Technology Katherine Moriwaki, Associate Professor of Media Design, Parsons School of Design Cristina Stephany, Instructional Designer, Sensemaking Education & Teacher Supervisor, California State University Dominguez Hills

AT LAND’S EDGE Core Organizers, at land’s edge: Michelle Dizon, Sandra de la Loza, Rose Salseda Research Fellows, at land’s edge: Angela Peñaredondo (2017 - 2018), Melanie Griffin (2016 - 2017), Xiomara Rios Cassanova (2015 - 2016) , Turay Turay (2017 - 2018)

INDIGENOUS PERSPECTIVE IN VISUAL COMMUNICATION Sadie Red Wing, Assistant Director of Native Student Programs at University of Redlands

ART + DESIGN EDUCATION BEYOND THE INSTITUTION Dan McCleary, Founder & Director, Art Division Eve Moreno, Student, Art Division Alfredo Alvarado, Student, Art Division Antonio Serna, Artist & Independent Researcher

ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSIONS Let’s Talk about Cultural Fit Kevin Cadena, Independent Designer, Developer & Educator

What’s in a Name? Kizzy Memani, Designer / Student, Graduate Graphic Design, Art Center College of Design

To Speak or Not to Speak, That is the Question Katrina Frye, Founder, Mischief Managed

Design as Social Work? Becky Marshall, Designer, Graduate of IIT Institute of Design

Navigating Non-Inclusive Spaces Grace Lynne Haynes, Social Impact Artist & Designer, By Grace Lynne


PoC Mixer: Supporting Each Other Bianca Nozaki Nasser, Co-Organizer, The Antiracist Classroom / Product Strategist, 18 Million Rising

RACIAL EQUITY IN THE ARTS: Access + Open Dialogue as Activism Kelly Waters, Assistant Professor of Communication Design, Parsons School of Design (Fall 2018) Rayvenn D’Clark, Student, University Arts London Nadia Williams, Director, Parsons Scholars Program; Assistant Professor, Parsons School of Design Joelle Riffle, Program Administrator, Parsons Scholars Program, Parsons School of Design

CO-DESIGNING FOR RACIAL EQUITY Erika Harano, Associate Manager, Learning and Education at Creative Reaction Lab Quinton Ward, Community Design Apprentice, Creative Reaction Lab Andra Lang, Community Design Apprentice, Creative Reaction Lab

RETOOLING CRITIQUE FOR RACIAL EQUITY AND INCLUSION Billie Lee, Assistant Professor, Hartford Art School Judith Leemann, Associate Professor, Fine Arts 3D/Fibers, Massachusetts College of Art and Design Lyssa Palu-ay, Interim Provost, Massachusetts College of Art and Design Current and Former Massachusetts College of Art and Design Student Facilitators: Alexander Sebastianus, Rico St. Paul, Marissa Cote, Allison MacDonald, Ryann Feldman, Brendan Kenny

CLOSING PLENARY Lauren Williams, Antiracist Classroom Co-Organizer and Student, Media Design Practices, Art Center College of Design Rosten Woo, Artist, Designer & Writer / Co-founder, Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP) Maytha Alhassen, Senior Fellow, Pop Culture Collaborative and TED Resident Cat Yang, Co-organizer, asian mamas working in the arts

GALLERY CONTRIBUTORS DIVERSIFY THE CURRICULUM, Ash Alexander, Student, Photography & Imaging, ArtCenter College of Design Huella Negra, Hugo Arellanes Antonio, Photographer & Activist, Huella Negra What they Don’t Want us to Talk About Symposium, Joanne Lee, Fine Art Graduate, ArtCenter College of Design (2018) Alaïa’s Lab, Ari Melenciano, Creative Technologist & Researcher As Within / So Without, Amonwan Mirpuri, Independent Artist Narratives of Resistance Magazine, Bryan Ortega, Graduate, Fine Art, ArtCenter College of Design (2018), Eve Moreno Luz, Student, Art Division and Alfredo Alvarado, Student, Art Division Gentrification is Genocide / 3 Words, Danny Perez, Illustration Student, ArtCenter College of Design Our Oppressions are Connected: Documents of Resistance Series, Antonio Serna, Artist & Independent Researcher Brown and Proud, Luis Zepeda, Graduate, Fine Art, ArtCenter College of Design (2018)



Why Here? Why Now? Why This?

08 Our Origins

10 Dear Reader



16 Imagine + Manifest Alternatives


Take Up Space

52 Construct a Counter-Canon 4



63 Who should we serve? Why? How?

65 How do we prevent this event from falling into oblivion or existing in a bubble?

67 What is buy-in, really? Who do we need it from? Do we need it at all?


Moving Forward


In Closing 5





he Antiracist Classroom is a student-led organization at Art Center College of Design that emerged from a desire to find ways to respond as designers and artists to mounting public discourse on Nazism, racism, xenophobia and more. We first met in the wake of the August 2017 neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, VA. The conversation at that gathering quickly turned to how students of color experience racism at Art Center, such as: • Interpersonal experiences, comments or actions from other students and faculty and feelings of alienation among students of color; • Curricula centered around white- and Western-led design and scholarship; • An overwhelmingly white faculty body and leadership team; • The college’s weak or nonexistent responses to racialized public events like Trayvon Martin’s murder in 2012 and the 2017 Muslim Ban (Executive Order 13769); • Inadequate reporting systems that fail to equip students with a way to safely report racist experiences, receive support, and hold those responsible accountable for their actions. We started organizing the Antiracist Classroom to respond more directly to racism as it presents in our immediate environment. Throughout the previous two terms, we organized a series of open forums, a workshop on the College’s grievance reporting system, a call for work and accompanying exhibit, and a few social events. In the months leading up to Reconstructing Practice, we also identified a few Art Center students working on projects aligned with the convening’s themes and provided small amounts of unrestricted financial support to fund their projects. Reconstructing Practice was our largest-scale event yet. This convening was designed to provide a series of opportunities for young creators—of color, especially—to engage with and through art, design, media and/or technology. Over 100 participants explored the ways artists, designers, and technologists approach and enact anti-racist practices in a variety of settings: from academia, to museums, to communities of practice, to neighborhoods. The program, detailed on page 2, featured 16 sessions in which speakers and participants shared their work and reflections through generative workshops, critical discussions, personal storytelling, collective making, and group listening. Selected participants also filled the gallery with work that celebrates and examines the complexity and breadth of racialized identities, critiques art and design education, and materializes the ties between art and activism.



"There is no such thing as a neutral education process. Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate the integration of generations into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes the ‘practice of freedom’, the means by which men and women deal critically with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world." Richard Shaull Foreword, Pedagogy of the Oppressed





ames Baldwin famously insisted on his right to “criticize America perpetually” precisely because of his love for the nation of his birth (Baldwin, 9). When we chose to study at Art Center, inspired by an admiration and respect for the potential of this institution’s promise of education, we became part of it as patrons and as community members. Over the last year, we have struggled to find ways to challenge our institution from our position within it: As students, we are at once a part of the college, apart from it, invested in it, beneficiaries of it, and beholden to it. In this way, we look to Baldwin as our positioning motivates us to critique the College, hold it accountable, and leave it better than we found it. When we first started organizing Antiracist Classroom events, we had two primary objectives: First, to create spaces for students, especially students of color, to find fellowship in ways that made it a little easier to tolerate the daily traumas of existing in a white institution. Second, we sought to hold the institution accountable for addressing inherently racist, white supremacist practices and infrastructures and push it to evolve toward an explicitly anti-racist future. This former objective quickly took precedence over the latter. In retrospect, Reconstructing Practice represents an attempt to approach both


objectives with more intentionality. The event was borne equally of strategic interests like building community within and beyond Art Center, and endowing participants with the room and conditions to think, create, and produce work contrary to the traditional white western canon. In a way, too, this event demanded that we publicly acknowledge the uncomfortable existence that our own institutional home foists on students of color and encouraged us to create a temporal and physical space in which we could enjoy the fullness of our own humanity and practice. At Reconstructing Practice, participants found a community of shared interest and space to which they could bring their entire selves. In this setting, we could bypass any debate about whether racism is a veritable issue, one that exists or warrants examination in the context of design or higher education. Instead, we could direct our attention toward how the spaces, practices, and pedagogies where art and design take place can and should evolve in service of an anti-racist future. Our critiques of design education, especially, come from a recognition that our college—like many others—is home to an ingrained set of academic and administrative systems that are rooted in and reified by racism. Often, our institution’s proximity to industry and role as a creative hub


are called on as if they shield us from being obligated to critically examine race and power in the ways we operate. In a sense, what we hoped to achieve with this event, as a first step, was to call to attention to this myth of educational neutrality—or more broadly, the fiction of neutrality in art, design, and technology—and the ways in which it allows racism to persist. Beyond highlighting oppressive dimensions of these systems, our intent throughout the year and in organizing Reconstructing Practice was to begin envisioning, articulating, and modeling a liberatory future for art and design education and practice. It is almost artfully ironic that within an institution with such expertise in vividly imagining the physical, material, and experiential futures that

define the products we consume and the technologies with which we interact, it seems virtually impossible to acknowledge—let alone reimagine— the nature of administrative policies, ways of interacting with students, and other institutional frameworks derived from a deliberately white supremacist imaginary of American higher education, the commercial landscapes into which many graduates matriculate, and corporate workplaces where many faculty members hone their credentials to teach. This collection of reflections and proposals is our way of processing what we created, experienced, and shared with folks who joined us at Reconstructing Practice and foreshadowing what we might carry forward.

In Solidarity, The Antiracist Classroom Organizers Lauren Williams

MFA Candidate (2019), Media Design Practices, Art Center College of Design

Godiva Veliganilao Reisenbichler MFA (2018), Media Design Practices, Art Center College of Design

Bianca Nozaki Nasser MFA (2018), Media Design Practices, Art Center College of Design

Nidhi Singh Rathore

MFA Candidate (2019), Media Design Practices, Art Center College of Design



Reconstructing Practice was organized around three themes: Take up space; construct a counter-canon; and imagine and manifest alternatives. Using this same structure, we reflect here on the event’s content and contributors’ comments during and after participating to examine how we fulfilled and were challenged by these intentions.



How did we witness participants contribute to these themes? How did the event itself fulfill its proposed themes? In what ways were we challenged to demonstrate them?



Experiment with and model ways that institutions—colleges, design firms, governments, and more— might consider transforming their curriculum, policies, and programming to construct a more inclusive, equitable, critical, or representative reality.


"I’ve come to really value having space at Art Center to meet with people who share the desire to look critically at our institutions and reimagine what they could look like. Reconstructing Practice not only gave us a space to do that but also access network









Sophia De Lara, Art Center Student, Advertising





01 Reconstructing Practice demonstrates wide-ranging interest and urgency in advancing anti-racist pedagogies, institutions, and practices in art and design fields.


econstructing Practice brought together over 100 participants: Graduate students, undergraduate students, high school students, faculty, administrators, professional designers, technologists, and artist-activists convened on Art Center’s campus in a way that many of us had never seen before. As frustrating as it may seem to need to “make the case” for anti-racism, Reconstructing Practice did just that. In our Antiracist Classroom meetings throughout the year, several students have lamented that the substantive conversations they want or need to have around themes like race in the classroom are often quashed. They are instructed in these moments that Art Center is not a place for interrogating racism, power, or privilege through one’s work, or that critically analyzing how one’s work holds racialized implications is simply not something we do here.

Reconstructing Practice serves as proof-of-concept to counter this type of experience. As it demonstrates the value of these types of dialogues and social exchanges, Reconstructing Practice also permeates beyond the participants in attendance and spaces it occupied for those two days. Our student body president participated, and will inevitably carry on these conversations in the forums where they operate throughout the college; educators from Art Center and other institutions promised to return to their classrooms in new form; students from other schools expressed interest in starting their own groups or hosting similar convenings at their own institutions. Being seen, heard, and surrounded by like-minded folks was meaningful: Stepping out of the monotony of daily life and work into this space of fellowship was inspiring, encouraging, nec-



“The reason it [Reconstructing Practice] struck me as so important was because particularly in my department—Illustration Entertainment Art—there’s pushback against work that’s about one’s own culture or heritage or explores those things from a personal or political place. The minute you want to talk about something political, teachers will tell you:

‘Don’t talk about that: you won’t get hired.’ 20


I went because I wanted to find ways to discuss with teachers why they’re wrong about these things: not from an emotional place or place of frustration, but a place of knowing. Going showed me that it can be done, it helped to have it confirmed by it actually happening. It didn’t answer all my questions...but it did help me rethink how critique can be changed, how to challenge teachers as purveyors of knowledge and expertise. Going to Reconstructing Practice maybe helped bolster my ability to talk about this stuff and maintain my convictions when a ‘very reasonable’ older white man tries to assert himself." Kati Teague Art Center Student, Illustration Entertainment Art



Participants in Katrina Frye's "To Speak or Not to Speak," That is the Question Roundtable Discussion explore what it means to "have a seat at the table."

essary, and nourishing for many folks. Still, in this space of camaraderie and shared priorities, participants appreciated the range of perspectives they encountered. They felt challenged—in


a critical and productive way that advances one’s thinking and practice, rather than gaslighted or doubted—by the content they encountered and the conversations in which they engaged.


02 Reco n st ru ct i n g Practi ce al l owed u s to ref l ect o n a n d i n terro g ate o u r own m et h o d s fo r o rg an i z i n g an d , i n d o i n g so, to co n s i d er h ow we ap p ro ach th i s wo rk i n oth er co n texts .


n a reflection about the Beyond Change conference at the 2018 FHNW Art and Design Academy in Basel, an organizer noted that a design conference “can engage in a practice of self-reflection and accountability by questioning its very own methods and impact from within" (Crippa). As organizers, we sought this sort of reflective questioning at every stage of coordination, especially as we curated the program but also in our administrative decision-making and in creating the visual identity for the event. We attempted to assemble an agenda that reflected—in speakers’ identities and the nature of the content they would share—the spirit of our convening themes. For example, we ordered catering exclusively from businesses owned by People of Color and sought to financially support speakers and artist-contributors as equitably as possible.

As we attempted to organize complimentary childcare services for attendees in partnership with the Mountain House, we encountered the limitations of Art Center’s responsiveness and institutional support for serving families with children. The availability of childcare has particularly significant implications for parents of color who might want to participate in professional opportunities like this one. Even with a willing provider, the administrative slog of attempting to determine whether or not Art Center held the necessary insurance policies to offer child care services on-site ultimately prevented us from offering it at all. We never actually received a response to our childcare query from the College. On one level, this conveys that the College is ill-equipped to serve families with children; on another, it subtly signals who is prioritized and valued as members of the College’s community.



03 The event itself served as a testing ground for an alternative future at Art Center, but throughout, participants deconstructed and reimagined many other racist structures together.


n "Designing Alternative Futures for Museums + Galleries," Alyssa Machida of the Dreamspace Project led participants through a series of exercises to reconsider how museums operate. “When you hear the word museum or gallery, what comes to mind? In what ways do these institutions reify or perpetuate racism and white supremacy?� Led by Machida, participants ultimately coalesced around a common frustration: Museums’ performances of criticality driven by a desire to stay relevant and profitable. These institutions invite People of Color, their artifacts, and their narratives into the museum without actually being invested in members of those communities or their well-being. Participants were challenged to consider: How might we apply this analysis to our own contexts? How does our own institution mirror the same type of performance of criticality? How can that performance be disrupted or rendered authentic?



Alyssa Machida facilitates during "Designing Alternative Futures for Museums and Galleries."

In a session facilitated by organizers and students from at land’s edge, participants were invited to imagine a new educational future in the year 2197. At land’s edge is an autonomous pedagogical platform based in East and South Los Angeles that nurtures the voices of cultural producers who are committed to social transformation. Facilitators asked participants to speculate about how they might reimagine an educational framework in a scenario that forced them to stretch their imaginations, asking, “What 15 education-related ideas, modalities, or tenets would you take or leave behind from earth?”

"The year is 2197. The earth is uninhabitable due to effects of climate change. You and your group are on a spaceship, en route to Ross 128b, an exoplanet that is about the size of earth and that has been found to be habitable for humans. Your group has been nominated by popular vote as the leaders of the ministry of education for Ross 128b. Your longterm task is to design the educational system for the new human inhabitants of Ross 128b." In small groups, participants drew upon their own educational experiences, what they knew about institutional structures, feminist decolonial pedagogy, and more to come up with the defining features of this new educational system. The type of speculative experimentation modeled in these sessions was also discussed in "Interrogating Pedagogy: Justice in the Core." In this session, facilitators introduced a conversation prompt: “Design school should be a place for radical experimentation, not a space for training commercial designers.” The group debated whether these two activities—radical



experimentation and commercial design—are inherently at odds as they’re positioned in the prompt. Nadia Williams (Parsons) commented: “What really excites me about this provocation is that ambiguity, being able to think critically about what radical experimentation means. If it’s a tool for liberation or centering historically marginalized communities, then it does the thing I’m typically challenged by: either you’re experimenting and

doing things without thinking about reality or thinking about learning technical skills. I’m really excited about the potential for the in-between.” These invitations to collectively reimagine museums, galleries, and educational systems model briefs in dire need of both liberatory and technical skills. How then, might we encourage this marriage of technicality and radical experimentation in the classroom?

Participants in the "at land's edge" session imagine the education-related ideas, modalities, or tenets they would you take or leave behind from earth.



“What really excites me about this provocation is that ambiguity, being able to think critically about what radical experimentation means. If it’s a tool for liberation or centering historically marginalized communities, then it does the thing I’m typically challenged by: either you’re experimenting and doing things without thinking about reality or thinking about learning technical skills.

I’m really excited about the potential for the inbetween.” Nadia Williams Director of the Parsons Scholars Program and Assistant Professor, School of Design Strategies, Parsons School of Design



Occupy physical and virtual space with social events, media, objects, works of art and design, installations and experiences that provoke dialogue, challenge the norm and inspire views of race and equity that we don’t typically encounter in our fields.


01 Reconstructing Practice transformed the Wind Tunnel.


he night-and-day transformation might not have been immediately apparent to visitors, but to folks familiar with the concrete cavern in its typical form, the Wind Tunnel became a completely different space.

It wasn’t just that the space looked different: it was also filled with a different presence. It was transformed by a spirit of fellowship in unearthing how race, power, and privilege shape our field. Participants described feeling safe, welcome, and free from judgment among a collection of newfound colleagues grappling with similar troubles and advancing various approaches to anti-racist education and practice across the country. This transformation was enabled, in part, by the spatial design. Led by Godiva Veliganilao Reisenbichler (Reconstructing Practice Co-Organizer), we approached the space with a focus on the facilitators, contributors, and participants. Regardless of their roles, we thought of everyone who joined us as a participant rather than attendee in order to emphasize their active roles in “reconstructing practice.” We started with what many in the design world


might call a “blank space:” The Wind Tunnel, which formerly housed a supersonic jet-testing facility. The space has higher-than-high ceilings and is filled with poured concrete floors, bland carpet, and plenty of white walls. It’s typically home to exhibitions of student work, weekly critiques, and semi-formal colloquia with carefully curated lecturers. We were able to take this existing space and inscribe our intentions within it, facilitating participation by connecting people, sharing knowledge, and encouraging fellowship. We achieved these goals, in part, by extending the convening’s visual identity across environmental graphics and signage throughout the space. Participants were already familiar with the identity from outreach materials, mailings, and social media, so we optimized the spatial design to build on those elements and demarcate a communal space throughout the Wind Tunnel. The visual markers throughout the space communicated in a shared language that connected participants as they moved throughout the Wind Tunnel. The convening space and gallery were


specifically designed to create the conditions for fellowship and give folks the freedom to engage with each other more flexibly. The gallery offered a way for people to connect to the event’s themes through different media and also served as the entryway to the whole event. All participants gathered for the opening and closing programs and meals both days in the convening space. In addition to the main seating and eating area, this space featured a feedback wall where people could record what they looked forward to, learned, and questions they had for the larger group. On a black, 10-foot high chalkboard wall separating the

gallery from the convening space, we hosted a Mini-Library curated by Art Center librarian Simone Fujita that featured a selection of materials from Art Center’s own stacks and an invitation for participants to contribute suggestions for books they’d like to see in their “ideal anti-racist library collection.” Going forward, we will use our last bit of funding to purchase some of these recommendations to be held in Art Center’s libraries. The main space that we occupied within the Wind Tunnel—the convening space—is normally filled with chairs lined up in neat rows, facing a

Quinton Ward, Community Design Apprentice at Creative Reaction Lab, adds a suggestion to the "anti-racist library collection of your dreams."



podium elevated on a stage. We intentionally did not recreate this kind of spatial dynamic, typically best-suited to placing one person on a pedestal. In order to reflect the diffused, social learning environment we envisioned, we chose to gather people at round tables to enable collaboration and encourage interaction. Groups of speakers in this space where we held plenaries could sit or stand at eye level with participants as they facilitated. Session spaces were maximized for sharing media, conversation, and knowledge—with facilitators congregated around tables or moving about each room—rather than delivering a one-sided lecture.

Reconstructing Practice CoOrganizer Lauren Williams and volunteers Kizzy Memani and Johnny Perez greet the first participants in the Gallery's entryway.



Eve Moreno Luz looks at student work in the Gallery.



Antiracist Classroom Organizers give a land acknowledgment to the GabrielinoTongva Tribe during the Opening Plenary. Photo Credit: Nidhi Singh Rahthore.

Katherine Moriwaki and Cristina Stephany present during "Epistemic Interfaces: Art, Design, and Technology." Photo Credit: Nidhi Singh Rathore.







Reconstructing Practice Co-Organizer Bianca Nozaki Nasser speaks with participants during the Gallery Opening.

Bryan Ortega, an Art Center Fine Art graduate, shares his Narratives of Resistance Magazine with another participant during the Gallery Opening.



Ari Melenciano, Creative Technologist & Researcher, performs Aläia’s Lab—a living, breathing installation that explores Black identity and culture—during the Gallery Opening and Reception.



Part of Ash Alexander's (Student, Photo & Imaging, Art Center College of Design) installation in the Gallery: "DIVERSIFY THE CURRICULUM." Her installation is concerned with the one-sided art history curriculum her college offers and is pushing for more dialogue surrounding this issue.

02 The visual identity extended the event’s influence beyond its brief lifetime as a physical installation in the Wind Tunnel, across time and mediums. The following narrative is based on a conversation with Nidhi Singh Rathore, the lead Graphic Designer for Reconstructing Practice. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes in this section are hers.


he event’s visual identity initially emerged from the title and was shaped over time by its themes. As Nidhi Singh Rathore, our graphic designer, described:

“...the invitation to come and gather was about ‘taking up space,’ so the identity was about creating a space within [the event] itself. I was trying to illustrate the idea of reconstructing and recreating to use layering to talk about different perspectives coming together.”


The visual identity is anchored by a typeface that reconstructs basic shapes into letter forms. The basic shapes represent archaic, traditional perspectives—about power, privilege, and race—that are imposed upon us. The deconstruction, rearrangement, and juxtaposition of those shapes depict the ways we aimed to dissect and reclaim power throughout the course of the event. The composition and layering across mediums channel Gestalt principles like proximity, enclosure, continuity, and connection. For instance, we used principles of continuity and connection to occupy a larger canvas when deconstructing and rearranging shapes to create movement on a poster or masking singular images across multiple shapes. One rule guiding the Reconstructing Practice typeface and accompanying shapes was that each


element must be aligned based on a grid system. That said, content layered on top of that grid was intentionally arranged to challenge the grid visually. A central element of the identity is its dynamism: It depicts a constant state of change. In each graphic, the basic shapes multiply and change in different ways. Even though they are arranged on a grid, each asset features a different collection and placement of dissected shapes. In retrospect, this design feature aligns deeply with our programmatic goals around encour-

aging a dialectical exchange: inviting dialogue that generates new ideas and advances change. This element of change was also partially influenced by the evolution of the identity throughout the planning process: ...“[T]he identity kept growing over time. It was such a fast process when we announced the convening, that it took its time to mature, over time. I only gained confidence in the visual identity a week or two before the conference.�



The composition and layering across mediums channel Gestalt principles like proximity, enclosure, continuity, and connection. For instance, we used continuity and connection to occupy a larger canvas when deconstructing and rearranging shapes to create movement on a poster or masking singular images across multiple shapes.

“Change was pretty consistent in all the things we were making.” The consistency of the variation across mediums—digital assets on social media platforms, print materials handed out at the event, hand painted swag bags, signage throughout the space—reinforced the ubiquity of change: “Change was pretty consistent in all the things we were making,” and this variation is part of what made the identity so cohesive. For example, we stamped shapes on the portfolio and pencil bags distributed as swag. The composition of the stamps was varied and reflected the modularity of the identity. The typeface matured optically over time: the shapes became more resolved, characters became more bal-


anced, symbolism and legibility evened out, and “over time we resolved to make it bolder.” In a way, this boldness better complemented our goals for the Antiracist Classroom: “We believe in things that are bold...we believe in what we say, and bold typographic elements and visual identity were complementary to our own beliefs.” The identity held together through all these evolutions, in part, because the rules Nidhi defined allowed any other designer involved—and there were a lot of designers involved—to pick up, use, and modify the language as needed. This was hugely important as




Volunteers stamp variations of the Reconstructing Practice logo on swag before the conference.





“...the identity spoke to me as if we’re building a new world.” Kati Teague Art Center Student, Illustration Entertainment Art



One rule guiding the Reconstructing Practice typeface and accompanying shapes was that each element must be aligned based on a grid system. That said, content layered on top of that grid was intentionally arranged to challenge the grid visually.



we scrambled to pull the space, materials, and experience together in the last few weeks. Having a strong visual language for this type of gathering is critical because it builds confidence in us as organizers, eases participation, and helps communicate our ideas and commitment to the goals of the event. The most rewarding yet overwhelming part of all this is hearing how others receive and interpret each of these painstakingly crafted elements of the visual identity. Kati Teague—an Art Center student and volunteer at Reconstructing Practice—describes the identity as an “undeciphered language” which seems to represent a


utopian vision of a much-desired future. To her, the visual language of the event seemed like a language of which we understand parts, but in which we are not yet fluent: “’s something that’s far ahead in the future that we... are trying to decode,” Nidhi mused. In part, this effect was produced by the visual illusion of the typeface: the juxtaposition of shapes and alphabet together seemed like an unfamiliar language. Symbolically, this was also about establishing that we have our own “language” among participants— and want to invite others to join us as we develop fluency—with respect to the topics discussed throughout Reconstructing Practice.




Equip more artists and designers of color to produce and document art, design, media, technology and writing that contributes to a counter canon or forces the prevailing canon to shift.


01 In several sessions, facilitators introduced narratives, organizational structures, and methods contrary to the prevailing norms.


ntonio Serna reminded us that the tradition of “reconstructing practice” has a long history in activist movements led by People of Color. Groups like the Third World Liberation Front and the NAACP have long created counter-structures outside of institutions. Education should be a place of self-expression, transformation, discovery, and empowerment, he argued, but preserving those liberatory intentions requires constant vigilance, space, and compensation for time and labor. “Documents of Resistance”—one of Serna’s current projects—creates space for artists to come together to share and produce knowledge and art. Art Division, on the other hand—an organization that trains and supports underserved youth who are committed to studying the visual arts—facilitates self-preservation of Queer and Trans People of Color by holding space without the confines of traditional educational frameworks: “We have agency


to express ourselves the way we want without the filter or censorship of a ‘high’ institution,” said Eve Moreno Luz, an Art Division student. Both Art Division and Serna’s experiences with artist collectives model liberatory approaches to art and design education, but in different ways. The juxtaposition of these models on the same panel raised questions, too, about the nature of art as activism: How does activism fit into non-institutional educational frameworks? Is it inherent in their formation and liberatory scaffolding? Is it overtly expressed in the content of the work produced in these contexts? Is it implied or embedded in the work generated in these spaces by the nature of who participates in them? During "Interrogating Pedagogy: Justice in the Core," Jennifer Rittner (SVA) and Ash Alexander (Art Center) shared examples of rewriting curricula to insert more diverse references and question how the contents of syllabi reify and disrupt power. Later on in


this session, they introduced a series of prompts to initiate debate among participants, including: “Morality is stronger than empathy when it comes to design for social practice.” This prompt and others were designed to provoke conversation, not proffer conclusive statements. The group that received this prompt was troubled by it. They felt strongly that morality is too subjective for the statement to hold true and articulated the questions it provoked for them: Who are we talking about? Why? How can we make this more specific? In retrospect, Jennifer Rittner was encouraged by this reaction to “reframe the questions

or examine the biases in our own framings...One of the participants called me out on the use of the word ‘morality’ in one of the provocations. She read it in a way that I hadn’t intended and it made me rethink the use of the word.” On one level, these facilitators offered curricular models that call racialized power into question; on another, deeper level, they also held themselves open and accountable to critique through the course of the session based on participants’ reactions to their provocations. In Jennifer’s words: “There’s nothing more transformative than being confronted with another person’s reality.”

Jennifer Rittner (L) and Ash Alexander (R) facilitate "Interrogating Pedagogy: Justice in the Core."



“There’s nothing more transformative than being confronted with another person’s reality.” Jennifer Rittner Faculty at School of Visual Arts

Discussion during a concurrent session.



02 Classroom critique plays a central role in shaping the ways students produce and evaluate their work: it can either inflict trauma or help students cultivate a practice. Critique came up repeatedly. “Critique is an all-important moment in art and design pedagogy: in it, we rehearse how we come together, what we think, how we practice, and what moves us,” said Billie Lee (Hartford Art School). Along with faculty, administration, and students from Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt), Lee questioned: How does critique relate to racial equity? How is power exercised in critique? How can we shift the tools of critique toward equity? Critique can reinforce the myth of the artist-genius, demanding that critics contribute a subjective take and recipients make sense of what they choose. Critique can become a hotbed for expressing bias—of any kind, but especially with respect to race—especially when cultural and contextual understanding is asymmetrical. In these moments, critique reproduces educational, cultural, and racial traumas; but these same moments offer us space to

confront the failures of education and shift the ways we engage in the classroom. Dan McCleary of Art Division has taught in several Los Angeles area colleges over his career, including Art Center, and argues that “critique becomes a form of oppression.” At Art Division, by contrast, “...I don’t believe in that kind of critique,” he says. Rather than critiques, Eve Moreno Luz and Alfredo Alvarado—Art Division students—recall discussions, offers of support to make students’ work better or to help them fulfill their intentions, positive reinforcement, and goal-oriented reviews. There is flexibility to focus critique not purely on form, but also on content; to explore one’s identity and how it manifests in their work. As a white faculty member at MassArt, Judith Leemann offered to “stay witness to what’s happening in the classroom but never think I’m the



one driving the bus.” Lyssa Palu-Ay, MassArt's Provost, promised to insist on conversations that challenge the structure of critique through a critical race theory lens and create spaces for those dialogues that have not existed before. Students, in the words of Rico St. Paul, a MassArt undergraduate student, committed to challenge perspective “even though we are not teachers,” define and redefine the ways they want to learn, find allies, and share with each other critically and vulnerably. Students Allison Macdonald and Marissa Cote offered an alternative mode of critique: gesture. How can physically experiencing one’s own visual blind spots heighten our awareness of our own blind spots—culturally, contextually, racially, in relation to others’ work—during critique? How can embodied communication alter the balance and exchange of power in a room during critique? How can gesture disrupt racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic languages in critique? How else might we navigate a system of critique that is not built for us?



Billie Lee, Assistant Professor at Hartford Art School, speaks during "Retooling Critique," presented alongside students, faculty, and administration from Massachusetts College of Art and Design.



This event also unearthed some provocations—some encouraging and some troubling—for us as organizers of the Antiracist Classroom that extend beyond the momentary convening itself. What we offer here are questions that raise further questions, not conslusions. In this section, we consider: What are the implications of this event? What considerations should we make as we carry it forward?



01 Who should we—the Antiracist Classroom organizers—serve? Why? How?


s our mission states, we aim to cultivate a space for students who want to find, create, and engage in opportunities for student activism around issues of racism and white supremacy in the classroom and in practice. The scale of Reconstructing Practice brought us in contact with new audiences within Art Center as well. To some extent, the effort required to pull this event off helped us connect with students in ways that brought new potential leaders into the fold: folks who helped by making materials, setting up the space, and taking notes during sessions are now part of ongoing Antiracist Classroom conversations on campus. In contrast, some students’ reactions to this event reminded us that there are folks here who do not identify with the reasons we organize, the critiques we levy, or the motivations that drive us. As Art Center students voice their own interpretations of the events we host, express their evaluations of our inclu-

sivity or exclusivity, and critique our motivations, it leads us to question our positioning within Art Center. Whom do we represent? How do we best communicate with other students? At the same time, enthusiastic interest from folks outside Art Center presents a similar set of questions. During and after the event, participants expressed excitement around extending this beyond a one-time endeavor. “How do we get the Antiracist Classroom on our campus? Do you have a guide for how it works?” folks asked. “What if this conference traveled between design schools?” someone wrote on the feedback wall. “What if we made and sold a glamour calendar of our hot selves to raise money for next year?” What this becomes beyond our immediate environment may hold a very different promise than it does within Art Center, and each of these encounters challenges us to consider how we ought to evolve, whom we serve, who leads us, and what our future goals are.



“It’s important for people to be able to congregate around these issues, and not just a conversation that happens when people can spare a couple hours around lunch. Having two whole days set aside for it changes the conversation. I wish I had clearer answers about how to make these teachers get on board; but I just honestly think there’s a giant gap in teachers’ education about how to even talk about this stuff. I know for my part I get nervous speaking up sometimes because I don’t know enough about the issue or feel like I’ll be coming in on my white horse or something.

I wish R e c o n s t r u c t ing Practice or things like it could happen all t he t i m e . ” Kati Teague Art Center Student, Illustration Entertainment Art



02 How do we prevent this event from falling into oblivion or existing in a bubble? Art Center has a history of forgetting. Previous student initiatives calling attention to or demanding changes around racism, diversity, inclusion, and equity have been quickly subsumed into a cycle of institutional amnesia as students come and go. As one would expect, student turnover is relatively rapid: Two of our organizers have already graduated, and two more are set to graduate in the coming year. Art Center’s terms run year-round, and the work culture here doesn’t prioritize, let alone leave students much time or energy for, extracurricular activities. So, how do we keep this going? Should it continue? And, if so, how do we help it evolve?

A participant pointed out that Reconstructing Practice represents a sort of “Temporary Autonomous Zone” in the words of Hakim Bey: “...a liberated area ‘of land, time or imagination’ where one can be for something, not just against, and where new ways of being human together can be explored and experimented with” (Jordan, 1). On one hand, it is encouraging that this one event could serve as an aspirational temporal, spatial, and spiritual experiment in anti-racist organizing, fellowship, and dialogue. On the other, it is troubling to imagine that energy, interest, or investment may dissipate as time passes, as the space returns to its typical uses, and as contributors return to their own environments.




“...a liberated area ‘of land, time or imagination’ where one can be for something, not just against, and where new ways of being human together can be explored and experimented with.”



03 What is buy-in, really? Who do we need it from? Do we need it at all? Reconstructing Practice sought several audiences: Graduate and undergraduate students, faculty, staff, and administrators in higher education, practicing artists and designers, researchers, technologists, and People of Color and white collaborators across the board. We also hoped to use this event to engender buy-in across Art Center leadership in a way that would force our faculty and administration to confront these questions around race and equity on our own campus and on our terms. To that end, we invited contributions of both time and money from every department chair at the college. Securing financial commitments was relatively simple; obtaining commitments of time and attention was more challenging. Activism takes many forms, and this invitation to Art Center leadership—to spend time, listen, and participate— was an attempt at a sort of dialectical approach. Dialectics are, in short, a way of understanding how change transpires: “To think

to recognize that reality is constantly changing and that new contradictions are constantly being created as old ones are negated” (James Boggs as quoted by Stephen Ward, 17). The challenge, then, is engaging the “right” folks in that dialogue and exchange of ideas. We thought Art Center leadership were the right folks, but most chose not to participate. We invited all Art Center department chairs to attend, received responses from three, and just two of our usual enthusiastic supporters attended. Given the relative autonomy of each department and their influence on curriculum, hiring, and student experience, the chairs’ absence was notable and telling. Beyond department chairs, our college president participated, and a few familiar and new faculty or staff members joined us, but the overwhelming majority of participants came from outside Art Center. Perhaps, like many other neoliberal institutions, institutions of higher learning—and, more importantly, their



Rosten Woo—Artist, Designer & Writer and Co-founder of the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP)—speaks during the closing plenary.

members—will engage in such dialogues only if sufficient demand materializes: some indicator of demonstrated need, urgency, or financial threat from its “customers” necessitates action. In our closing plenary, Maytha Alhassen reminded us of the relative power students hold relative to the administration: “Undergraduates do not realize how much power they have... for the most part they make the bulk of the pot of money for the university.” In order to leverage that power, though, we would have to “make sure that students know they’re getting a raw deal and that they have the power to protest around it.” Rosten Woo challenged us to think through how we frame the terms of that case for racial equity: “To some extent more than any other institutions, universities are places where moral suasion is still a thing...universities still have the idea of a reputation of what they stand for and things like that. There is real value in building the frame of why diversity and why inclu-


sion—it’s more than just sort of ‘well, because it’s fair’, but actually it makes the university way more interesting, way better, the quality of the work is more relevant. There’s all these things that are obvious, clear benefits.” In a way, this may simply be a reminder—one that echoes a recent set of provocations set forth by Decolonising Design’s Ahmed Ansari—that “challenging and critiquing the current status quo” and “thinking beyond design as it exists today” are tasks that can only be completed by “the ones whose bodies, subjectivities, and epistemes have so long been ignored, underestimated, inferiorised, ostracised, or appropriated.” Or, in the words of Paolo Freire: “This, then, is the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well” (Freire, 26). In other words, what can we really expect from a paradigm that was never meant to serve us? And who can we expect to act?


"There is real value in building the frame of why diversity and why inclusion—it’s more than just sort of ‘well, because it’s fair’, but actually it makes the university way more interesting, way better, the quality of the work is more relevant. There’s all these things that are obvious, clear benefits.” Rosten Woo Artist, Designer & Writer / Co-founder, Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP)

While Reconstructing Practice may have raised more questions for us than it answered, it did help us refine our thinking about the work we want to pursue going forward and the types of transformations we would like to see Art Center undertake as concerted projects of the college.



We'll build on the momentum from Reconstructing Practice. We’ll share documentation and reflections about the event, stay in touch with the folks who participated, and find ways—through this book, our website, by maintaining one-on-one connections, and at related events—to continue exchanging ideas with and learning from those attempting similar initiatives. From the planning process to participants’ energy, contributions, and enthusiasm, Reconstructing Practice reminded us that efforts in confronting and dismantling racism are already underway at many other art and design institutions. This event convened facilitators and participants from institutions across the world: The School of Visual Arts, Occidental College, The New School, UCONN, Central Saint Martins, Redlands University, Massachusetts College of Art

and Design, and more. Some are working within institutions to challenge the ways we conduct critique, implement frameworks of support for students of color, equip young designers to apprentice in the field, and create space to celebrate and examine identity in practice. Others are laboring against and alongside major institutions as they imagine and implement their own ways of being and learning: artist collectives, artist activism, and independent educational initiatives that operate in opposition to “traditional” educational systems. The discourse that grows from continued engagements with this range of participants will help us understand how to plan for the future of Reconstructing Practice, whether at Art Center or elsewhere.



We’ll continue holding space for students, staff, and faculty of color at Art Center and coliberators to gather. While Reconstructing Practice celebrated exchange across institutions— not limited to institutions of higher learning—it emerged from a year of organizing on Art Center’s campus in direct response to the college’s failures to engender racial equity among its own students and systems. That said, most of our immediate priorities revolve around continuing that work in our own community. There are certain initiatives that the Art Center admin-

istration needs to lead on: we can hold feet to the fire, but we cannot and should not be responsible for the labor of instituting systems-wide change at the college where we study. There are, however, initiatives that are appropriate for us to carry forward as students: In the coming months, we’ll hold more open forums, calls for work, and social events to be determined by the folks who step up as co-organizers.

We'll work on a succession plan. In previous sections, we’ve laid out the challenges of engagement and turnover among students within an institution like ours. Half of the Antiracist Classroom organizing team has graduated since we started just a year ago, so in the interest of extending the group’s lifetime beyond our own tenures as students, we want to invite and encourage more and newer students to play significant roles in future initiatives. But, this isn’t just about keeping it going. We’ve already laid


bare our own questions about whether and how the group should continue: We acknowledge that the Antiracist Classroom is only as meaningful or accessible to other students as its members are diverse. The types of meetings we host, events we plan, students we attract, and priorities we set, are all determined by who is involved as organizers in a substantive way. With that in mind, we want to build with others in different departments, of different ages, and different ethnic-


ities, who will be at Art Center longer than us in hopes that they can shape the group’s evolution in ways that make the most sense going forward. In practical terms, this means connecting with students now who want to engage in anti-racism activism or practice; inviting and encouraging them to

define the terms of that engagement; and collaborating in ways that pass on what we’ve learned about the intricacies of organizing the group so far while lifting up their ideas, priorities, and imaginations.

We’ll continue strategizing about how to pursue deeper, more lasting administrative and pedagogical changes at Art Center. In short, we want to see our college evolve into an institution that acts like it understands the gravity of its role in shaping students’ views of the world and their practice, especially regarding power and the ways it is exercised with respect to race. We want Art Center to become an institution that exercises its authority over people, internal systems, and classroom dynamics in a proactively anti-racist way. Some faculty, administrators, and staff are already doing this work in their own practices and classrooms. To transform the college more broadly and permanently, the administration will have to act to embed new ways and standards of being, teaching, relating, learning, decision-making, evaluation, hiring, and pedagogy. Above all, they will have to act. Art Center has a

history of calling for reports and committees that prolong a dialogue about diversity—rarely racism, inclusion, or equity—and gather dust or cycle through the same mismanaged conversations time and time again. Other initiatives have been taken up by individual departments which, upon attempting in good faith to address these challenges, are left to (often inadequately) fend for themselves in order to figure out how to proceed. We strongly believe that continued resistance to affirmatively cultivating racial equity is not only an ethical failure, but also keeps Art Center squarely behind the curve. Our College has the opportunity to join leading art and design institutions in actively developing anti-racist culture, curriculum, and practices. The longer the College re-



mains inactive, the longer it risks rendering itself and its reputation irrelevant—academically, commercially, and socially—in a moment where artists and designers require competencies in both craft and critical thinking. We want decision makers who hold power at Art Center to understand that their actions and inactions incrementally shape institutional culture every day and for years to come. We're still figuring out the right ways to in-


fluence these kinds of changes, and, as we've described earlier, are challenged by our positionality as students, how to engage decision-makers, and the College's track record in dealing with racism and equity. Our goal, then, is to find ways to proceed. If the College is not creating policies, curricula, and culture that are anti-racist in intent and practice, it is actively creating an environment that fails all of its students and disproportionately harms its students of color.


Works Cited Ansari, Ahmed. “What a Decolonisation of Design Involves: Two Programmes for Emancipation.” Decolonising Design, 12 April, 2018. Baldwin, James. Notes of a Native Son. Boston: Beacon Press, 1984. Print. Boggs, James. Pages From a Black Radical's Notebook : a James Boggs Reader. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2011. Print. Crippa, Benedetta. “Closer Looks at Beyond Change: What Can a Design Conference Do? by Benedetta Crippa – Part 2.” depatriarchise design, May 4, 2018. www.depatriarchisedesign.wordpress. com/2018/05/04/closer-looks-at-beyond-change-what-can-a-design-conference-do-by-benedetta-crippa-part-2/ Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Herder and Herder, 1972. Print. Jordan, John. “Temporary Autonomous Zone.” Beautiful Trouble: A Toolbox for Revolution.



We wanted participants to leave Reconstructing Practice with concrete ways of working, inspiration, new and strengthened relationships, and energy to continue pursuing their own connected initiatives within and against institutions that don’t always support them but rely on them to function. We also want the outcomes from people’s experiences at Reconstructing Practice to resonate in ways that extend its influence beyond the two days we shared in Pasadena. We offer this candid collection of our own thoughts, curiosities, challenges, and future plans to document our experience, combat our own institution’s convenient bouts of amnesia, and advance an ongoing discourse.

We’d like to thank the many volunteers, ArtCenter staff, and Antiracist Classroom advisors who put in time, support, and energy along the way to help us bring this event to life. Many thanks, also, to those who provided financial, spatial, and inkind support that equipped us to host this event, feed participants, and take up space at ArtCenter: the ArtCenter Research Committee and the Humanities & Sciences Department, Graduate Media Design Practices, the Office of the Provost, Designmatters, and the Chair’s Council.

Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.