Radical Empowerment: The Students Run the Show
Jeffry Cudlin, Instructor, Exhibition Development Seminar
Some folks refuse to believe that Exhibition Development Seminar (EDS) really operates as advertised. Those who have direct experience with it know that EDS empowers students to make key decisions regarding every element of the show they create. Yet many arts professionals I know outside of MICA assume that EDS students are just glorified interns: Sure, the class takes on some small, token curatorial tasks, but ultimately they must be following the instructor’s marching orders. Accordingly, no matter what this year’s EDS class writes about their experiences creating Under Cover, some will still think that the show is my pet project.
It isn’t. From start to finish, Under Cover has been entirely conceived and produced by the EDS hive mind. In fact, perhaps more than any other EDS class before them, these students have asserted ownership over every single facet of their show.
All of these issues directly affect the group of students who warily eye a hostile economic climate and attempt to navigate a world in which all activities are regarded as suspicious and monitored accordingly. Once the subject had been determined, the class sprinted furiously to the finish: A conversation that had begun in August of 2011 resulted in a show that opens in January of 2012.
I have heard EDS described by alumni as tantamount to a job. But delivering a contemporary themed art exhibit—a timely, well-researched, smartly designed one— in less than six months is not a task that any paid professional would relish. Even small, nimble non-profit spaces need significantly longer lead times to develop programming. In other words: EDS students are not just taking on real-world tasks; they’re doing so under impossible conditions.
This is my first semester teaching EDS. It’s been a challenge for me to work with the structure that George Ciscle has been refining since he founded the course in 1997. His model of teaching is more about listening than lecturing—and, frankly, I like to talk. But it’s easier to tell students stories than to challenge them to learn. According to George, at some magic point in every year of EDS, the project takes on a life of its own, and the instructor fades into the background. Students start setting their own priorities, giving one another assignments, and following their own timelines. I’ve now seen this happen firsthand, and have spent entire six hour class periods watching the class move from one decision or issue to the next organically, without any prodding from me. It’s exhilarating, and unlike any other classroom experience I’ve had. I look forward to gradually becoming irrelevant to many more EDS students to come.
Take Cover Now! Privacy and Shelter Reconsidered
By Katie Johnson, Johns Hopkins University Doctorate Art History Candidate
What does it mean to go under cover? It can suggest to hide one’s identity or to
take on a new persona. Or it can convey something more concrete: to take shelter in order
to protect one’s body from harm. The artists featured in Under Cover ask us to consider
the continuously shifting definition of this concept. They do so by creating artworks that
question the role and meaning of shelter, particularly as it relates to issues of public and