NurtureArt’s summer exhibition, Is This Free?… has been building itself over the last couple months, but less publicized has been the exhibition’s tandem education program: The Lawn School. Curators Megan Snowe and Rachel Steinberg have curated a program of free classes taught in NYC parks on Thursday nights throughout July and August. You can check out the full schedule on their website, or head over the East Village Cultural District at 7p.m. for a class on public art, or to Tompkins Square Park for Matej Vakula’s class on Manuals for Public Space. I caught up with Megan and Rachel of them at NurtureArt headquarters in Bushwick to talk about free education, social agendas, and body rolls (naturally).
Talk a little bit about how Lawn School got started. Who came up with the idea for getting the lawn school started and getting these programs put together?
RS: Well it started off with Megan’s idea. We’re also both organizers with Trade School [a seasonal gathering for free workshops and classes] as well. Once you get in the world, it just keeps going. You realize that you can take those ideas and just expand upon them, because they’re ever-replicable as long as you have enough people to run them. It was Megan’s idea to start with to do a summer, lawn program. Just being outside in public spaces and just continuing the teaching aspect but have it be a little bit more fun and relaxing.
What effect do you think being outside has on the classes? Does it make them more interactive?
MS: There are challenges: noise, making sure people can find it, because you can’t really comfortably have more than fifteen or twenty people in a class. Not necessarily because of permits, but because you can’t really understand what people are saying. So that’s been a bit of a challenge I think. But at the same time, we were hoping to encourage people who just happen upon it to join. And I think the last class was…
RS: It was very telling. It was the Obamacare one. You think if you put up a couple signs, that say “Lawn School” or whatever, that people will be responsive, but I feel like that’s also a bigger issue of it being a small, intimate group, and people have to feel like they are welcome and they’re invited. I think we tried successfully to make it very open and to let every who came across who was interested to let them know that it was open to them. I think that is something that we are constantly going to evolve with as it goes on.
The people teaching the classes, those are pretty open-source it seems. Is it mostly people sending in ideas?
MS: Well it’s about half and half, about one class every week is one that we talked to the teachers beforehand, and kind of said “Hey, we want you to teach a class on this, would you do it?”
RS: Cause we thought, they have experience in something that’s amusing, or they’re just a fascinating person and we’d be pleased to listen to anything that they’d want to talk about. You think that what they do would translate to public space, and even discussing that subject in a public space and interacting in that context would be a really interesting experience. But now we’re getting a lot more proposals, even more than we actually have space for, cause we’re like “Oh man, its only one day a week!” We’re always like, “Well, if you’re really interested, we’ll just continue into September.” Because we can keep it going longer.
So how are you relating the Lawn School to the larger Is This Free?… summer exhibition? Is it approaching education in the same way that the exhibition is approaching art?
RS: I think so, they’re very related when you look at it like that, but it is also tangentially related, we just wanted to create this whole world of things with the education and the materials so you can experience it in all forms if you wanted to. But it was a project that developed with and separate from the exhibition.
MS: We had several conversations about even about the website. Like how do we want to connect this to the NurtureArt website — and do we need this other website at all. And is it a NurtureArt program or is it separate?
RS: And ultimately we decided that it’s not a NurtureArt program, and this can continue into the future as it’s own thing. We see it as a separate entity that is working concurrently with the exhibition. It was born out of the same idea in a sense.
In addition to Lawn School and Is This Free?…, you are running Can I Take This? Can you talk a little about what get puts in there and how it relates to the other parts of the exhibition?
MS: I have on the roster everything from texts that the three of us have been reading, books that we used to form the show.
RS: This has been a very heavily researched project this summer. Been going since January. These are some of the books. This is one of the big ones: What we Want is Free. It’s about artists who make artwork that is free or otherwise an act of generosity.
MS: And then texts from Yoko Ono. And then there are reproductions of historic texts. We’ve been fortunate enough to borrow original material from Printed Matter. And then new releases, that I’m not going to give away. There will be a publication launched in the last iteration so very fresh, fresh stuff.
Which classes are you looking forward to the most?
RS: The ones that I’m looking forward to the most, I’m actually not going to be in town that week and I’m really upset about it, I’m really looking forward to Ed Woodham and Amy Whitaker’s classes. Ed Woodham is teaching “Strange Makings.” And Amy Whitaker’s “So Valuable it’s Free,” and she’s been involved in the show as well, so it’s a cross pollination between Is This Free and Lawn School, and she’s just considering different value systems.
MS: I am actually really excited about the Kite class, we’re gonna learn how to build kites and how to actually fly them right. And it’s Whitney Richardson and Lee Dares, they’ve formed this kite collective. They’re such lovely ladies and they love what they do, they’re passionate about making kites and making the simplest ones and making sure you understand. And the same night, actually my dad is teaching a class. I asked him to just teach something he was interested in and he’s going to teach a class on consensus decision making which I think is going to be fascinating. He comes from a Quaker background — and all their decisions have to be made by consensus, and he also works for Haverford College’s Center for Peace and Global Citizenship, so he’ll be informed by multiple communities that operate on consensus. And the third one Viva’s Body Roll which is a nineties workout with neon spandex and everything. Viva Bodyroll is going to teach a class in Tompkin’s Square Park, and it is going to be so hot. Viva and her “Get Sweat” crew taught some of the moves at the Trade School fundraiser dance.
RS: She got on stage and did this impromptu body roll session, it was amazing.
MS: Boys, girls, everyone was doing it.
Physical Education is very important.
RS: Especially if you get creative about it.
MS: And nineties about it.