Taking Risks for Rewards of Growth
When I received the NAEA newsletter in the mail this past spring, I was eager to read about all the new and exciting happenings in art education. This particular issue was special because an announcement about a professional development opportunity caught my eye: The Dinner Party Institute. I wondered if the institute was somehow related to The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago, an artist with whom I had been fascinated for quite some time. Indeed it was. I knew instantly I had to attend, so I told my husband about it. He encouraged me to find out more information, and the more I read about it the more I was convinced that this was an opportunity I could not pass up. The only thing holding me back was the trip to Pennsylvania. The plane ride from Louisiana would take me far away from home, from my husband and three year old son, plus the expense was not really in our budget. There were many positive factors in deciding that I should take the risk, but the two deciding factors were the chance to meet Judy Chicago and the fact that I would get to work with Art Ed guru Dr. Marilyn Stewart. So I did it. And signing up for The Dinner Party Institute was one of the best professional decisions I have made.
I want to share this experience for two reasons:
1. It is an incredible professional development opportunity that I am so thankful for attending. I do not believe that enough people realize this opportunity is available and take advantage of this experience.
2. This was a risk that I took, and as a result, I grew both professionally and personally. I hope my experience will encourage others to take a risk for growth as well.
The Dinner Party is an installation artwork that forms a large triangle, 48 feet on all sides. Judy Chicago directed an entire team of people to make by hand a place setting for 39 women in history. The mission of the piece is to “end the ongoing cycle of omission in which women were written out of the historical record.” (Chicago, Judy. The Dinner Party: From Creation to Preservation)
The institute took place on the campus of Kutztown University. I signed up to stay in the dormitory for five nights, Sunday through Thursday. The actual cost of the program and the dorm was reasonable, $275 for the program and $194.75 for the dorm, plus travel expenses. There were less than 30 total participants.
I flew from Baton Rouge on a Sunday morning and arrived in Pennsylvania later that afternoon. Dr. Stewart graciously arranged for me to be picked up and escorted to the university by the sweetest lady, Deb. Having never traveled to this part of the country I enjoyed the adventure and the scenery as Deb filled me in on the institute, the area, the university and more. The countryside was breathtaking, like something described in a novel. Once we reached the university, the classroom was filled with brilliant art educators ready to engage The Dinner Party Curriculum. Words cannot express how welcoming Dr. Stewart and her curriculum team were to us all.
We began with an activity called “Table Talk” using the table as a metaphor, appropriate considering the overall subject of the week. The phrase “table as…” became common to describe how tables affected us in a variety of ways throughout our lives. Below are some examples of prompts we used for the activity.
*Consider the following: > This table reminds me of… > I remember a time… > I like to ____________________ at the table. > Once, at a table like this…
*taken from The Dinner Party Pre-Institute activities
Most of us brought photographs of tables that were meaningful. We took turns describing our thoughts and ideas while viewing the image via a document camera or from the designated Flickr site.
One of the many highlights of the trip was viewing the documentary film “The making of The Dinner Party”. After we had dinner in the visual arts building on the university campus, the viewing was held in one of the lecture classrooms. We were able to take a behind-the-scenes look at the process of constructing the installation. The passion and dedication by Judy Chicago and her team produced an awe-striking piece of visual artwork dedicated to the role of women in history.
The week continued with The Dinner Party curriculum team inspiring us to explore and reflect on this iconic piece of work. We immersed ourselves within the history of the women that Judy brought to the table.
Seeing the piece in person was truly a moving experience. If you have not visited The Dinner Party at The Brooklyn Museum and you are ever in the area do yourself a favor and stop by.
Working with Judy Chicago was like meeting one of my heroes. I first began learning about her through her installation “Womanhouse”*.
*“Womanhouse” introduced me to Judy Chicago’s work. For those who may not be familiar with “Womanhouse,” the feminist artwork was organized by Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro and installed in a performance space in Hollywood, CA in 1972. Womanhouse was a 17-room abandoned house, soon to be demolished, after the artists each turned a room or space into a consciousness-raising piece depicting the biology and social roles of women. The house itself was a metaphor for the place where women spent most their time pleasing others while the installation presented the rooms and subjects in ways that were pleasing only to them and often in exaggerated methods. Subject matters for the selected rooms ranged from “Shoe Closet” to “Lipstick Bathroom” to “Bridal Staircase” to “Womb Room” among others. On opening day only women were allowed to view the house. Over 10,000 visitors attended in the month that it was open.
During the week of THE DINNER PARTY INSTITUTE
• We studied and researched The Dinner Party under the guidance of Judy Chicago and her curriculum team.
• We dissected the entire piece and considered different strategies for using this artwork in curriculum development.
• We defined feminism: what we thought it meant and what it actually means.
• We studied the 39 women who are highlighted with a place setting and the 999 names inscribed on the Heritage floor of installation. We discussed how and why these incredible women were selected and who else may have Judy selected if the work continued.
• We viewed The Dinner Party at the Brooklyn Museum’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art
• We were surrounded by a team at Kutztown University that served as a “master class” in art education.
• We left enlightened and better prepared to undertake the teaching profession.
My sincere gratitude for this educational experience goes to Dr. Marilyn Stewart, Carrie Miller, Nicole Romanski, Dr.Amy Pfeiler-Wunder, Amy Albert Bloom, Rami Steinruck, all the participants of The Dinner Party Institute 2012, and, of course, Ms. Judy Chicago. You are all extraordinary women who inspire me daily.