Never mind the nightlife and the skyscrapers, one of the most exciting things about New York is the commitment of the many artists and educators who serve their community through not-for-profit work. Over the coming weeks, Books and Adventures will be speaking to some of these American heroes striving to provide the best possible start for their city’s children.
Today we speak with Max Goodman. Max is a young artist and educator who, in 2009, founded Uproar Art, a Brooklyn-based non-profit organization which delivers weekend workshops and after-school classes to the local community. A talented jeweler in her own right, Max has assembled a team of artist-educators who offer courses on everything from recycled art to creating your own comic book.
Max is a dynamic and independent figure - she created her own first job in NYC by contacting 3rd Ward, who were advertising their own arts classes, and convincing them to take her on as an instructor! Although she had intended to teach in New York schools, the constraints of the system led her to found her own non-profit organization for arts education.
‘When I arrived in January 2009, there was a hiring freeze in the district,’ Max explains. ‘Founding Uproar Art gave me the chance to commit fully to my students without giving up my own art-making practice. It was a great way to give back to the young art-making community without sacrificing my own art.’
Max believes that an artist-educator who remains committed to their own practice can offer students new ways into learning, beyond the traditional classroom.
‘Pattern, rhythm and symmetry can all be used in art, but they're concepts repeated in math and music. Working with paints and metals helps students understand chemistry in a way that a science textbook could only illustrate flatly on a page. Frequently, students who feel they cannot achieve in other subjects are able to find an outlet in the arts, and in this way art keeps students in school who otherwise might drop out.’
Max gives the example of an 8-year-old student who spoke no English when they first met: ‘Her eyes lit up when she was in my art room, because she could follow the visual examples and create a beautiful piece. She expressed herself without worrying about the boundaries of language. That kind of outlet is absolutely invaluable in our world of standardized tests and rubrics.’
We’ve discussed British educational assessment on Books and Adventures before, but Max’s comments highlight the issues raised by testing on this side of the Atlantic, where there is a move to regulate education at a more national level. Max is ambivalent about this move:
‘I believe that funding for education should be sourced and therefore equalized on the national level, but I do not think it's reasonable to expect students everywhere to pass nationalized standardized tests. Individual communities understand the challenges facing their students, and should be afforded more local control over curriculum. A national curriculum should definitely be offered, but expecting students who speak English as a second language, or those with learning disabilities, to test the same as their peers is absolutely unproductive.’
As Max’s home patch in Brooklyn undergoes gentrification, wealth brings new opportunities and resources to the community – but it can also divide a neighborhood. On a recent visit to Bedford-Stuyvesant, I spoke with a local parent who decried the privileged do-gooders who parachuted in to a deprived area – but were free to leave the community’s problems behind at the end of the day.
Max’s team at Uproar Art are sensitive to these issues and committed to the place where they live: ‘We seek to ease tension and conflict - to make sure we're serving the community that has existed before the influx of wealth as well as the newcomers.’
Wherever possible, Uproar Art offers free and low-cost workshops alongside their comprehensive range of classes. ‘Eventually, we'd like to be a resource for children with an interest in the arts who may not have the means or support to pursue it extra-curricularly, as well as for the students that have the support system in place. We’re hoping to offer sliding scale payments for classes over the coming year.’
Max’s ethical commitments extend to opposing the involvement of the private sector in public education: ‘I think no for-profit entities should be allowed to play any role in our educational system. When I was a student in the Philadelphia public school district, a for-profit company sought to take over our schools in order to use them as a fertile captive audience for advertising. Education is for the good of the students and of the society in general, and somebody seeking to profit from that loses sight of these moral truths.’
Uproar is on the cusp of finishing its incorporation process, which will enable it to accept grants for future projects – and Max’s team are already looking ahead to the months and years beyond.
‘Our first year of business has gone well: we've found many allies in the local community, and have been welcomed with open arms into local studios. In the coming year we'd really to work more directly with local schools. It's time to start reaching out to the parts of the community that don't have access to programs like ours.’
In the immediate future, Max is excited by launching her own workshop on Organic Sculpture in Lefferts Garden. It’s based in part on the work of Andy Goldsworthy, who makes temporary artwork from found items in the environment.
‘Before now it's been difficult to find a location that parents and art studios were both comfortable allowing students to make nature based art, but I'm very excited to see what my 6-8 year old sculpture students discover in our own back yard. In addition to teaching Organic Sculpture we also offer a Recycled Art course. Because of our strong community focus we're always looking for ways to blend art making and the environment, and luckily there's no shortage of other environmentally friendly non-profits ready to partner with us - friends like Glenn Robinson at Bags for the People or Annie Novak of Rooftop Farms.
To find out more about Uproar Art and get in touch with Max and her team, visit http://www.uproarart.org/.