Spring 2010, Tuesdays 9-4, (3-6 credits)

Columbus Building, 37 S. Columbus Avenue, room 307


Drea Howenstein: office at Sharp 713, hrs: 1:00-5:00 Wednesdays, and by appointment,

Teaching Assistant

Nicole Seisler,

Course Description

This course examines strategies for working on site, gaining an understanding of the complex intersection of the social, cultural, built, and natural environment that is so essential to the creation of artist’s and designer’s interventions, independently or in collaboration with others, in and out of the art world, and in the built environment. Working individually and in groups, students will conduct research, critically and creatively analyze site, identify opportunities and issues, and develop and present project proposals to project partners and stakeholders. The specifics of location, materials, communities, participants, partnering institutions, funding and facilitation will be identified throughout this process. This course provides pragmatic preparation for actually undertaking real projects in the world.

SITE/Environment/Communities is a class that was developed in conjunction with the Sculpture, Art Education, and Visual Critical Studies Departments, in coordination with the Office of Multicultural Affairs. The SITE class is situated off-campus specifically to enable artists and designers to learn critical public practice pedagogy by directly linking them to Chicago communities and involving them in real projects that facilitate community conversations, identify critical issues, and propose creative actions/solutions.

Spring Projects 2010 Community Design Partnerships

This spring the SITE class will partner with The City of Chicago Mayor’s Office & Department of Environment – 2010 Vertical Greening Initiative; OAI, Inc. Green Job Training; Cob Connection – After-School and Transitional Job Training Program; CommuniTree – Community Urban Forestry Center in East Garfield/West Humboldt Park; West Humboldt Park Community Development Council; Design Collaboratives, Inc.; The South Side Community Arts Center (SSCAC), a not-for-profit organization that exhibits and showcases a variety of artists and offers educational opportunities to the surrounding community. The Resource Center; The Chicago Park District, Department of Natural Resources – Conservatories; Tournesol Siteworks, Hampshire Farms, Openlands; City of Chicago, Public Art Program, Department of Cultural Affairs – Visual Arts Division.

SAIC students will be involved in: 1) the development of an exciting new initiative urban forestry and farmers market project sited on a large plot of underutilized land @ 400 North Kedzie beside the Metra line, 2) work with Design Collaboratives, Inc., on the design of sustainable agricultural “hoop houses” for OAI’s green jobs training program, 3) work with the local West Humboldt Park community leaders to creatively develop underutilized spaces, 4) work with The South Side Community Arts Center to propose a viable project, inside their building or outside on their adjacent lots, 5) continue work with Team LTF on the Com Edison Pocket Park, or, 6) propose a project for an empty lots somewhere in Chicago.

Students will be mentored through the process of site and community research, institutional networking, developing project partnerships & goals, assessing assets, identifying critical local issues, conducting community design processes, developing project proposals, budgets and timelines, identifying funding and labor, and actually doing doable projects.

Project Goals

The goals of these projects will be to join networks within Chicago to co-imagine possible agricultural urban futures, and to further explore potential social, economic and health benefits of productive urban landscapes, as a means to promote community dialogue, increase public awareness and reduce energy by linking local production with local consumption, increase green open spaces and landscape continuity, preserve bio-diversity, provide storm water management and heat remediation, promote permaculture, organic food practices, site remediation, local land reclamation, adaptive reuse, compost waste management, and, to provide opportunities for young artists, designers, students in local schools, green job trainees, local residents  to be involved with an exciting local community partnership design initiative.

The semester will culminate with a community events and a professional exhibition venue displaying SAIC student’s design proposals from all three of the classes involved in the 2010 Chicago Vertical Greening Initiative. Tentative sites include The Chicago Loop Alliance, a storefront of the Sullivan Building, or The East Garfield Park Conservatory. The class will determine identification of exhibition site/s during the spring semester, as a part of the exhibition design process.

Previous Projects

During previous SITE classes, students have worked within several Chicago neighborhoods, first, researching social, cultural, and physical aspects of the community, and then through experiential activities such as local walking tours, learning about local arts and culture through visiting artist or professional lectures, interviews with local residents, social networking activities, working with students in local schools, and conducting community design processes. Students have done a wide range of professional art and design projects that have involved placemaking, documenting and visualizing oral histories, working with youth and neighborhood residents to design and create community gardens and murals, facilitating social cultural events, developing public arts programming and collaborative arts projects with local schools. Students working at the SSCAC last spring worked to help document, register and preserve their historically significant art collection, render architectural drawings of the building, facilitate community design charettes to envision future projects, celebratory public arts events and to actually design and renovate interior and exterior spaces.

Research Component

Through a combination of direct experience, course readings, fieldtrips, individual research and discussion, each person in the class will investigate historical and contemporary contexts, and the social, political, cultural, economic and ecological dimensions of their chosen project site. As with any situated project, participants will create reference files based upon individual interests and foundational information for project ideas, development, and materials. The class, lead by the TA will develop a digital resource to enable the sharing of group research.

Studio Projects

Class participants will identify critical issues of concern to community residents, network between social and cultural institutions to identify assets, resources, potential partners and project funding for doable creative sustainable projects. Students can work individually or collaboratively on project proposal development and execution, depending upon level of experience, skill and confidence. Advanced students are encouraged to take leadership on larger group projects and to identify specific team roles that utilize individual’s skills and interests. Students will work individually with the instructor and TA to gain additional training required for individual projects.

Course Readings

All readings will be provided electronically, via the portal or as handouts. In addition to the foundational readings, optional supplemental readings on key course issues, new publications or articles relevant to individual student interests will be added to the portal throughout the semester.

Course Requirements/Expectations

The SITE class has 2 options for student participation. Students can elect to attend a weekly structured class or to meet with the instructor under SAIC bi-weekly graduate advising meeting structure. Requirements and expectations are different for each option.

Structured Course Requirements

  1. In accordance with SAIC attendance policy, students are required to attend ALL CLASSES. Students should miss class only for reasonable cause. Missing class for other than reasonable cause may jeopardize the student’s academic standing in the class and possibly their financial aid or scholarships.

2. It is the responsibility of students who miss class to contact the instructor and receive instruction on how to make up for the missed class. Students are responsible for making-up the material covered during a missed class and for meeting all original deadlines for homework assignments. When possible you should notify instructor in advance of an absence, especially when you are missing a field trip so that the field trip is not delayed waiting for you.

1. This is a studio class required to meet 6 class hours a week. The morning session of class begins at 9:00 am and ends at noon. The afternoon begins again promptly at 1 and continues through 4:00 pm. On occasion exact hours may be altered to accommodate special events.

2. Students need to earn a C GRADE or better and have missed a maximum of 3 absences to pass the course with CR. It is SAIC policy for 3 lates to equal an absence.

3. In the case of illness or hospitalization, the student should contact Health Services and request that they relay information to the faculty teaching all of their classes.

4. In accordance with SAIC policy, electronic course progress reports will be sent to you and the Office of Student Affairs immediately following an absence, or failure to complete assignments.

5. Students requesting letter grades for the course must turn in a grade evaluation form within the first 2 weeks of class. Students receiving letter grades need to have an exit meeting with Drea Howenstein to document their self-assessment.

6. Students must turn off cell phones during class lectures and discussions.

Independent Course Requirements

Each student will work with the instructor and TA on an individual basis. Individual learning contracts will be developed by students working independently to describe the nature and scope of the work to be achieved during the semester. Based upon the individual project development and need, additional meetings will be scheduled with project partners and stakeholders, and individual communications with the instructor essential to guide the proposal and design processes.

Academic Accommodations

If you have a disability for which you seek an accommodation, please contact SAIC’s Disability and Learning Resource Center (DLRC). DLRC can be contacted by phone at 312.499.4278 or by e-mailing  Staff at the Disability and Learning Resource Center will review your disability documentation and work with you to determine appropriate accommodations.  DLRC will then provide you with a letter outlining approved accommodations.  This letter must be presented the instructors before any accommodations will be implemented. You should contact DLRC as early in the semester as possible.

Individual Responsibility

  • As an important member of a learning community, you are responsible for the quality and safety of the learning environment. You need to actively participate in research, discussions, field trips, project development / actualization etc. You are encouraged to work collectively and to support each other’s projects. Please be sensitive to how your attendance, preparation and commitment affect other students in the class.
  • You are responsible for your own learning and to respectfully communicate your perspective to the class and to inform the instructor of any special needs that you have or personal circumstance that effect your class performance.
  • Plan on working on your research and studio project/s 3-6 hours outside of class time each week.
  • You will need to 1) identify the professional art/design skills/experience that you hope to accomplish during this class, 2) consult with the instructor to define your individual goals for the semester (individual learning contract), and, 3) develop a strategic project action plan.
  • As an important part of the group process, you will present frequent updates on your research and project planning, and maintain regular project advising meetings with the instructor, TA and project partners.
  • In addition to the project partnerships and potential projects that we identify during the semester, you may need to cultivate relationships with stakeholders, gatekeepers, or additional partners depending upon the focus and scope of your project.
  • Importantly, you will be expected to work with the class to plan a culminating community event and public exhibition to publicly/professionally present the scope of your project, and to acknowledge all the people who made the project possible (sponsors, stakeholders, partners, resource providers, and members of the local community, etc.).
  • You are encouraged to identify potential resources within SAIC and outside funding sources and grants to help actualize your project/s.

Portal Participation

This class will use the SAIC online Portal to provide essential information, readings and to promote ongoing group dialogue between class sessions. You are responsible to check the class portal on a regular basis. It is essential that you activate and use your email account, to have access to the SAIC Portal.

Course Studio and research Requirements

1. A research file to document your research information, photographs, videos, meeting notes, drawings, maps, interviews, visualization of idea development, planning, strategic action plan, timeline, personal contacts, potential grants, etc.

2. Share foundational aspects of your research and photographic documentation with the class through regular verbal reporting, and creating folder/s on the portal.

3. Develop a detailed project proposal, present to identified partner, revise if necessary and actualize at least one project.

4. Support your peer’s projects, mentor, share, lend a hand or collaborate when possible…

5. Professionally document research and project/s through electronic images, presentations, design boards, models, written reports, diagrams, etc for final exhibition.