From our Education & Public Programs department, an evolving guidebook navigating the expanded terrain of art and creative life.
Up until Wednesday evening, transgender students had the right to use the bathroom or locker room of their choice while in public schools. President Trump changed that. The departments of Justice and Education rescinded federal guidelines created under the Obama administration that protected transgender students under Title IX and allowed them to use the bathroom or locker room […]
Up until Wednesday evening, transgender students had the right to use the bathroom or locker room of their choice while in public schools. President Trump changed that. The departments of Justice and Education rescinded federal guidelines created under the Obama administration that protected transgender students under Title IX and allowed them to use the bathroom or locker room that best suits their gender identity.
A few months ago, the Walker Art Center unveiled a new lobby, a space resplendent with a canary-yellow entryway, shining floors, and soft, grey couches. There was another addition, too—less heralded, but just as important: public restrooms. To be specific: two single-occupancy restrooms, each with a lock and a baby-changing table.
With these new restrooms came questions: What should they be called? Unisex? Gender-neutral? W.C.? All-gender? And, what should the graphic symbol on the door be? Half man and half woman spliced together? A toilet paper roll? The silhouette of a toilet? A bird’s-eye view of a toilet? As the Walker’s accessibility coordinator, I knew these questions had to be answered by a variety of Walker staff, from different departments and with different perspectives.
We chose the term “All Gender Restroom” because it both emphasizes inclusion and departs from the exclusive gender binary. The Walker Art Center and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden belong to everyone—regardless of their gender orientation or gender identity. We strive to create an environment that supports visitors, employees, and artists no matter where they identify on the gender spectrum.
An art center can serve as a sanctuary to escape the tumult of a cacophonous world. And hopefully, the all-gender restrooms act as a small gesture that say to visitors—and particularly to transgender youth visitors: “You are welcome here.”
And, by the way: we chose the silhouette of a toilet for the graphic symbol because, well, it looked best.
You can find two all-gender restrooms (single-stall, locked bathrooms) in the corridor between the parking garage and the Bazinet Lobby. Men’s and women’s restrooms, as well as a family restroom, are located on the lower level, next to the Art Lab.
A few weeks ago I found myself in the parking lot behind a small industrial building. It was raining, I was in St. Paul, and I was lost. I knew I was in the right place, though, when I saw a giant RV parked in the corner—even more so when I noticed a cheerful man […]
A few weeks ago I found myself in the parking lot behind a small industrial building. It was raining, I was in St. Paul, and I was lost. I knew I was in the right place, though, when I saw a giant RV parked in the corner—even more so when I noticed a cheerful man waving enthusiastically at me from the window: Alec Soth. The photographer and his studio, Little Brown Mushroom, have been hard at work on a new project called the Winnebago Workshop, an educational program for teens. In the past, Little Brown Mushroom focused primarily on publishing, while dabbling in educational projects through experiments like the Camp For Socially Awkward Storytellers, a program for mid-career artists that serves as the Winnebago Workshop’s spiritual sister.
Winnebago Workshop is a seemingly straightforward concept: a group of young people are invited to take part in a workshop with Soth that focuses on the art of storytelling. The catch? The workshop lasts a week and takes place on a moving RV. What’s more: the RV is traveling to a destination determined by throwing a dart at a map. Oh, and also: the RV picks up teaching artists along the way. The humble Winnebago RV is essential to the success of the project because, as Soth tells me, photography and writing are “so often best when you’re forced into the world and you’re not behind a screen, sitting in your office.” As he puts it, Winnebago Workshop strives to “give that experience so it’s not in a classroom, it’s out in the world.”
During the summer of 2015, Little Brown Mushroom experimented with a precursor program, a weeklong project that consisted of six teenagers and two teaching artists. LBM staffers had thrown around the idea of the Winnebago Workshop for many months and, motivated by the feeling that “we have to do something just to stop talking about it and see what really happens,” Soth launched this pilot program. The group traveled around Minnesota taking photos, telling stories, and discussing ideas. At one stop, as Minneapolis-based artist Andy Sturdevant talked to the teenagers, Soth had his ah-ha moment, realizing that the Winnebago Workshop would indeed work: “The intimacy of being in a vehicle with a visiting artist is so different. And to have an artist talking with students while you’re moving. It was just like, it worked. I felt the goosebumps.”
The focus isn’t on teaching students how to use a camera or how to create good composition. “I don’t care if people use their smartphones,” says Soth, as long as “we can really cut to the meat of the subject matter and of engagement with the world.” A story from Soth about this summer’s Winnebago Workshop encapsulated his goal for students to interact with their surroundings in a real and meaningful way. He recounts:
So we traveled around in the RV. I mean, we would literally throw a dart at a map and go to that place. In one case, the dart hit this rural area, and we thought, you know there’s not going to be anything there. But let’s just go and see what the nearest thing is. And right there is this farm house, and so we were like, “Well, we’re here, we’ve gotta approach.” It ended up being this 75-year-old couple who farms this enormous acreage just by themselves, without their children, without migrant workers, any of it. And the wife takes us down to the basement and shows us her canning system, and the husband takes us and shows us his tractors, and the wife did this little dance for us.
The Winnebago Workshop culminated in a pop-up show projected on the side of the eponymous vehicle in a parking lot in south Minneapolis. There were slideshows and performances by the teenagers, all at a location that was—of course—decided by a dart thrown at a map.
After the success of this summer’s test run, Little Brown Mushroom has decided to go ahead with its plans and officially launch the Winnebago Workshop program. There may be some changes when it does, however, such as encouraging collaboration between participants who are interested in diverse art forms. Soth would like young writers, comedians, and journalists to be part of the Winnebago Workshop and be in dialogue with teenage illustrators, filmmakers, or photographers. “Those lines can be blurred,” he says. “It doesn’t have to be one or the other.”
To fund the project’s future, Little Brown Mushroom launched a Kickstarter campaign in late October (which has already surpassed its fundraising goal). Soth’s aim is to keep the Winnebago Workshop free for all teenagers who participate in the project: much of the funds earned from the Kickstarter will go towards this goal.
After Soth told me about the elderly farmers inviting him and a handful of kids into their home, I asked incredulously if the couple was happy about the situation. “They were!” he responded. “It was a miracle, but it’s the miracle I realize as a photographer all the time. If you go out there, stuff happens, and stuff doesn’t happen if you just sit around thinking about it.” In this age of technophilia, Soth strives to teach teens to leave their computer, get outside, and live—an important lesson that we can all learn, regardless of our age.
Ed Charbonneau picked at a layer of plastic wrapped along the edge of a large canvas. Leaning forward, he delicately pulled upwards, raising the Saran wrap away from the painting and lifting up a thick layer of wet paint. A large group of college students who had dropped into this Target Free Thursday Nights program clustered […]
Ed Charbonneau picked at a layer of plastic wrapped along the edge of a large canvas. Leaning forward, he delicately pulled upwards, raising the Saran wrap away from the painting and lifting up a thick layer of wet paint. A large group of college students who had dropped into this Target Free Thursday Nights program clustered around the paintings, enjoying the close-up view.
Standing at a nearby table topped with tubes of oil paint and linseed oil, Jeremy Szopinski demonstrated to a six-year old how to mix oil paint with a palette knife. Jeremy held up a homemade tool that he and Ed created in their St. Paul studio—a giant apparatus composed of twenty hardware store paintbrushes hammered together—and dipped it in paint. Gingerly at first, a teenager picked up the mega-paintbrush. Gaining confidence, he spread it onto the canvas in a curving motion, adding a swathe of bright, textural paint onto the abstract composition of red and orange streaks.
In another part of the building, a public tour listened to curator Eric Crosby discuss the work of Jack Whitten, a contemporary artist who is the focus of the Walker’s new exhibition, Jack Whitten: Five Decades of Painting. When looking at Untitled (1970), Crosby explained that Whitten swept everyday objects—in this case, a carpenter’s saw—across layers of wet acrylic paint to create the textured surface.
One can’t help but draw similarities between the ways that Ed, Jeremy, and Whitten used tools—ranging from squeegees, to carpenter saws, house painting tools, and Afro picks—to create texture. And while many museum educators might shy away from oil paint—a medium that takes days to dry, stains clothing, and prompts many complaints about odor—it was clear that people enjoyed rolling up their sleeves and wearing a painter’s smock. Experiencing the creation of a painting from beginning to end allowed visitors to place themselves in Whitten’s studio for the evening.