Report to the Education Committee of Through the Flower

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    I thought that everyone might like to know what happened at the National Art Educator’s Association conference, where we previewed the K-12 Dinner Party Curriculum. There was a special session on Sunday, April 17th which was the best attended session of the conference – between 400 – 500 people. The response was remarkable; I received a standing ovation before I even began speaking.

    The entire curriculum team was on the stage. Constance Gee (art educator, TTF board member and liaison between the board and the team) spoke first and introduced me. I discussed the reasons I had initiated the curriculum project, then Marilyn Stewart (leader of the curriculum team) briefly outlined the way in which the curriculum is structured. Marilyn was followed by two of the younger members of the team, first graduate student Dolores Eaton who worked closely with Marilyn and then, new teacher Hannah Koch who developed an entire curriculum based on Susan B. Anthony and the suffrage movement.

    After everyone was finished, I did a wrap-up in which I emphasized the importance of ‘passing the torch’ to young scholars like Dolores and Hannah. One issue that came up even before the session was the fact that some of the younger teachers believed (like many young women) that feminism was passe, that women were now equal. Thus, there were some who viewed The Dinner Party as being outdated, which I tried to address in my remarks. Afterwards, one young woman told me that my comments were particularly relevant to her as she had brought such beliefs to the session. But she had left with an altogether different perspective, one that left her eager to incorporate the curriculum into her classroom.

    During the question and answer session, someone asked about the costs involved in accessing the curriculum. There was an audible gasp in the audience when we said that the curriculum was available free on TTF’s website. I explained that we were able to do this because of the financial support we had received from individuals and the fact that the curriculum team – in the spirit of The Dinner Party – had volunteered their time which, if we had to pay for, would be upwards of $40,000. Then one of the teachers spoke about her response to what I had said about being dissatisfied with the way in which some educators had been using The Dinner Party. As everyone on the EC knows, this was one of the reasons that I became involved in developing the curriculum. Instead of becoming defensive, the teacher thanked me for investing the time to build guidelines for teaching about the piece, adding that she wished that more artists would do this, a remark that I found both gratifying and interesting, in part because there continues to be such a gulf between art and art education in both our universities and our museums.

    After our session, I did a book signing which was mobbed; the NAEA bookstore sold everything they had related to The Dinner Party. While signing books (and posing for pictures with the teachers who all seemed to want to have their pictures taken with me), I had even more of a chance to gauge the response to our presentation. Everyone seemed extremely enthusiastic, eagerly filling out the cards we had brought so that people can receive information about Through the Flower’s plans as they develop. Susannah Rodee, TTF’s Executive Director, had supplied me with more than 600 cards and almost all of them disappeared. Moreover, teachers have already begun signing up on the inter-active Forum on our website. This will be monitored by two of our board members who will respond to questions and post interesting materials when they seem relevant. I invite our supporters and EC members to sign up so that they can keep up with what is going on.

    In addition to the wonderful responses at the conference, a number of other significant things have happened. First, Marilyn Stewart has agreed to join the Through the Flower board which will strengthen our educational efforts enormously. Even though Marilyn has already volunteered endless hours, she wants to continue to be involved with TTF. During the conference, she and I met with Enid Zimmerman, a distinguished art educator who recently retired from IU Bloomington. When I was at IU in 1999, Enid did a related course in the art education department. Since my tenure there, Peg Brand, an artist and feminist philosopher and Jean Robertson, an art historian, have continued to teach the seminar on Feminist art that we began at that time.

    We have been discussing the possibility of turning this seminar into a K-12 curriculum on Feminist art. Unfortunately, Peg was unable to attend the NAEA but she had asked me to go ahead and meet with Enid. At our meeting, we began to explore the idea of another curriculum that would be a companion to the DP/CP (which is what we all call The Dinner Party curriculum). It would probably be tailored to the needs of young students today, trying to help them understand how feminism and feminist art can help illuminate some of the issues with which they are struggling.

    Also, a well-known art educator named Karen Keifer-Boyd met me in the auditorium as I descended from the stage. Karen is an expert in on-line education, something that TTF has begun to discuss because of the costs associated with running workshops for K-12 teachers. In light of the often limited resources of K-12 teachers, we have realized that unless we can raise funding to underwrite the K-12 workshop program, TTF will not be able to afford to offer it, which would be a shame as there is no substitute for the intensity of a face-to-face learning encounter. But even if we are able to find funding sources, we still want to explore the idea of extending our range by offering an on-line course which is something we are hoping that Karen will help us to accomplish.

    In closing, I want to mention something that Viki Thompson Wylder stated in an e-mail to me after the NAEA, which she attended. Viki is the Education curator at the museum at Florida State University, which owns six Birth Project works which they integrate into their curriculum. “The Dinner Party curriculum will be particularly impactful because this is the start of the normalizing of a feminist viewpoint, the normalizing of women’s place in history, art, and every other arena of society”. Her comments mirrored something I said in my own remarks, that The Dinner Party curriculum provides a path to making women’s history a part of human history rather than something separate from it.

    Lastly, allow me to thank everyone on the committee for their help. I wish that the entire committee as well as our supporters could be at the May 1st formal launch of the curriculum at the Santa Fe Statehouse where our Lieutenant Governor, Diane Denish, will appear to help mark this moment in history, the next chapter in the unfolding power of The Dinner Party.

    My best,
    Judy Chicago

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