Established in 1991 in Champaign-Urbana, the School for Designing a Society is an ongoing social experiment by teachers, performers, artists, students, activists, and others in making temporary living environments where the question “What would I consider a desirable society?” is discussed in serious, playful, and thoughtful ways and the entire process is incorporated into creative responses.
How does the school, and its approach, offer an important and unique opportunity for our community? For those people who sense, that something is wrong with the world we live in (both in how we have to live it here in the United States, and how the United States is treating the rest of the world), the question remains: what are we supposed to do about it? It’s not enough just to notice how increasingly impossible it seems to find any leverage point to jam the Machine. Since the election of President Obama and the wave of relief that seemed to bring with it a sense that all problems were now essentially solved, it seems harder than ever to convince anyone that something needs to be done. Even when we convince people and find a leverage point, the all-devouring apparatus of neoliberal capitalism and fast-reacting markets seem to co-opt all socially beneficial innovations and turn them against us in an eye blink.
It can seem hopeless. And to be honest, most efforts will continue to be idle (if not complicit) gestures so long as we refuse to reject the premises on which the whole mess rests. Addressing those premises is doubly challenging because they appear to shift as our world circumstances change. How then can we know what to do or where to start? This is where the School comes in. We move from the idea of thinking outside the box to rejecting the box.
The School for Designing a Society provides a framework for approaching seemingly intractable current social problems and offers an alternative vantage point. What one does with this can’t be known in advance, but it’s at least certain that one’s efforts, if made from a real commitment to create a more desirable society, will not be simply another idle or complicit gesture.
From 7 February to 2 May 2011, the School will be offering three “foci” as well as weekly “community” meetings at the Independent Media Center in Urbana. Not your conventional classes or seminars, the three foci will investigate Connecting Cybernetics and Social Change, Feminist Composition Design and Performance, and Microtonal Design and Performance.
Connecting Cybernetics and Social Change Cybernetics as an interdisciplinary field of study was proposed in the 20th century by scientists who wanted to fight fascism. From this study there ensued various unexpected theoretical and practical attempts and tendencies. A starting point for this course will be the view of cybernetics as a praxis for generating radical projects, where radical means getting at the roots of a problem; changing whole frameworks. The questions of cybernetics—regulation, self-regulation? observation, self-observation? stability, dynamics?—are invited to help actively answer the questions of social change: which social? how change? This focus meets every Tuesday and Thursday from 1:00PM–2:30PM.
Feminist Composition, Design and Performance. The area to be explored concerns the articulation of connections between feminist ways of thinking, and composition, design, performance. Women, men and other feminists are invited to participate. We’ll compose, design and perform, asking ourselves, what does it mean—what does it do—to think of ourselves as feminist in 2011? And what does it do—what does it mean—to think of ourselves as composers in the radically commercial and communicative environment of 2011. In addition to composing, we’ll hone our notions and commotions in at least two major practical projects: we will design Urbana’s first ‘Sound & Arts Garden’ for the Boneyard Arts Festival, April 7—April 10th 2011; and we will compose the Betty Beethoven and Coco Coltrane Composer Camp for girls, to take place at the Urbana Independent Media Center, during the summer of 2011. This focus meets Tuesdays from 3:30PM–6:30PMand Wednesdays from 12:00PM–5:00PM
Microtonal Design and Performance. Microtonal Design is a seminar for unsticking the ear and everything attached to it. To design in Microtonal systems is to offer an alternative to what everyone already knows, to sing “out of tune” with conventional wisdom. It is a unique contribution to the question of designing a society. We don’t have to accept our culture’s One True Tuning. You don’t have to be an expert. You do have to be willing to experiment! Domains to design in include: new and modified instruments, scales, scores, language, tools, and concert formats. Microtonal Design is taught by members of OddMusic U-C. All levels of experience are welcome. This focus meets Wednesdays from 8:00PM–9:30PM, Thursdays from 3:00PM–4:30PM, and Saturdays from 11:00AM–5:00PM.
Community Plenary Meetings: Along with these foci will be plenary community meetings Mondays from 5:30PM–7:30PM.These weekly meetings are for all students and organizers, include presentations on topics fundamental to designing a society, and serve as check-ins for design groups. Out of this meeting arises the reflective ‘we’—a school-community of learner-livers looking out for one another.
In addition, monthly public performances will share traces and works-in-progress from the foci. These performances offer “fail-safe” opportunities to explore new skills in composition, performance, acting, directing, program sequencing, and other aspects of public performance. A final “grand finale” is planned as well, as an opportunity to display the first fruits of long-term projects undertaken by participants and organizers alike.
Visit the website at www.designingasociety.net/ for more information about participating in these foci. Currently enrolled students may be able to arrange independent contracts for credit from their respective colleges.