From The Archives: Ground Shift

On Teaching Fashion: Ground Shift.

Please enjoy this article on the past and future of our field.

What makes a program vibrant? What causes a program’s demise? I know these are complex questions that are not easily answered. While some programs seem to be fading out others are busting at the seams. I am interested in tossing this question out to you and getting your thoughts. Image above from Cornell archives, see link below.

Wornthrough has readership from many kindred fields including Fashion and Apparel, Costume Studies, Curatorial Practice, History and Textiles among others. In conversation with colleagues I generally hear two stories: their department or educational program is thriving OR their department is closing, or their alma mater is thriving OR closing.

Judy Chicago at work in the studio on “The Dinner Party”

I was educated within a lineage of textile practice that I feel a strong since of connectedness and pride towards. I imagine you feel the same way about your academic upbringing and “the field” you call your field. In reality, academic lineage is socialized, taught and adopted to benefit past, current and future in the line of academic inquiry.  What happens when the lineage collapses? What are the benefits of a flourishing academic lineage?

My mentor Annet Couwenberg and research assistants

What does success mean in a program? A few considerations gleaned earlier this week from former professors and colleagues:

  1. Engaged faculty who are active as teachers AND makers/designers/theorists
  2. Connections to Industry (a bridge to opportunities)
  3. Active alum (if not with financial contribution with contribution of time)
  4. Field trips or some form of discovery learning
  5. Embracing and shaping to the needs of the evolving student
  6. Diverse faculty (age, discipline, teaching methods, background)
  7. “Soft and hard” Skills (conceptual, innovative, creative abilities combined with practical, tangible, analytical skills combined with people skills)

The connectedness I feel is not unlike the pride and since of purpose you might hold for your personal academic upbringing and how it has shaped your teaching practice.

How is your Alma mater faring? Weather you teach, curate or write I wonder how your current department or educational program is doing? How has your academic lineage helped or hindered you on the job search? How has it shaped your teaching? What key elements would you say promote success (or failure) in a department?

Textile education image sourced online

It saddens me when I hear of a (insert your field here) educational program in high potential area like a major city (in this day and age of DIY, Project Runway, Kitting Revolution, Exhibitions of design,etc, etc) closing.  I know that many closings are related to budget issues, and that department leaders are trying the best they know how, that they might know for example that they are out of touch, yet do not have the resources to bring in new faculty.

Indicators of demise: mono-cultural thinking and or rigidity toward shifting ground.  “Higher-up” administrations lack of comprehension of what is considered a niche field, although last time I checked everyone wears clothes. As our students evolve so must we by continuing to learn, by remaining engaged with work, art, writing and by embracing and learning from students. Keep current in the culture of what you teach and practice. If you are not excited, your administration and students will not be.

Indicators of success:  Willingness to innovate, engage with community, be visible to the world and align in mission with peers at the departmental meeting room table. To use textile metaphors, in the way previous generations weave tapestry emerging textile students are weaving communities, imprinting policy, knitting innovations that are tangible and practical.

Collaboration between MICA fiber students and J Shoe Corp.

It is essential to keep the momentum of the hothouse academic environment going by reaching out to alum and by connecting alum to current students.  Some examples might include: inviting alum in to shake things up, connecting your students to your alum and to students in kindred programs. Build a bridge of opportunities with students, administrators, colleagues, community and kindred programs. Reach out to find connections that do not yet exist among other departments in your school, industries or organizations  in your community.

I propose we reach out to each other to interlace lineage. We are a diverse group of clever and passionate academics. Also, I challenge each of you send some form of support (be it time or money) to your Alma mater. As well,  reach out to one alum from your department if you currently teach or a local organization or industry to inquire about collaborating. Looking forward to comments!

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