During my six-month learning log I shared some new directions within the fellowship, surprising changes in my plan and a focus on self-awareness and care that has guided my first year during this fellowship. I have included this first learning log as a backbone for this report updated each. In addition I reflect on a year of transformation, accomplishment and milestone.
12-Months - Risk, Reward and Life in and out of the Academy
Before “launch and learn” was a phrase, I was learning by doing. Upon reflection this past year during the fellowship it became apparent that I have consistently excelled at responding organically to any given situation and work through processes to find solutions. This is an important realization as I have always considered “book learning” to be the hallmark of a good academic and intellectual. This is also why, at times, I am a difficult fit for the career that I am vested. At the same time the quality to be able to work in a generative manner fits with contemporary models of higher education where interdisciplinary work is vitally important. So where does this leave me moving forward?
The academy is purposefully slow; it is meticulous and depends on low-risk, low-reward changes in order to maintain a balance between a myriad of constituents. While I have learned to adhere to this way of working, it is also not taking advantage of my inherent ability to learn through doing.
In reflecting the relationship between my career and my own professional practice as an artist, I am realizing that the risks I take within my own work satisfy an intense need to create something new. I work intuitively and allow things to develop in front of me, trusting that the process of working through a situation will result in the best overall solution.
One of the problems with this way of working within the “academy” is that it does not leave room for people to be in full collaboration because the path to a solution is too dependent on my own perspective. As an artist this is very easy – Ultimately, I am the only one to answer to, so opening up the structure to be completely permeable is simply a decision. I continue to test ways for that to operate – creating portals for people to connect and share.
In my day-to-day job as a University administrator this is not as easy. The issue is simple – When working intuitively, no matter how generous your heart is, no matter how much you believe in collaborative environments and flattened structure, working intuitively depends greatly on the perspective of one person. To work through this reality I do as many leaders within academic units do, I work slowly and remove risk to allow for the process of discussion.
But where does this leave our students?
In reality the reason we cannot simply GO FOR IT, is that we fear failure. Department Heads especially fear losing the façade of control that accompanies the responsibility of success. There are so many layers of hierarchy that it is nearly impossible to be a risk-taker and succeed within this structure.
At the “risk” of this bit of writing trending toward thinking out loud, I am compelled to share the internal questions that drive me to learn on a daily basis.
- How can my assets be utilized most effectively as I enter the second half of my career?
- How can my relational ability be utilized in a manner where my energy is not swallowed up by managing difficult personalities that require an inordinate amount of emotional and mental energy for the reward of “keeping things simply on even keel”?
- Is my energy moving forward best spent in middle management – Should I aspire to move upward?
- Should I find new ways of working that take advantage of my strengths and maintain my position?
- Should I go back to the faculty and focus on connecting to students?
- Should I leave academia all together and find a home in a more progressive field that may be a better fit for my strengths?
The reality is I do not have the answer, but through the last year via the Bush Fellowship, I am able to honestly ask those questions because I understand my strengths and weaknesses at a higher level.
The next 12 months of my fellowship will dig deeper into these questions; I have less of a set agenda on travel although I will be going to South Africa and Australia for continuing projects. But I will be spending time this fall traveling rural North Dakota over a series of four Thursday-Sunday trips (one per month) – to establish relationships with extension agents and learn about the work that is done in rural North Dakota and to imagine where my next steps will take me in outreach based work. The following list provides a series of projects and efforts related to the Fellowship that I will learn from in the coming year.
- North Dakota Extension conversations and network building (F 15)
- Working with members of NDSU AHSS to develop a graduate program in community engagement (F 15)
- Misfit Cup Liberation Project – South Africa + Australia + Thailand (Sp. 15)
- One month residency with my mentor Gail Kendall
- Reaching my goal of 250 pounds of weight lost over 9 years (S 15)
- Developing a project around weight loss and Art with Hilton Head, SC resorts.
- Beginning a new project called “cuplacement” which will utilize my agency and history in sobriety to create an alternative “recovery sponsor” program utilizing craft and the making of cups to replace cups associated with alcohol consumption. As someone in sobriety the removal of these items from my home was a cathartic experience and I want to work as a potter to accompany models of recovery sponsorship that also focuses on the objects in our daily lives as reminders and sometimes triggers to consume. (F 15)
- Finalize “Cuplomacy” and deliver to U.S. Senators (F 15)
- Meet with mentor Bill Cleveland in Seattle (S 16)
- Begin developing project with Belleview Art Museum, Seattle (S 16)
- Finalize “Port Chester Melting Pots” in New York – Community Dinner in October.
Each of the above requires intense learning, testing and doing. Now that I understand my learning style is experiential, I am far more reflective in my assessment of learning about anything that I do. I anticipate each of the above providing a wealth of growth through success and failure.
Twelve-Month milestones and accomplishments
2014-15 has been an incredible year, without a doubt the largest arc of learning that I have experienced in my lifetime. Additionally many things lined up for “milestone” events – and it was a year with an exceptional amount of travel and internationalization of my artistic and academic practice. The bullet list below breaks down the year into small bites.
- 25 years of marriage – treasured!
- 10 years of Sobriety – I am thankful for the difficulties in my life.
- 200 pounds of weight lost – An eight year effort, finding a new surge this past year with nearly 100 pounds shed since the start of my Bush Fellowship.
- Named 2015 Ceramic Artist of the Year by the largest international publication of ceramic arts, Ceramics Monthly.
- Successful application for promotion to Full Professor at NDSU
- Delivered 17 invited national lectures at venues from Brazil to New York City.
- Finished five solo exhibitions or projects in North Carolina, Brazil, Amsterdam, Philadelphia and New York.
- Published internationally in American Craft, Ceramic’s Monthly, Smithsonian and Ceramics Art and Perception/Technical.
- Traveled to three continents and eight countries – internationalizing my art practice.
- Invited to serve on the Board of Directors for NCECA (national ceramics council) as a special appointee to develop the national 50th anniversary community project that connects our field nationally via Clay, Food and Community.
- Invited to serve on the Advisory board of Ceramics Monthly
- Worked wit colleague Megan Kirkwood to secure a $50,000 technology grant for NDSU.
- Managed to continue balance with my family life by integrating my sons individually in two international trips to Europe.
- Invited to serve as a Collaborating Faculty member for a new program at Universidad San Joao Del Rei in Brazil, which combines Ceramics, Architecture, Urban design and Community engagement.
- Successfully finalized a 2.5 million dollar endowment gift for NDSU Visual Art working with Dean Kent Sandstrom.