Wednesday, May 14, 2014

This is What a Supportive Studio Looks Like

One of my main duties at Yakima Valley Community College is running the clay studio. In a given quarter I usually have at least two classes, a handful of independent study students and several work study students. Being that the studio space is shared between a number of people, I believe it is very important to foster a pleasant and supportive studio atmosphere so that people feel comfortable working together.

Today I experienced a really wonderful side effect of this positive studio atmosphere. A sick kid at home and arrangements for her care left me with less than 15 minutes to set up my late morning class. I ran through the studio on my way to my office and noticed students working and someone's lunch on the main table. As I ran through, I shouted "Running late, sick kid, I'm gonna need the table cleared off, class is coming in for a demo in 15 minutes!"

raku firing (the clay students at their most cooperative--just add fire)

I suppose this method of expressing myself isn't flattering or considerate, but I was in a rush and stuff needed to get done. I grabbed some papers from my office and ran back in. Though the students were rather stunned, the lunch had been moved and a student was cleaning the main table. I proceeded to hurry through getting out the materials I needed for my demonstration. Luckily I've done this demo many times before, so I knew most of what I needed. However, I had some papers for the students and I had hoped to have more time at school to get them ready.

As I started looking for a wheel where the students could see my demonstration without being in the way of the half-dozen students working, one student, Grace, offered to give up her wheel and move to a new location. Another student, Janice, asked what she could do to help me get ready. Both helped me set up my demonstration without batting an eye at my abrupt and bossy entrance and inconvenient timing.

Janice's award winning bowl from DoVA 2014
My class went fairly smoothly, as did the lunch meeting immediately following and the 3-hour class right after that. After finally catching my breath, I thought about the start of my school day and how that kind of assistance is so very valuable and so much appreciated. I don't want to take for granted that I can rush into the room, give out a general call for aid and be immediately supported by whomever happens to be in the studio at the time. This kind of thing regularly makes my life easier.

The main reason for trying to build a positive, supportive studio atmosphere is to make students feel comfortable coming into the studio at any time to throw and build and glaze and spend time on their pottery. Generally I have found that an energetic, lively and cooperative studio atmosphere means that students inspire each other, learn from each other, and push themselves harder to be as good as the next person. When a bunch of hard working students are all sharing the studio space and time, skill improve more quickly and the output of the whole group is better than when people work in isolation.

Grace's pottery from Tour of Artists' Homes 2013
The benefit for the instructor in such a studio is that she has many hands acting as supports when  things need to be done quickly or when she just needs help. Thanks for today, Grace and Janice, and thanks for everyone else who helps like this in the YVCC clay studio everyday--even when the instructor is not in a mad rush. (The kid is feeling better. too.)

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