Dara Epison, my proposal for learning canvases
- Dara Epison,
I'm glad we could meet a couple of weeks ago at the University of
Chicago's new Logan Center for the arts http://arts.uchicago.edu/logan/
I want to stay in touch regarding "learning canvases" and other projects.
I share further below a proposal that I wrote for Chicago's Neighborhood
Arts Program. I'm asking for $3,335 for a two-month project this summer
to make 20 Learning Canvases for front yard fences in Englewood. I'll
work with youth from Jean Carter-Hill's "Imagine Englewood if..."
http://www.imagineenglewoodif.org We already have youth and adults who
are interested in making the learning canvases and so I've started coming
there on Friday afternoons. We'll see what we can do without funding, but
it would be great to get some. Also, Heather Robinson, Director of the
Southside Community Art Center, wrote a letter to say that we can do a
show there of the learning canvases we make.
I rode on my bike by 55th and Prairie near the Green Line where you said
there will be some artistic interventions this summer. I saw some empty
lots and also a liquor store. There is a youth center on the 5300 block
I made a 3 minute video self-portrait of my show "God's Mind" and my plans
for the learning canvases:
Here's a page with photos:
and here's a video of my "Sermon in the Doll House" with my fellow gospel
singers from St.Benedict the African (East):
We sing gospel songs that match the story of "God's Mind", how the good
kid and the bad kid deal with the idea that "God doesn't have to be good".
I've also started improv-comedy lessons at the Annoynace Theatre. I'm
thinking of earning money this summer as a street performer, drawing
portraits. I'm thinking of making and wearing a cape with "meaningful
scenes" from my life, and others, too, perhaps relating it to the story of
God's Mind. The cape will exhibit the portraits I can draw. So I'm
collecting "meaningful scenes" from our lives.
I hope we might work together!
I share my letter also with my online group, "Living by Truth".
1) Briefly describe your artistic background and why you are qualified to
accomplish the proposed project.
My ambitious project depends on a rare combination of skills which I have
- I make tangible, through creative arts, a culture of learning, growing,
living forever, here and now. I have standing invitations from two art
centers to do annual shows: Uzupio Galera in Lithuania (2009, 2010) and
the Southside Community Art Center's second floor gallery (2012).
- I create games and learning materials. I was an expert chess player and
work as an after school chess instructor.
- I reach out nonviolently. Southwest Community Congress gave me an award
for my work in engaging gangs.
- I engage people of different generations in terms of what they care
about, value, seek to know, dream of. I organized an online laboratory
for serving independent thinkers around the world, 1998-2010.
- I know Black America as a gospel choir member, tutor, Moor, resident of
Englewood, Marquette Park, Grand Crossing.
- I take a fresh look at what is worth learning for its own sake, the deep
ideas and classic problems in Math, English, Philosophy, Physics, Biology,
History, Civics, Health and other subjects. I have a Ph.D. in Math and a
B.A. in Physics. I won a $15,000 award to blog at the PBS website about a
technology I proposed for African villagers who I know. I also won travel
grants for my papers in Economics, Intellectual Property, Social
Networking and Leadership Development.
2) Describe your experience in presenting workshops and/or performances
for youth, seniors, persons with disabilities.
Currently, I work after school as a chess instructor. I excel at teaching
12 students at once who vary in ability, behavior and age (from 1st grade
to 5th grade). Our class (1 hr/week, 10 weeks) includes both instruction
and tournament play.
As a tutor, I've invented and customized learning materials for a second
grader to teach himself how to read, and for a learning disabled teenager
to do algebra problems. As an artist, I'm recreating these as "learning
As a professor, I've taught Algebra from my own notes based on deep ideas
and classic problems.
From 1998 to 2010, I led an online laboratory for independent thinkers,
including youth and seniors. We investigated "Do you ever change your
mind?" as part of the Chicago Public Schools Youth Outreach Program.
My laboratory was based at community centers which I supported in rural
Lithuania (Atzalynas, Eiciunai) and in Englewood (the Moorish Cultural
Workshop). I was active there in arts and internet video programs for
In 2008, in order to avert genocide in Kenya, I organized 100 peacemakers
on-the-ground and 100 online assistants. Our peacemakers included
acrobats, community theater activists and women on motorbikes.
Afterwards, I organized a tour by 10 Kenyan acrobats who performed in
Lithuania, including live on television and for a school of deaf children.
In Lithuania, I was a "rock star", entertaining thousands of people. My
band won 2nd place for best cassette of the year.
In Chicago, I lead a Learning Club for two adult self-learners who are
learning Math and Web Design.
I curated a UNESCO childrens' art show. At my art shows, I create new
works, organize events and engage tourists.
3) Describe the project for which you are requesting funds. Be specific:
discuss the beginning and ending date, number of days per week, total
weeks, total sessions, hours of sessions and projected class or audience
I dream of families in Englewood hosting "learning canvases" on the fences
of their front yards. This shows they are keen to learn, teach, play and
engage others. "Learning canvases" range in size from 2' x 2' to 6' x
12'. Children and adults play learning games with cards stuck onto the
canvas by velcro. I've created such canvases for chess, phonics and
multiplication. 20 families with canvases can pioneer this idea and
perhaps start a trend and lift the spirit of the neighborhood.
I work with "Imagine Englewood if..." to identify 6 older youth (and
possibly seniors) who would like to be gamemakers. In the first week,
early July, they think, what subject (Math, English, History, Science,
...) would they like their games to teach? For the next 6 weeks I work 3
days/week, 4 hrs/day with gamemakers. We use Wikipedia, etc. to research
relevant facts, such as dates for a historical timeline. We design with
each a game they find interesting. We paint the canvas and attach velcro.
We design game cards with a computer, print them on card stock,
weatherproof them with packing tape and attach velcro. We make 2 to 5
versions of each game. Many tasks are time-intensive. In half of our
hours (3 two hour sessions/week for 6 weeks) we include children to help
us, typically, a group of 5 or 10 to cut velcro and cards. We organize
this as a social activity which may include music. Of course, children
may deem such tasks "too boring" or "too hard". We supplement them with
creative activities such as drawing with oil pastels. We work with
children to see how the games can be fun to play. We also want them and
their 20 families to take "ownership" of the games, hang them on their
fences and play them with some 200+ people. In September, our eighth week,
we present our learning canvases, our gamemakers and our stories at an art
show at the Southside Community Art Center.
4) Discuss materials needed for project and costs. Describe in narrative
format how grant funds will be used.
$575 are needed for materials: paint $208, velcro $144, canvas $115,
printer ink $60, packing tape $32, card stock $16. This is for 20
learning canvases ranging in size from 2' x 2' to 6' x 12' and averaging
3' x 5'. We also need $60 for supplies: scissors, brushes, as well as oil
pastels and paper for sketches.
Working on my own, I'd need 360 hours: 60 hrs. of outreach engaging hosts
and artists (3 hrs. per canvas), 120 hrs. designing games, researching
data for game cards (20 hrs. for each of 6 game types), 80 hrs. making
canvases (2 hrs. to 6 hrs. each) and 100 hrs. making game cards (2 hrs. to
8 hrs. each set). Involving children, youth and seniors will make the
canvases truly meaningful so that families host them, children play with
them, elders teach with them, and passersby enjoy them and respect them.
We will all grow from our time together. However, based on my experience
teaching youngsters, I don't think it will reduce my hours very much,
certainly not by half. I ask for 90 hrs. of salary ($2700) so that I
might do this project which I think will inspire positive change in a
distraught neighborhood. I'll spend 36 hrs. in sessions and 48+ more hrs.
5) How do you plan to promote and/or recruit participants for your project?
"Imagine Englewood if..." will identify families that might host our
learning canvases. They will recommend 6 creative older youth who will be
our game makers. They will also provide a group of 20 children, youth and
seniors who would like to help. "Imagine Englewood if..." youth
participate in journalism and social media programs through "We the People
Media" and can help spread the word and develop good ideas. I will also
engage residents of the blocks near where I lived at 6726 S Parnell Ave. I
will invite members of my parish, St.Benedict the African East, at 66th
and Stewart, where I sing in the choir.
As we create Learning Canvases, we will hang them up on a long fence near
the "Imagine Englewood if..." site, inviting interest. We will prime the
back of the canvases so that all who help make them and those who host
them can sign them along with their intentions. We will encourage local
organizations, institutions, businesses to host canvases and suggest
hosts. We will also encourage hosts to exchange canvases. We'll promote
this story and our concluding show in the media, especially online.
6) How will the funded project benefit the constituency and community you
propose to serve? Discuss the project's 'fit' to the program site and
explain how it works with the site's programming mission.
Jean Carter-Hill of "Imagine Englewood if..." says that the key to
uplifiting Englewood is learning to work together. She focuses on the
youth as they still believe that change is possible. "Imagine Englewood
if..." motivates youth through community gardens, field trips that expand
their horizons, and journalism and leadership for locally urgent issues
such as lead poisoning and violence prevention. A recent Saturday meeting
brought together more than 100 residents to prevent violence.
I know how creative arts "change the rules" in our surroundings, allowing
old and young, women and men, insiders and outsiders, gentle and scary,
learned and unlearned, motivated and apathetic to come together in new
ways. I believe that the "magnet families" which host our learning
canvases will be discovered as people who care to learn, teach and play,
for all to see. They will become approachable by others who may not seem
as nice or scary. The canvases will be vulnerable to weather and
vandalism, but their growing number will foster respect. Jean's vision
includes a "learning walk" for subjects we can learn, jobs we can work,
homes we can build, dreams we can dream.