The Mobile Literacy Arts Bus (MLAB) is an artist-run, renovated recreational vehicle that exists as a flexible space open to community members’ proposals for alternative educational and cultural programming.

MLAB is the collaborative effort of the 2007-2008 Social Sculpture class at Syracuse University, comprised of 10 art and architecture students and lead by artist and Director of Community Initiatives in the Visual Arts of Syracuse University, Marion Wilson. Our mission was to transform a used, 1984 Recreational Vehicle Bus into a Mobile Literacy and Arts Bus for use by the Syracuse City School District and the greater Syracuse Community. MLAB serves as a physical manifestation of Syracuse University’s Scholarship in Action initiative, by pairing University resources with community needs in an attempt to address the staggering drop out rates in the Syracuse City School District High Schools. Through the School of Education at Syracuse University, incredible curricula that bridge photography, poetry and literacy currently exist within the public schools-- however due to a crisis of space, the schools don't always have the space or resources to house it. MLAB is this space. The bus serves as a mobile classroom, digital photo lab, gallery space, and community center. As a team, we did it all: demolition, design, and construction.

MLAB is made possible from the generous support of the School of Education at Syracuse University and Entitiative.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

"Fowler Finally Gets a Break."

What an exhausting (and successful/exhilerating/supremelyclimactic) few days it has been.

MLAB set sail on its maiden voyage today, spending its first full day at Fowler High School in the Syracuse City School District. It was also my first day driving the beast by myself (with thanks to Tom Salmonsen!), and to great relief and with the release of an incredible load of anxiety, I am happy to say it went very well and I am looking forward to our next quickly approaching adventure.

Today we saw three classes: Mr. Adam Lutwin's 11th grade English class, and Mr. Eric Williams; Art Class and Photography Class. We had nearly 70 students come through the bus today, many of them skeptical at first (it is, after all, a trailer, right?), and many of which seemed to slowly warm up to this space that was designed and built for them by students not much older than themselves. Definitely an interesting cast of characters to watch; I'm pretty excited to see our MLAB narrative unfold, and see the work of these young artists develop over the course of the semester.

I'm also forward to working with Lutwin and Williams. They are incredibly supportive and excited, identify with the uniqueness of this venture, as well as with their students, and provide the absolutely necessary link to making a program like this work. Like I told some of the students today, "Our job at SU is now largely done. We've designed and built the bus for you, its your job now to get creative and make work."

I also want to send out a huge thank you to everyone at Fowler, especially Sue Centore who has been central; as well as everyone at the Partnership for Better Education (David Morgan, Susan Feightner, Sheila DeRose, and Len Fonte); and of course Stephen Mahan, John (Mr. C), the SU students, and of course Marion.

On a personal level, I'm energized about coming back to Fowler and seeing what these young adults are made of-- how they reflect and portray themselves through images and words. Furthermore, this is an opportunity for their creative endeavors (and themselves) to be taken seriously, an opportunity that arises far too infrequently fore most of us. I also really enjoy teenagers, mostly because of their uncanny ability to immediately pinpoint boundaries, rip them apart, and expose the seams which we so often attempt to conceal and control. As unnerving and uncomfortable as this can sometimes be, its a constant reminder of how fragile and tenuous we and our relationships are. It's also hard being a teenager, located right between the frustrating boundaries of rules and responsibilities-- with escape either nowhere in site, or somewhere on the radar, yet just out of reach. Being in the one of the poorest neighborhoods in the country, which Fowler is, doesn't make it any easier, either.

As an artist, I'm also supremely interested in seeing how the people we designed MLAB for will end up actually using it. And I'm not sure really if we, the MLAB team, composed largely of middle and upper middle class backgrounds, ever fully realized the gravity of this project-- because I didn't until today. We have taken an RV, a classic symbol of middle class up-and-out-ward mobility, removed everything except the shell (which we also transformed) and filled it with considerably very little: thoughtful walls, floor, and ceiling; some cameras, books, computers, printers, and a whole lot of ambition. And we've driven it over, and more or less handed it over with a new charge to a school that rarely gets a break: make.

I look forward to this pilot semester at Fowler, and will be giving a blog update after each of our visits (once or twice a week through thanksgiving).

Jessica AKA "Miss Lady"

P.S. Pictures will be added shortly!

Other Things to Look out For
- We will be going to Henniger High School this Thursday with Gail Hoffman, an SU Professor and fellow Kaufman Foundation Enitiative Recipient.
- MLAB Cafe will have a limited engagement at the Redhouse in two upcoming weekends (more info to come soon!)
-MLAB at Fowler 1-2 days/week for the next 3 months.

MLAB Team Updates
- HarPeiPo (Samantha, Yun Pei, and Jessica) will be participiting in PARKing day on the corner of Jefferson and Franklin downtown this Friday from 8am-5pm, sponsored by 40 Below. Please come check it out! For more details on PARKing day, go here.
- Check out Jessica's sculpture Wigged Monument in Forman Park on Gennesse St. near the Renaissance Hotel. Look for the black obelisk with the blonde wig.
- Jessica, who is serving as the MLAB Co-Ordinator, was recently married to Anirban Acharya, PhD candidate in Political Science at SU.
- Check out Vince's progress on his cross country bike trip here.
- Marion is thrilled MLAB is up and running! She is teaching a class about the Lake this semester (which Sam and an Yun Pei are in) and is thrilled to be working in her studio again.
- Zach is diligently working on his thesis. He enjoys living accross from a coffee shop. His shoulder continues to heal. In his spare time, he is consulting with Marion on the logistics of her newest project.
- Zach, Vince, and Jessica will be delivering a lecture on MLAB at Colgate Univeristy in late October. See them on the schedule here!
- Marco is working hard in studio, and was part of the team that built a large hand sculpture now installed downtown accross from L'Adour.
- Roslyn, after her successful run as co-founder of Contemporary Gallery in Syracuse, headed off to New York City to earn a Masters degree in Arts Administration at NYU. Read about her gallery here.
- Other MLABers, please either send or post updates of your own!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Welcome back!

Welcome Back, everyone!

It has been quite a while since our last update, but MLAB and its team members have been very, very busy. Since we've last left off: several of us graduated, the rest are wrapping up; two have gotten married; one has left for a cross-country bike journey; many have moved on to different pastures, and some of us are still here bringing MLAB into the next stage of development.

Marion and Jessica are busy working on getting MLAB up and running as an organizational entity, now as the official Director (Marion) and Co-ordinator (Jessica) of MLAB. We even just moved into an office down at the Warehouse! With just a few finishing touches still left to complete, we are definately ramping up to pilot MLAB at Fowler High School in the very near future! In addition, MLAB has a few other appearances coming up which we will be updating to the blog as details become finalised.

Check back soon for more details and announcements about MLAB's progress, awards, and news!