Category Archives: Education

Cyberpunk Apocalypse & the Alternative Academic Space

The Cyberpunk Apocalypse is a one-of-a-kind close-quarters residency and MFA alternative for writers in Pittsburgh, a household centered around literature where 36 writers from across the US and Canada have lived and worked over the last five years. When it began it was the only zine residency in the US and continues to be the only writer’s residency that puts comic artists, zinesters, novelists, journalists, poets, translators, and any kind of writer on the same competitive level. Writers come to the Cyberpunk Apocalypse with very different skill sets and overlapping interests, which makes each creator a resource for their fellow residents and creates room for rapid growth and collaboration. Each resident has personal goals connected to every new project they take on, while the goal of Cyberpunk is twofold: to support the residents in their pursuits and to advance literature through exploring and building alternative non-academic routes for writers.


Photo: Sonel Breslay

Join Cyberpunk Apocalypse on Sept. 20 at Artists Image Resource for the next 2013 Carnegie International event!

So much about the literary world today is defined by the conveniences of academia. The genre of “literary fiction” as separate from “popular fiction” feels born of professors struggling to justify their position as master when so few of them have books that sell. The common literary practice of group critique known as “the workshop” can seem more valuable as a way to occupy 15 writers’ time in a tidy time slot than as a way to advance the craft or skill of writers. Even classifying writers as poets, fiction writers, or creative nonfiction writers is more about separating classes and degree tracts than it is about the work or the people producing it.

cyberpunk interior

Photo: Tameka Cage Conley

The way these aspects of the higher education system affect writing will only become obvious with a modern equivalent as comparison. And while there are as many paths to becoming a writer as there are writers in the world, there are few organizations that provide support, cross-promotion, and validation to self-proclaimed writers, and there are fewer still that have been around long enough to build a camp of writing. The Cyberpunk Apocalypse exists in part as an example of one possibility and a call for other individuals to imagine an environment and path in which great writers, and by extension quality thought, can be produced.

Learn more at and

New Directions in Adult Education Programming

The museum recently announced changes to its adult education programming to allow for art-making experiences that are event-based, flexible, and responsive to special opportunities, like visiting artists, and to artworks on view in the galleries.

One result of this change is the decision to discontinue our semester-long adult studio classes. Because I know this will disappoint a group of dedicated museum members, I feel that it is important to share our larger vision.

First, let me be clear that we did not cancel the entire adult education program. We cancelled only semester-long adult studio classes. We retain staff that works exclusively on adult classes, workshops, lectures, etc. and they remain very busy producing established and new programming.

The elimination of the classes in question is the result of a rigorous and thoughtful reappraisal of our education programs by a task force made up of museum staff. I formed this task force because I realized that, in order to serve an ever-changing public, the education department had, over the years, implemented additional programs without subtracting or fundamentally altering others. The result was an exhausted staff with little time left for the creative thought necessary to really shape those offerings.

One of the recommendations of the task force was the elimination of the studio classes. In 2012 total enrollment in adult studio classes was 422. While we know that those taking studio classes received excellent instruction from skilled instructors, and while we care deeply about enrollees, we need to use limited resources to serve a broad public. Many people are not able to commit to 5–10 week courses, nor are they available during the day, when many of the studio sessions take place.

Our chief goal with adult education is to open people up to the pleasures of seeing and, especially, looking at art. We remain dedicated to the idea that making things helps many people understand and appreciate what artists do. We believe, however, that we can reach a broader constituency and lessen the weight on our staff by offering workshops that are specifically tied to museum exhibitions and programs. We’ve done this quite successfully in the recent past with a program about architectural renovation and redesign associated with the 2010 exhibition, Imagining Home, and with this year’s participatory photography exhibition Oh Snap! Our next venture (after tonight’s 2-Minute Film Festival) will be a drawing workshop with the 2013 Carnegie International artist, Nicole Eisenman, in February. Over the coming months, adult education staff will be looking for other opportunities to create a new season of art-making programming.

We at the museum are very grateful for the dedication of the people who have been committed to our studio classes over the years, and feel confident that our programs will continue to provide inspiring experiences.

Please look for announcements as we embark on the strategic next steps—I am excited to see the ways that our educators make new connections and develop new ideas around our ever-changing in-gallery program.

Video: The Art Connection

We just wanted to say thanks to everyone who came out on Sunday, April 14 to mark the opening of The Art Connection Annual Student Exhibition! Check out the video to see our student artists hard at work in the museum’s studios as they prepared for this year’s exhibition. Throughout the school year, students in grades 5–9 worked through the creative process with the help of teaching artists in the museum’s galleries and studios. Artworks in this year’s exhibition reflect the influence of recent exhibitions such as White Cube, Green Maze: New Art Landscapes, Inventing the Modern World: Decorative Art at the World’s Fairs, 1851–1939, and Cory Arcangel: Masters.


Whoa Buddy!

app1-480x389When I’m not working on CMOA’s Kids and Family Programs, I’ve been working on my own art and technology endeavor, The App Expo, with fellow artist Ashley Andrews. This weekend, we teamed up with Google programmer and fellow artist, Ciarán Ó Conaire and entered the first ever Steel City Codefest, a 24-hour app making competition at Google’s Bakery Square offices. The competition was presented cooperatively by the City of Pittsburgh, The Urban Redevelopment Authority, Google, and others, and it was attended by 100 local programmers, developers, and designers. The challenge: To use newly available community-based data provided by the mayor’s office to create an app that benefits the community at large… in 24 hours!

Watch the video on

We used nearly all of those hours and felt weary by Sunday morning’s judging session but successfully completed and presented our app called Whoa, Buddy!  With the concept of community-building in mind, we designed Whoa, Buddy! to promote “IRL” interactions and responsible use of social media through funny pop-up messages, which psychologically nudge users to reconsider their social media posts in favor of live social interactions and community activities (like visiting CMOA, for instance).

I’m happy to report (and brag) that we were awarded a notable mention as well as the judge’s commendation for artistic merit. We also built an enormous paper Commodore 64 (below) on which to “run” our app (via projector).

If you’re a coder, programmer, designer, or artist, I highly recommend this sure-to-become-annual Pittsburgh event. As for Whoa, Buddy!, a downloadable version of our app will be available for Android devices soon. Whoa, Buddy! will also be presented at future iterations of our ongoing exhibition series, The App Expo.

Art of the Post-It

P1090108Visitors getting creative at the Natural History activity station


Carnegie Museum of Art shares its historic building with Carnegie Museum of Natural History. While these are two entirely distinct museums with separate staffs, boards, and programs, for many Pittsburghers the sprawling building we occupy is simply “The Museum” where one can see paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, prints, drawings, and contemporary art installations, as well as mummies, bugs, butterflies, dinosaurs, and dioramas representing diverse aspects of the natural world (all for one price of admission!).

The Forum Gallery is an art museum space located just off the entrance lobby shared by the two museums. Typically this gallery is dedicated to small, changing exhibitions of contemporary art. Most recently, our curator of contemporary art Dan Byers installed an exhibition in this gallery of art from our permanent collection on the theme of nature that he titled Natural History, making a purposeful play on our sister institution’s name. We took this opportunity to push our interest in participatory engagement and to collaborate with our colleagues in the Museum of Natural History to address the important topic of art and science as two ways of exploring the world.

NHinstall6 NHinstall1 NHinstall3 NHinstall5


Carnegie Museum of Art director Lynn Zelevansky challenged us to find a way to overcome a major practical problem with the Forum Gallery space: how to get visitors to enter a gallery that is often obscured by a large wall that blocks the light from the large lobby windows nearby. We also wanted to:

  • Inspire visitors to engage in active looking: notice, reflect, react, and respond to the works of art and to the interdisciplinary quality of the exhibition.
  • Reassert the “forum” aspect of the Forum Gallery by motivating visitors to share their own ideas and interpretations of the artwork with other visitors in physical and virtual formats. This coincides with the identification of 20- and 30-year-olds as an audience targeted for growth in attendance.

What could we put in the lobby just outside the gallery to:

  • Capture the attention of visitors and alert them to the exhibition behind the wall?
  • Offer something fun and appealing to do that required entering the exhibition?
  • Inspire visitors to look, think, and respond actively to the works on view?


We wondered how to bring their reactions of the artworks from the gallery to the activity space in the lobby, and offer visitors some control over their interactions with the artworks. We decided to select 12 individual works of art from the exhibition, reproduce them as 2.5 x 2.5-inch post-it notes, and attach a stack of the small reproductions on the wall next to each related original work. (Who doesn’t like a mini version of something?)

postitsPost-it note reproductions of works by: Mel Bochner, Paul Thek, Katy Grannan, Beatriz Milhazes, Ed Ruscha, Valeska Soares, Fischli & Weiss, Laura Owens, James Welling, Carsten Höller, John Divola, and Florian Maier-Aichen

The post-its would be used as the source material for visitors’ creative responses, allowing them to get their hands on the images—manipulating and modifying the works into something new. The activity was facilitated by the activity station set up in the lobby just outside the gallery. There, visitors encountered a large table with a long horizontal display board featuring a call to action at the top:

coolkids_webA friendly museum educator stood near the table to greet curious visitors; offer them one of five prompt sheets, a clip board, and colored pencils; and invite them into the gallery to begin their exploration. In the gallery, visitors enjoyed the art and selected one or more post-it reproductions and “curated” their arrangement on their prompt sheets adding captions, drawings, narrative…whatever the works of art inspired.

We tested five versions of the prompt sheets—some with instructions focused to the subject of the exhibition (artists’ takes on nature), others with more open-ended instructions designed to encourage a broader range of responses. Below are some examples of the various prompt sheets and the kinds of responses we received. (You can also see more examples on our Facebook page.)

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We posted completed prompt sheets on the display board with magnets and eventually provided stars and thumbs-up magnets for visitors who preferred responding to the work of other visitors to doing one themselves. We continually posted new completed sheets on our Facebook page and encouraged visitors to post them on their personal social media pages. In addition to the display board of recently completed sheets, we collected older sheets in two large binders for visitors to flip through, and placed one in the gallery and another at the table.

Our colleagues in the Museum of Natural History were eager collaborators. Together we identified locations in their galleries that resonated with the 12 focus works in the Forum exhibition. The scientific staff wrote and installed label texts in their galleries about the works of art from their perspectives. We provided a guide to these locations for visitors at the activity table.

Curator Dan Byers speaking at the Culture Club event for the exhibition

The exhibition was also the focus of one of our monthly Culture Club programs. After a short happy hour, Natural History museum staff joined artists and scientists from the community in lively gallery conversation about art and science with our curator and the public, and some completed activity sheets that were available at the station.


Over the weeks of the exhibition, visitors jotted down comments in a notebook at the activity table. Here are some samples:

“Awesome idea, super interactive—engaging!”

“It is great to feel more of a part of the museum!”

“All the artworks should have stickies.”

“This was transformational! Thank you so much! I hope more museums do things like this. How wonderful to be able to respond to art, to peruse and then participate instead of just keeping it all inside!!”—An English teacher

“It is a very great way for kids to connect art & nature…however it was a bit difficult for a 6-year-old to understand. (She did it anyway.) How about break it down for younger children?”

“What a wonderful resource for classes.”—A University of Pittsburgh professor

“People who did the responses are older than I expected.”—A college student

“I really like the post-its. I’m surprised I haven’t seen something like this in other museums.”

“I like that the art response of an 8 y.o. and the response of a 38 y.o. are so similar.”
—A college student

“We loved the post-it sticker idea, that way we can still share the artwork at home.”
—A mom & 2 small kids

“Great exhibit….post-it notes are great for children to participate and remember.”


  1. The post-it activity achieved our goals of getting visitors past the wall and into the gallery in huge numbers.
  2. Visitors really looked at and responded to the art. The completed sheets reveal incredible thoughtfulness, humor, and creative invention from visitors of all ages. We had very few “throw away” results.
  3. The variety of creative responses we received reflect the myriad perspectives of visitors to our interdisciplinary institution.
  4. We needed more display space for visitors’ finished sheets and space to group completed sheets to better facilitate rating and commenting by other visitors. Although visitors of all ages participated, a special “kids’ corner” on the display board would have communicated more easily that both adults and kids were welcome to participate.
  5. Some of the prompts were more successful than others, and some people used the sheets in completely independent ways, ignoring the prompt entirely. A few didn’t even incorporate the post-its (not that this is a bad thing). The “On the Edge” activity, which encouraged visitors to extend the images on the post-its beyond the frame was by far the most  popular prompt. Many attracted to this prompt even connected separate works into a single composition. Also, a couple of the prompts were too similar, as visitors generally used them in the same way.
  6. Overwhelmingly visitors wanted a post-it reproduction of every work in the exhibition.
  7. Going forward we need better technology solutions on-site to help visitors and staff share responses as they are happening. We collected, scanned, and posted completed sheets to the museum website and Facebook page, and knowing that the sheets would be posted online was a motivator especially for 20- to 30-year-olds. We needed a way for visitors to share their work immediately on their own social media sites. Smartphone images didn’t read well given the limitations of screen size and the legibility of the artists’ writings and drawings.
  8. It would be good to have a way to gather metrics or track how (and if) visitors are sharing their creations on their own social media channels.
  9. Having the completed sheets attached to the specific artworks that motivated the visitors provides a clear context for the various interpretations and insights that will survive long after the exhibition is gone.


Overall we are happy with the results of this experiment, and we are busy thinking about some of the issues and opportunities related to this activity going forward—but we’d also love to hear from you. If you have any feedback or suggestions, please send me a note!:

  • We’re curious about the sustainability of the post-its. How important is the novelty of the concept, or could we repeat this activity?
  • Would it work without full-time staff support? If we changed the public display part could we make this an activity visitors can understand on their own? Was the chance to talk with the staff member a crucial visitor engagement connection?
  • What questions or suggestions occur to you?



One of the works from the exhibition, Mel Bochner’s Measurement: Plant (Palm), was displayed just outside the gallery entrance, close to the post-it activity table. This conceptual work consists of a live palm tree situated in front of a wall grid measuring the plant’s (gradually changing) height and width in feet. During the exhibition we noticed that visitors and staff were taking their pictures near the palm tree, ostensibly to compare their height to the palm tree. We thought this might be a good opportunity to see if visitors would be interested in sharing their photos via social media.

Just below the object label we added a separate label with a basic call to action asking visitors to post their photos on our Facebook page.


The staff at the activity table asked visitors to share their photos. The label included the URL of our Facebook page as well as a QR code that simply led to the page to help save visitors time searching for us (in theory). While we did continue to see many people take photos of themselves and friends by the Bochner work, most did not share the photos with us online. Maybe it’s because the process required help from a friend or a nearby staff member from the activity to take a photo of the visitor? Maybe the tone or design of the label itself wasn’t noticeable or compelling enough? Maybe the QR code was a turnoff since it wasn’t really offering any additional content, and since most phones don’t even have QR scanners as a native app. In hindsight, scanning a code probably isn’t any easier than simply searching for our page or entering the URL. If we’re asking them to take the time to scan a code, there’d better be a good reason—lesson learned!

Still, we did get enough photos of visitors and some staff members to possibly beguile you with this animated gif:


More on QR codes in museums: Nina Simon | Claire Ross and Chris Speed at MuseumNextBrooklyn Museum