TXT Media Lab, Providence, Rhode Island
By Ari Garber
PROVIDENCE, RI- Soon to make a thunderous debut on the world wide web, TXT Media Lab, the collaborative effort of Rachel Stern and Mike Russo, proposes a revolutionary way of teaching media art, and empowers youth to pursue careers as artists. Stern and Russo met last Fall, when they served as assistant teachers in each other’s respective high school media arts classes, which both taught through a RISD sponsored program called Project Open Door. The two agreed that institutionalized methods of teaching media are vastly out of touch with the actual media resources available in today’s digital landscape, and given modern youth’s technological savvy, a revamp of media education could lend strength to a fledgling art movement.
The founders’ backgrounds in media art and education illuminate the purpose of TXT Media Lab. Stern graduated from RISD in 2011, where she studied photography, and has since produced and shown her own work in New York and Boston, while teaching photography and managing a photo blog called fStopped. A former employee of Apple, she embraces technological advancement in her practice, while continuing to use film and other non- digital photographic processes. After being hired to teach photography to high schoolers, Stern considered the effectiveness of traditional art education with respect to the trajectory of media art at large. The idea of a career in art seemed inaccessible to her students, who predominantly represented a lower income population demographic, so she decided to design lesson plans to incorporate tools already present in her students’ everyday lives: cell phones. Much of Stern’s class centered on the art of cell phone photography, a topic that surprised high school faculty, since cell phones are typically banned during the school day. Despite the unprecedented curiculum, Stern was greatly impressed by her students’ work and their level of commitment to the material.
Russo hails from an extensive and diverse involvement with media art and education. Currently he works as a professor of media art at Bridgewater State College. He received his masters in community arts, and conducted research in high school art education. He decided to focus on education after his first job out of college as a short video producer for Atlantic Records. In Russo’s words, producing short films for Atlantic was “really easy,” and this caused him to realize that the most valuable part of his college education had not been found in the technical skills he acquired, but in the confidence he gained in the value of his ideas. Upon this realization, he decided to work to connect resources to ideas through media art education, in other words, keeping education current with technology.
Thus two artistic paths converged, and the groundwork of TXT Media Lab was laid. As of two months ago, Stern and Russo have been meeting to formalize TXT Media Lab through an online charter of their goals in education, along with a virtual community of artists who subscribe to TXT Media Lab’s progressive vision of media art. “This is a theory that can be plugged in anywhere. Students learn how to run their own projects and create something that is theirs,” said Stern. Russo pointed out that this virtual community can be compared and contrasted to localized communities like Providence’s AS220. TXT Media Lab lends form to an as of yet un-formalized artistic community, and perhaps the next chapter in art history.
In case you still don’t get it, here are some beliefs endorsed by TXT Media Lab:
1) “7th graders should be learning coding, not typing” –Russo
2) Instagram filters do not undermine photography.
3) The internet is an artistic forum.
4) One does not need a video camera to make a video.
5) Anyone can sustain him/herself as an artist if s/he has vision.