The Studio on Community: A hub of innovation and thinking
By: Sarah Goodwin Thiel, Studio Associate, Spring, 2018
The Harwood Studio on Community, established in 2017 by Richard Harwood, president and founder of the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, is an exciting new component of the Institute designed to create the time and space necessary to innovatively address complex civic challenges.
Why call it a studio? That’s exactly what it is. A studio is a place where ideas are given life. Where creative concepts are tested, practices developed and experiences gained and shared; all in community with peers and under the careful eye of principal masters, instructors and mentors.
The studio learning style can be traced back to 17th century apprenticeship training between students and master craftsmen. This one-on-one workshop instruction was followed by the atelier approach, developed at the turn of the century at the École des Beaux Arts (School of Fine Arts), the center of western architectural education. The atelier (French for studio) educational system allowed multiple students to work with instructors to receive advice, support and criticism within an open and productive workspace.
The studio learning style continued to evolve and has long been the common educational format for students studying art, design, architecture, dance and other subjects. In more recent years, the studio approach has been adopted and proven successful by many academic disciplines and professional practices. The open environment is known to encourage risks, protect vulnerabilities and leverage perspectives.
The Harwood Institute has a 30 year history of actively working to confront systemic issues in communities – driven by research and engagement. So when Rich Harwood began looking for new ways to extend the reach of his interdisciplinary team and to broaden the range of talented people within the Harwood Institute’s orbit, he turned to the studio approach. Now in its second year, the Studio on Community serves as the engine for innovation, writing, special projects and new thinking.
Each year, Rich Harwood will select two civic-minded Studio Associates to work closely with him in the Studio on Community. As thought partners, they engage with Rich to tackle key questions related to community change. Associates work on in-depth research projects, they contribute to the creation of publications and help to spread critical ideas emerging from the studio. The studio culture offers Associates unique opportunities for personal intellectual development, experiential learning and network building to further their own scholarship and contribute to their own communities of practice.
I have had the good fortune to be one of the first two Associates in the Harwood Studio. My home institution is the University of Kansas in Lawrence, KS. There I serve as the Community Engagement Librarian and work to build mutually beneficial campus/community relationships and help to promote and support the scholarship and creative work of campus and community scholars.
Since my arrival in January of 2018, I have navigated a very different work environment – one where a can-do, take-charge attitude is certainly expected and where waiting and listening are equally, if not more, important. As an academic librarian, I am here to exchange information concerning the challenges and potential solutions to deep transdisciplinary engagement. I bring my own expertise and understanding of these issues to a dynamic environment where I meet with and learn from other experts with very different life experiences. We take part in lively and deliberative conversations, balance the inherent tension that may accompany competing ideas and embrace the collective innovation that results – all accomplished with a healthy dose of humility and curiosity.
For me, working with Rich Harwood in the Studio on Community is an experience unlike any other. My participation helps to expand the reach and impact of the Harwood Institute. The studio culture of mentorship, learning and acceptance, in turn, is helping me to develop skills and insights that further my efforts as a community engagement professional.
Reference: Boling, E., Schwier, R., Gray, C., Smith, K., and Campbell, K (2016)
Studio Teaching in Higher Education: Selected Design Cases. New York, NY: Routledge.