KCAI Students Learn & Work at Arcosanti

About two Januaries ago, students from the Kansas City Art Institute came for a special two week workshop organized by a influential and notable alum of the project Russell Ferguson. Ferguson is director of the “School of the Foundation Year” at KCAI which helps students decide what their passion and specific focus is an artist.

Russell’s coming back with the KCAI students was a homecoming event to two old friends. Russell and the new Cosanti Foundation President Jeffrey Stein both lived here at the same time during Arcosanti’s heyday in the 70s.

The workshop experience is part of the student’s scientific elective, but they also do much drawing and contemplation while they are here. Students typically seem very open and interested with regards to life here. They help out in various departments including Construction, Guestrooms and the Cafe, while they are here. Specially designated “cafe helpers” assist with the cooking and cleanup/dishwashing in the Cafe, to help defray the cost of their field trip.

During his time here in the 70s and 80s, Russell was notorious for his pranks. He is appreciated for his ability to make things interesting with various improvisational acts, especially at Morning Meeting. Also, he is known for his ability to make rock walls – which believe it or not is both a science and a artform. In Arcosanti lore, he is one of the most notable personalities to live here with his storytelling and performance abilities as well as his rock wall building and general experimental approach to life.

For the two weeks the students were here he organized numerous film events in which some of his favorite art films were shown and a discussion afterward.

Some of the students expressed an interest in coming back and indeed one Sal Tellini has actually become a long term resident so possibly her experience her could serve as a model for some of them.

In the first year about 24 students came and it was a nice little boost here for what is otherwise a slow part of the year. The student’s coming here also helps us financially. This year’s group added about 13000 dollars to our project’s financial coffers. Russell by organizing these workshops helps the students broaden their perspective as artists, while also giving the foundation some cash to keep Arcosanti going.

The first year brought a large group about 24 students. Only four came during the christmas of 2010 and that was when Sal came back to the Work Exchange/Scholarship program. This January, we had about 18 students who unlike last time were a bit more established in their school, most being juniors.

Much of the work focused on completing the Energy Apron Research Facility that was initiated by Cosanti Foundation board and faculty member Roger Tomalty. Roger had this idea of using new PVC pipe to make the frame for this greenhouse facility and then covered by a plastic greenhouse membrane. The idea is that it would be sloped up from the valley so it could stimulate air flow from the bottom to the top of the structure. Data collection instrumentation was to be installed to monitor the rate of atmospheric change inside and compare that to the outside measurements. This data were to then be used to develop more concrete planning towards the creation of the Arcosanti Energy Apron idea first conceived by Paolo Soleri in 1970 at the birth of Arcosanti. While the greenhouse project had begun in 2009 with the first group of students they were unable to finish. So this group of students finished off where they started.

 At the end of their time here the students put together an art show featuring the work they did while they were here which was a chance to see the students and some of the results of their time before they left.

Before leaving Arizona, they went to Cosanti to see a magnificent example of art melding with architecture.

There is a sad ending to this…A few days after the students left a wind came and destroyed the structure. However I think the process for the students to come here is still a good one and there is potential in further developing this and similar programs so that students can come here to this unique place and experiences life at Arcosanti as both artists and citizens.


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