Arts education has always been an easy target for bean counters. Despite its established intellectual and practical value, it has often been considered expendable in an era marked by severe cuts to public finances. Funding for art programs in United States schools has plummeted in the last 10 years, dropping 80 percent between 2006 and 2009, according to a report by the New York nonprofit Center for Arts Education.
Los Angeles-based Molly Logan and Elise Van Middelem, of San Francisco, have made it their mission to remedy this situation through School of Doodle, a project now seeking funding on Kickstarter. Part online school, part content platform, Doodle plans to use informal peer-to-peer teaching methods and an emphasis on collaboration to create a new type of learning environment that will empower and inspire creativity in teenage girls.
Both women have backgrounds in art and business—Logan worked as a curatorial assistant at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and ran her own photo agency, while Van Middelem has produced art events for Louis Vuitton and through her own consultancy. They joined forces in 2013 to cofound FREDThinks, which aims to connect clients with influential partners in the worlds of art and commerce. It was through this partnership that the idea for School of Doodle came about.
School of Doodle brings together aspects of sites like the pop-feminist gURL.com and provocative online community Deviant Art, which allows users to make and share artwork. It also aims to incorporate the innovative qualities of platforms like Khan Academy, a free online education nonprofit, and MOOC (massive online open courses) provider edX.
“We like to think that our deep belief in the power of art and the lessons we’ve learned in terms of how to build a brand and distill abstract concepts down to something engaging and digestible will serve School of Doodle well,” Logan told A.i.A. in an e-mail conversation this week. The significance of the doodle, as explained on the project’s Kickstarter campaign page, is that it is “the only form of creativity that everyone does, cannot be taught, and has no measure of good or bad.”
An idea is only as powerful as those who implement it, something Logan and Van Middelem took to heart in getting the right teachers and mentors involved. “It was pretty simple,” Logan says. “We invited women who inspire us every day.” Those who have gotten involved include artist Yayoi Kusama, Julie Mehretu, Jenny Holzer and Taryn Simon, activist punk band Pussy Riot, actress Natasha Lyonne, MoMA PS1 curator Klaus Biesenbach and musician/artist Kim Gordon (who recently signed on with New York’s 303 Gallery).
The lessons that School of Doodle hopes its students will learn are more conceptual than practical. “We think that a great artist’s true value as a teacher does not sit in how to stretch a canvas or frame a shot,” says Logan. “You can learn that from any art teacher. The true lessons are far bigger.” For instance, Los Angeles-based visual artist Kate Costello plans to frame her lesson on developing a color palette through the cultural codes and implications of color.
School of Doodle has surpassed its Kickstarter goal of $75,000 by nearly $20,000 with two days remaining. While the celebrity involvement and trendy online-teaching approach are playing a role in this initial success, it is the intention at the core of the idea that makes it resonate. As Logan says, at the end of the day the goal is to “give girls a soapbox and a megaphone.”