Wayfinding Academy

ArtsEd: Two education experiments center arts practices

The ideas of the established Wayfinding Academy and brand-new Alder Commons lead to a central role for the arts

During the past few decades we’ve seen rising enthusiasm around new small, independent education experiments. It’s one of the many cultural changes in Portland during the past few decades that have tapped into the DIY movement. In many of these, the arts have figured prominently, both as something to be studied and as a way to engage students in doing things as opposed to crunching pre-manufactured information. When the arts began to disappear from public school curricula in the 1990s, it had the curious side-effect of spawning these new projects, commercial and nonprofit, to fill the void. The experiments continue, even after the passage of the Arts Tax, which brought back art teachers at least to the early grades of public schools in the city.

Two experiments in education are breaking new ground in Portland. The Wayfinding Academy, now on its fifth cohort of students, has carved out a new route for college-age young people looking to make their mark on the world. Meanwhile, a program on the horizon, Alder Commons, hopes to push the envelope further by serving all ages with special consideration for school-age children.

Wayfinding Academy keeps its core curriculum front and center./Photo Nim Wunnan

While neither identifies specifically as an art program, both cultivate an atmosphere that encourages and develops young artists in ways that traditional schooling often fails to. The early success of the Wayfinding Academy is exciting proof that viable alternatives to expensive four-year degrees are out there for young artists. Directly inspired by Wayfinding, Alder Commons will soon launch a great experiment to see what happens when community members of all ages who are looking to take control of their own education and creativity have a shared, nurturing home.

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