Public Engagement

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    On Being Andy Warhol


    The scenario itself is Warholesque: An uncovered time capsule contains some unexpected 8mm film footage. The film is spotty and fragile, as if a single touch would cause it to disintegrate. It documents a previously unknown love affair—of Andy Warhol!

    Before Warhol enthusiasts go wild, they should know that this is just a fantasy, the basis for an undergraduate creative writing seminar at The Schools of Public Engagement, On Being Andy Warhol.

    "Seminar" isn't quite the right word for such a class. It's an experience, combining collective self-promotion and a serious study of the Pop Art phenomenon of the 1960s with creative writing.

    The 18 students collaboratively outlined the Warhol love story and then individually wrote short screenplays, five of which were chosen to be filmed. The class bought costumes at vintage clothing stores, and all took roles in at least one of the five spots. Finally, the class created a permanent website to exhibit these "live portfolios" long after the course was finished.

    "I just think it's a million times better to teach this way," says the instructor, author John Reed. "You get something out of it," he says, referring particularly to the fact that students can link to the website in their résumés or showcase it in their portfolios. For Andy Warhol, art was about self-promotion and fostering an image. Reed saw him as the ideal subject for a class integrating creative writing and media technology, in which students would create a body of work for purposes of self-promotion.

    Reed's initial proposal for this course was supported by an Innovation for Education grant from the university provost's office. "Teaching this kind of class definitely requires a bit of dough," acknowledges Reed. "We hired professionals to manipulate huge amounts of special effects to make the film look decomposed."

    Despite the overhead, Reed sees this production form as the future of teaching. "The pros really outweigh the cons," he says. "With the website, the lessons live beyond the class. It will not be long before all universities have courses structured like this. It's a better way for students to master material, and this generation of students works very well in collaboration."