The School of Art is pleased to announce that artists and collaborators Dana Bishop-Root and Ruthie Stinger will teach the contextual practice component within the MFA program for the 2019-20 academic year. Unique among its peers, the MFA program at CMU’s School of Art weaves contextual practice into the fabric of its curriculum, guiding students to expand the role of art in the public sphere and engage with new contexts and communities.
Through their longstanding collaborative practice, Bishop-Root and Stringer engage with the ways art exists within a local context. Challenging the dominant discourse of arts economies as a means to “revitalize” communities, their work acknowledges the complex and often traumatic histories of place, celebrates the existing wealth and knowledge of their neighbors, and uses their position between their neighborhood and the larger art world to expand and connect both discourses.
Bishop-Root and Stringer live and work in the neighborhoods of Braddock and North Braddock, both of which have rich and complex histories including countless immigrant journeys, organized labor movements, Civil Rights struggles, as well as more recent histories of de-industrialization, governmental neglect, environmental racism, and the resultant economic and public health challenges.
Among other engagements in their communities, for the past decade, Bishop-Root and Stringer have worked inside and in relationship to the Braddock Carnegie Library. In 2009, in collaboration with the Library, they opened the Neighborhood Print Shop, a screen-printing and design studio. Not only does the space provide studio and professional resources, the Print Shop provides a space for the exchange of knowledge within the community.
The Art Lending Collection, which they opened in 2013, makes over 200 artworks available for checkout for members of the Braddock Carnegie Library. This collection aims to contain a multiplicity of perspective through the work of several paid Art Lending Facilitators, hired from the library’s service area. This team chooses artwork, pursues research, assists patrons in selecting artwork, and develops related arts programming.
For the contextual practice component of the School’s MFA program, Bishop-Root and Stringer will continue their work with libraries, situating a course within the context of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Oakland branch and the Braddock Carnegie Library. Graduate students will consider the library—both in concept and concrete reality—as material and form for their existing practices, as well as a site of research and exhibition.
“Library users are engaged in research that is different, but as vital, as the research that happens in academic institutions,” said Stringer. “Library users are accessible to each other as they access ideas and create new knowledge.”
“The MFA program at Carnegie Mellon University is truly interdisciplinary,” said MFA Program Director Jon Rubin. “Not only do we encourage students to break down borders between academic disciplines within the university, we challenge students to look outside academia. Dana and Ruthie’s vital approach to art making will inspire students to reimagine the artist’s role in society and expand their understanding of what it means to be an artist within our contemporary condition.”
Bishop-Root and Stringer hold a collaborative MFA degree from Portland State University in Art and Social Practice. In addition to their ongoing projects within Braddock and North Braddock, their work has been shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, the Carnegie Museum of Art, and the Mattress Factory, among others.