December 6, 2022Illustration by Noah Jodice.
Dear SFPC community,
On April 20, 2021, amidst immense personal and political shifts activated by the 2020 uprisings, a group of students, teachers, and workers penned a letter. The letter included a list of demands¹ that continues to serve as a statement of our values as workers, and a roadmap towards co-creating the material conditions we desire in order to be the beautiful school we imagined.
Many of the authors of that letter would become the current seven co-directors of our school after a year-long leadership transition that centered making our school a healthier place to study and work for people with many different intersecting identities and needs. We’re honored to be in shared stewardship, and in awe of what we accomplished, with the help of a far-reaching and generous community who makes our school possible.Demands written by co-directors, Ashley Jane Lewis, Emma Rae Bruml, Max Bittker, and Nabil Hassein during the summer of 2020.
On June 21 of the same year, we announced our first season of classes as co-directors in a special session we titled COCOON. Since then, we successfully organized 26 classes with 27 teachers and more than 450 participants.² Read more below to learn about our progress towards meeting each of our demands, in addition to our biggest challenges and plans for next year.
Progress towards demands
- In February 2021, we formally announced co-directors and accountability stewards of the school as part of a new leadership model, inspired by cooperative structures. SFPC is co-directed by Zainab Aliyu, Todd Anderson, American Artist, Neta Bomani, Melanie Hoff, Galen Macdonald, and Celine Wong Katzman. Read more about us on our about page.
- SFPC directed over $120,000 in scholarships and tuition assistance since Summer 2021. This is possible thanks to the support of Ford Foundation, Jeffrey Alan Scudder, and one-time and monthly donations from Withfriends members. We direct scholarships to those who are low-income, Black, Indigenous, people of color, LGBTQIA+, disabled, and survivors.
- We updated our scholarship model to be pay-what-you-can because we believe no one should be denied an educational opportunity because of their inability to pay. We also ask applicants who are more resourced to consider paying more to support others for whom full tuition is out of reach. 100 percent of additional tuition from our wealth distribution initiative goes towards our scholarship fund.
- We launched a community fundraising campaign with the goal to raise $60,000 in support of free and reduced cost opportunities by the end of December 2022! Read more about this on our blog.
- We ended the “work study” program to prevent the situation in which participants perform unpaid labor during their study in exchange for a 50 percent discount on tuition, which often has unfair, punitive, and exclusionary effects.
- In April 2021, we hired Es Leso as our Community Services Coordinator. Es provides teachers, participants, and staff with mental health resources and long-term community wellness support such as: individual counseling, peer mediation, on-call conflict resolution, Community Agreement upkeep and integration, and personalized referrals—all informed by a transformative justice framework. With their help, we published a new update to our Community Agreement in October 2022.
- During the Fall/Winter 2021-22 season, we ran an iteration of Recreating the Past, a computational code and art history class that’s been offered since our school was founded in 2013. The new iteration, taught by Zach Lieberman, Hind Al Saad, Edgardo Aviles-Lopez, and Murilo Polese, foregrounded artists of varying cultural backgrounds to challenge the computational art canon.
- We continue to co-create new curricula informed by critical theory that emphasizes that our approach to computation is not only poetic, but political, too. New classes include: Algorithmic Botany, An Artist’s History of Computer Viruses and Malware, AncestryandMe, Digital Love Languages, For Love and Science, Learning to Love Math, Machine Language, Reading, Writing, & Compiling, Reading into the Past / Writing into the Future, Sex Ed, and Teaching and Learning as “PRIMITIVE HYPERTEXT.”
- We’re making clearer pathways for alumni, in addition to new and former lead or assistant teachers, to return to the school in different roles. Programs for the 2023 calendar year will be taught by many new teachers and alumni.
- All SFPC teachers have contracts before classes begin.
- We filed to become a non-profit in 2023 and have formed a preliminary board.
- There’s more capacity for mutual aid within this community. We need help from all our community members with access to high salaries, generational wealth, and savings to consistently donate generously to our scholarship fund on Withfriends.
- As co-directors, we’re struggling to write our own contracts. Working cooperatively has made it more difficult to reach consensus about what types of work need contracts, how to equitably distribute work amongst co-directors, and how to invite other workers to join us in stewarding the school. We’re very close to finalizing contracts for ourselves and asked for help from our advisors and preliminary board members to help us cross the finish line.
- We need help to create secure and financially stable positions for workers at SFPC with reliable health insurance. Because we currently rely on tuition, money collected from tuition funds our organizational operations, and in turn, worker salaries. Our current tuition prices don’t leave enough room in the budget for stable work, opportunities, and resources for its workers. If you have any ideas of grant or funding opportunities, email email@example.com.
- Help SFPC find a new home! We’re grateful for the opportunity to have partnered with other organizations like Performance Space, Amant, and CultureHub, to provide physical space for our programs last summer. However, we no longer have access to a physical space of our own. If you have any leads, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- We can do better to actively support our communities and be a platform for grassroots community organizing. While some of our cooperative and community members participate in such organizing on an individual level, we want to be more explicit about movements that matter to us as a collective, like union organizing and abolitionist political education! Our inbox is always open to community members seeking volunteers for, and support with, amplifying their organizing efforts. If your cause aligns with SFPC’s mission and values, email us at email@example.com.
- Open finances are both a priority and a work in progress for us. We’re particularly struggling with making our budgets legible to be accountable to our community and iterable for other like-minded schools and organizations. If you’re knowledgeable in this area, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Plans for next year
We have many exciting projects coming up starting now and extending into the next year! Stay tuned for:
- Instruments of the Black Gooey Universe: We began a year-long residency at The Kitchen in September 2022. Public events from our collective study are coming soon!
- Electronic Cafe for Poetic Computation: We’re building an internet cafe as part of the Session Artist residency at Recess from June-August 2023!
- Free classes: We received a $150,000 grant from the Art for Justice Fund in November 2022, which will allow us to offer four fully-subsidized classes! We’ll announce these classes in the near future!
These past two years, we’ve broken many records for what learning looks like at the School for Poetic Computation—records of what material is taught, who teaches, and what parts of ourselves we, the organizers, teachers, and participants, bring to our learning and working environments. As we approach 10 years of SFPC in 2023, we’re looking back with immense gratitude, and moving forward with a growing excitement to continue building our school with our community. We’re thankful to you for walking with us as we steer with clear vision towards what we know to be true—a beautiful school is not only possible, but imminent.
American Artist, Celine Wong Katzman, Galen Macdonald, Melanie Hoff, Neta Bomani, Todd Anderson, and Zainab Aliyu
-  Demands include: 1. Actively work towards supporting queer, disabled communities of color, 2. Have guaranteed need-based tuition, or no tuition at all, 3. Incorporate critical theory and history into all classes, 4. Practice radical financial transparency, 5. Protect its workers against economic precarity, 6. Have a cooperative leadership structure, 7. Treat participants as collaborators and formally acknowledge the power of participants to determine their experience and education, 8. Extend into wider communities and welcome new communities into the school, 9. Be a genuine platform for grassroots organizing around collective actions, and 10. Acknowledge that its members are capable of making mistakes.
-  “Participants” is a conscious term we use to replace “students,” informed by our seventh demand.