Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Crosscurrents: Land, Labor, and the Port. Textile Society of America's 15th Biennial Symposium. Savannah. GA. October 19-23. 2016.


Copyright 2016 by Pauline Verbeek-Cowart.


I proposed this talk because the subject matter "Collaboration in the Digital Age" seemed timely and relevant. What I hope to achieve with this paper is to present initial material that could start a dialogue; a conversation that needs to happen to clarify what "Collaboration in the Digital Age " means. I am going to give an example of a truly magnificent collaboration and compare and contrast that with my personal trajectory. I want to preface this by saying that my comments are filtered through the lens of a maker and an educator. I chair the Fiber program at the Kansas City Art Institute so I am keenly aware of the fact that we are facing a bit of a crises. The world needs more creative problem solvers, yet I witness the steady decline of problem solving skills in the generation entering college. Here I would like to quote Einstein who said: "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them". This does not bode well for the millennials, the generation that is self absorbed and only interested in having a relationship with their cell phones. Every year when I evaluate our curriculum and teaching methodologies I ask myself the question: is what we are teaching still relevant and more importantly, how do we engage these millennials, who seem so disengaged. How do you deliver content in an age where access to content and the democratization of information has exploded? At KCAI, we recognized the importance of teaching problem solving skills and decided to tackle the problem by facilitating the development of collaborative thinking with several new initiatives. One of them is our brand new Fablab with an exhibition space and the latest of all of the now ubiquitous digital tools including cnc-routers, laser cutters and 3-D printers. In addition to the standard technology we also have a TC-2, a hand operated digital Jacquard Loom developed and manufactured in Norway. Surprisingly it is the loom that is getting all of the attention and intrigues the students most. We designed the space from the start to bring disciplines together, remove barriers and create an atmosphere and space that would include all phases of the workflow including a classroom in the fabrication area. By focusing on an open structure for the main hall, we have created a space where community building and collaboration can be a part of the process. Students from different disciplines come with very different skillsets and learn from each other. They put their phones away and talk. In doing so they are laying the foundation for more collaborative engagement and expanding their thinking. These tools are so new that the playing field has been leveled as we are all earning together.