Friday, January 7, 2011


The Free Columbia Art Course

A quest into the heart of artistic action.

Free is a verb not an adjective.


            What is it to be free? In economics there is no such thing as a free lunch. If something is put before you, someone has paid for it, someone has made it. Someone’s time and effort has created it and in order to do that they must have found the way to be supported. Maybe not well, maybe not fairly. Nothing is free.


            Once when I was working in my studio I heard a frantic rustling in the wall. Because starlings sometimes nest outside the door I thought, “Maybe it is a bird that somehow has gotten inside the wall”. And I thought, “How sad, it will die in there, it will never get out.” The rustling continued and I thought, “ I must release it. But how?” I looked outside but I could not see any hole in the wall. The siding looked pretty stable and I didn’t know how to get it off. I thought, “ Oh well, it will die.” And I went back inside. The rustling continued and I thought, “ Oh, I can cut open the wall from the inside!” I cut into the wall, it was full of insulation- wrong wall. I listened close to an inside wall although I could not see how a bird could have gotten in there, and then I cut into it. The sheet rock piece came lose and the rustling was louder. I realized that I would have to reach inside the hole and catch what I hoped was a bird. Suddenly this was not so appealing. I reached into the wall and something thrashed against my fingers. I reached around the electrical wires trying to catch this wild creature. After a few tries my hand closed around wings and body and I drew my hand out around a small soft brown bird, not a starling, very frightened. I walked to the door and stepped out and opened my hand and it flew – free.


            In creating the Free Columbia Art Course we wanted to establish an initiative where the inspirations living in the human being could flow freely into students and teachers. We wanted to establish a place where people could experience spiritual science through the medium of painting. From September 2009 through May 2010 we worked with 3-5 full time and 25 part time students painting and studying five days and two evenings a week. We worked in blocks such as: luster colors, image colors, color moods, color perspective, imagination and impressionism. We worked with the seasonal changes of the cycle of the year. In the evenings we studied art history, philosophy of aesthetics, social threefolding and the Goetheanum as well as a weekly study of Theosophy by Rudolf Steiner. Our students ranged in age from nineteen to seventy six and in experience with painting and anthroposophy from none to many years of dedicated study.


            In September 2010 began our second year.  In the  2010-11 year there will be no set tuitions for full time or part time students. The courses, which are intensive, well penetrated and rigorous, are freely given. If you want to attend we look not at your ability to pay or at your artistic accomplishments. We look at your commitment to take on this work with us. To discover the transformations that will occur because you devote yourself to the work. The year will be spent painting, studying anthroposophy, playing marionettes, experiencing eurythmy, singing, potluck meals and the community that forms around intensive work.


            Sometimes when people hear about what we are doing they don’t believe it. Some think that there must be some trick about it being given freely, others think that it must not have much real content, maybe it’s a drop in space for lonely artists. But Free Columbia is true. We teach a rich, varied and intensive program and there is no set tuition. Everyone is encouraged to donate who values the work and the endeavor. Free Columbia is supported by freely given gift money. We do this not just because we are socially minded and want to provide affordable art education, for that we could use many other models such as needs based scholarships or sliding scales. We have created our financial model to encourage a free cultural space into which inspiration may flow.


            How can we do this without charging tuition? To understand may require a change in thinking. Is it possible for inspiration to flow freely into individuals? Is it possible for money to flow so that inspiration is supported? Free is a verb not an adjective.

Laura Summer