Pastries and Pigeons: A Map for all the World to See

At Brightworks, we push students to approach the world beyond our school doors as their rightful learning domain, rich with opportunities for connection, exchange and inspiration. The exploration phase of our arc is marked by field excursions and contact with community experts. Professionals take time to visit our students and share their passions, inspiring new ideas and project directions. From this simmering of perspectives we expect to change what we – the children, collaborators and experts – initially perceive as possible.

It turns out that lot of magic can happen when a mutually inspiring exchange occurs between a student and an expert, which is what occurred between Beth and Natasha, resulting in a surprising turn of events this fall.

During our Maps Arc last spring, we had the pleasure of welcoming our neighbors, Beth and Shawn from Stamen Design, into our space to present the kinds of maps they make. In her enthusiastic blog post, Beth noted that the children quickly understood that “maps are pictures of data, and data can by anything.”

Natasha Mei was particularly inspired by the presentation and decided that for her final project she would do what Stamen does: put two seemingly unconnected data points together to make an interesting and beautiful map.

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Throughout the process of planning, researching, doing field work for data collection, emailing La Boulange some questions, consulting with Beth, seeking guidance from Gever and me (her collaborator), and lots of testing and revising, Natasha stayed committed to her vision of a beautifully detailed product. Her work culminated in a multi-layer map showing a relationship between La Boulange cafès and pigeons, a work of art and science that she calls “Natasha’s Pigeon and Pastry Project.”

Recently, we received word from Beth about the UC Berkeley Symposium, “Mapping and its Discontents”, which called for submissions of “see-through maps that lay bare their point of view discussing the position of the mapmaker, the ways maps reveal or hide their agendas, and the uses to which maps are put.”

Natasha needed no further persuasion to submit. She explained to me that, if chosen, it would be really exciting to have her map published in the world, “for other people to see, [not just] Brightworks people at the exposition night.”

Not only was Natasha’s map chosen as a notable map among other provocative and beautiful entries, she received an Award of Special Merit!  Check out Natasha’s page, which includes her essay, on the symposium’s web site (http://seethroughmaps.wordpress.com/2013/10/27/map-ong-natasha-mei/)

Natasha attended opening night with her parents, which was formatted much like the Brightworks Exposition night in which creators stand by their projects to answer questions and talk about their process and rationale.

map1

Her mother Aleksandra reported, “During a break she spotted Beth from Stamen, went to say hi (Edwin and I hung back), and Beth greeted her warmly and introduced her to quite a few people.  From there, Susan Moffet and Jennifer Wolch, the Dean of the College of Environmental Design, came over to say hello to Mei and present her with an award of special merit. Mei had a lot of presence and answered questions with clarity and poise both during this break as well as after the speakers concluded.”

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Check out symposium attendees’ tweets about Natasha Mei’s project:

https://twitter.com/mizmay/status/396420322741612544
https://twitter.com/wlate17/status/395785651012239360
https://twitter.com/AnserGIS/status/395884396177158144
https://twitter.com/stamen/status/395341604614983681
https://twitter.com/stamenglo/status/395339626795118592

When I asked Natasha what it was like for her, she said, “I was nervous, but I was proud. I was the only kid there. I got one of only two awards given out!”

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We are all so proud of Natasha, so grateful for our relationship with Beth and the gang at Stamen, and we feel certain this will not be the only case in which our students’ projects get notoriety in the world!