back to school

Brightworks is back in session for our fourth school year! We’ve arrived with style and a foundation of great spontaneous curriculum, solid collaborators, staff, parents, and students who are jazzed to get back in and get started. The place was humming this morning as new and returning students and their families checked out the changes to the space, said hello, and got acquainted with our staff. But before today was a summer of hard work and planning, particularly in the whirlwind of these last two weeks before school started. The space went through some major changes and between staff working long hours and parents volunteering during the long weekend, we got everything in place. Here’s a look at the work in process:













year four arc topics

Next year’s arc topics are:




The photograph is an instant captured with a mixture of electrical, mechanical, optical, and chemical technology. The light that it captures cannot be seen until it is bathed in chemicals or processed by a computer, yet the image that is revealed can only truly be understood, appreciated, made sense of, by a person. Each frozen moment, a slice of time, reveals hints of what happened before and carries implications of what comes after – a story told in a single frame. Photographers have captured the best and worst of humanity, created infamous hoaxes, and revealed the biggest mysteries. Though there may come a day when face and object recognition algorithms will be able to project and extrapolate from a single frame the way that we do, and the connection that we make with a powerful image is personal and unique to each of us.

​The book is a collection of pages bound together. In essence; a physical representation of the thoughts of a human being, the tangible implementation of telepathy, words arranged in a specific sequence designed to put an idea into a strangers mind.​ The revolution of moveable type revolution, started in China almost 1000 years ago and later adapted by Gütenberg, accelerated the rapid spread of ideas and narratives (locally and globally). Books have proved remarkably long-lasting as artifacts, and centuries of their effectiveness can be seen in the hundreds of examples of history changing manifestos and tomes. Books have been banned, embraced, and banned again. They have been esteemed and reviled; pages filled with words arranged in such a way to move the heart and mind.

The movie is a sequence of still frames played in sequence to simulate motion – it combines the technology of the photograph and structure of the book to create something altogether new. It is a story told in scenes and moments, visual by nature and emotional in delivery. An on-rushing train drove audiences from their seats in the earliest experiments and when talkies were first introduced, audiences would argue with the characters on screen – reality suddenly became mutable on a massive scale. The spectacle and the intimate drama both became popular. Movies defined culture in countries around the world.

What ties these things together is the simple idea of story. Where would you start if you set out to explore the idea of a photograph? With Louis Daguerre in the 1840’s with his incredibly toxic chemical processes that involved chlorine, bromine, and, to fix the image, bathing the plate in mercury vapors? Or perhaps you would consider that the act of composing a photograph might be analogous to writing a book or movie and that cropping, dodging, burning, and the pantheon of darkroom and desktop effects are likewise analogous to editing? Or that the pages of a book could each be works of art and that taken together they are like frames in a movie? Or…?

What also ties each of these topics together is that they each deserve a lifetime of exploration. While that could certainly be said for any of the recent topics (salt, fairness, clock, mirror, etc), these are particularly expansive and each present a soaring and sometimes treacherous mountain with no obvious or singular approach. So we come to the crux of the challenge of 2014/15; for each of the collaborators to find a path that makes sense of the mountains. We chose story as the connective thread because it unifies the three without dwelling on the technologies or the minutia, which, in the same way that measurement tied 2013/14 together, is not meant to exclude deep dives and rich digressions but rather to act as a touchpoint and easy place to call home.

year three at brightworks

Every year I’ve tried to sum up the whole of the parts that make up a year at Brightworks, and I’ve discovered that it’s actually mostly impossible. What I do know how to say is that this year, we made progress in defining who we are and what we do in a more supportive environment than we’ve ever had. The kids grew in their self confidence and ability to question, we put systems in place that lasted the whole year, students developed greater trust in each other and their collaborators – and we are more Brightworks than ever. We are made up of the sum of the parts – kids, staff, parents, siblings, friends, supporters – and are solidly and wholly a community and a family.


brightworks at the ocean

We started a tradition last year of heading out to Ocean Beach on the last Thursday of the school year, so we were back in the sand for a day of playing, chatting, digging holes, playing in the water, exploring the dunes, and enjoying each other’s company. It was foggy, windy, and a little cold, but that didn’t stop sunburns the next day on everyone’s cheeks!




















We started the year with fires in our cabins at Mendocino, and ended with a bonfire at the beach. Full circle.





mirrors exposition night

Year three’s end-of-year celebration and Mirrors Exposition Night was last Monday, June 2. Our staff was so busy and excited that we didn’t get any pictures of the event, but Elizabeth – parent and fantastic documenter – snapped a few. The night brought excited parents and new community members, and the building was full and lively. The kids stood by their presentation boards ready to answer questions, showing their videos, demonstrating magic or makeup or rat runs, and were very proud of their accomplishments.

exposition night 2014

exposition night 2014

exposition night 2014

exposition night 2014

exposition night 2014

exposition night 2014

exposition night 2014

video links

Updates from the last week of school will be posted this week!

So many students made videos for their Mirrors arc projects that I wanted to showcase them on the blog. We weren’t able to get Tab or JP’s videos onto Youtube, but check out the following four from Jane, Max and Evan, and Grace.

Jane’s Brightworks Documentary

Max and Evan’s short film “Storm.”

Max and Evan’s “Towers,” a video about the fundraiser that Brightworks and Tinkering School put on for Salesforce.

Grace’s immense Mirror Compilation.

mirrors presentations, day 4

The high school students presented their projects on Friday afternoon, a mix of art spanning film, comics, self portraits, and music.

Grace presented the last eight minutes of her compilation of clips of mirrors from films as varied as romantic comedies, horror movies, French art films, and dramas. The full film is forty minutes long! The clips show characters giving themselves pep talks or looking at their appearance or just about to be scared, a sort of contemplative look at the power of the reflection.



Max and Evan talked about their filmmaking journey during the Mirrors arc and their trouble with finding the right script for the amount of time they had and the actors who were available. They started with a film idea about a character who gets lost inside an infinity mirror, but quickly realized the complications of filming such a movie. Their next idea came up short because of casting issues, but explored the impacts of living in a room with only the company of a mirror. They filmed one of a series of short films that was supposed to be a trilogy, called “Storm” about two people trying to find similarities about themselves. They also showed the documentary that they edited from footage that Max shot at the Salesforce fundraiser in Palm Springs, called “Towers”.



Madison began the project phase inspired by the work of Frida Kahlo and the story and pain behind her self portraits, and branched out from there to look at the self portraiture of a half a dozen artists. She ended up choosing to closely study the work of Kahlo, Vincent Van Gogh, and Andy Warhol, and used elements of their styles to create her own. In her series of self portraits, she borrowed the small strokes and colors of Van Gogh’s work, Andy Warhol’s way of sectioning his portraits in a single image, and the vivid shades of Kahlo’s paintings. She used chalk pastel, pencil, tempera paint, and acrylic paint to make her portraits.



Isaac’s project was again about his passion of making experimental music. In his explorations of playing and mixing music, he said that he’s come to discover experimental music is easy to make, but difficult to make well. For this arc, he started crafting an album that he will continue to work on through the summer, but made two complex and complete songs during Expression. His goal was to make a wall of sound with varied instruments and textures, and ended up with songs that used as many as fifteen layers of instruments. He demonstrated using the melodica and the singing saw, and played “Public Access” – his first song with his own vocals – and Every Light In The House Was On When I Woke Up. At the end of his presentation, he told us that music is a time of reflection – we like music because it resonates with us, and we see ourselves in the music that we love.



Tytus made a comic book during his arc at Brightworks, but informed us immediately that his presentation wouldn’t be about the comic itself, but more about storytelling – which, he said, is a kind of magic. Using post-it notes and the basic storytelling framework, he told the story of his experience during the arc in three acts. He set himself up as the character in the story: a visitor from Poland to a weird country with weird people, being asked to do a project in a short amount of time. During his story, he related the challenges and triumphs of making a comic, including the challenges of printing and the books he read to learn how a comic works, how to use ink and materials in drawing, how to draw, and theory about what makes things interesting, beautiful, or funny. His story was the story of projects – ups and downs – and a beautiful reflection on himself and the school.