changing space

Year 3 is just around the corner at Brightworks and the staff has been hard at work getting the space ready for the kids to come back on September 3rd! We’re not only making changes the way we explore and document and create a culture and community at Brightworks, but as ever, we are changing the space. One of our new staff members, Shawna, was busy all summer re-envisioning the school space and re-prioritizing the space as a thing to love and take advantage of. Her plans included exposing the beautiful parts of our warehouse, not hiding them, which has included moving band spaces and exposing the wide windows that allow for more light and sight lines. Here’s a brief look at our progress so far (not counting the countless changes that happened during the summer months… and you should check out SF Tinkering School summer camp’s blog on their website to catch all the summer excitement).

We have found our space kid-free from the day camp ended on August 16. By the following Monday, most of the Brightworks staff was back to clean and prep. Here’s where we started on August 19:

2013/2014 School Space: August 19

2013/2014 School Space: August 19

2013/2014 School Space: August 19

2013/2014 School Space: August 19

2013/2014 School Space: August 19

Things started coming together as the collaborators and staff got to work. Here’s just a couple days later:

2013/2014 School Space: August 21

2013/2014 School Space: August 21

2013/2014 School Space: August 21

We’ve painted, moved furniture and lifted trees, organized supplies, put books back on the shelves, built benches and shoved things out of the way, forced Ikea furniture together, found homes for lots of things, installed new soap dispensers. A few more days of work:

2013/2014 School Space: August 23

2013/2014 School Space: August 23

2013/2014 School Space: August 23

2013/2014 School Space: August 23

2013/2014 School Space: August 23

And today, Wednesday –

2013/2014 School Space: August 28

2013/2014 School Space: August 28

2013/2014 School Space: August 28

2013/2014 School Space: August 28

2013/2014 School Space: August 28

Things get dirty before they get clean again, but believe me – we’re in such better shape than we’ve ever been, and we’re so excited.

summer and three new arcs

Brightworks may be out of session for the school year, but the building is still ringing with the sounds of kids! Check out the summer camp blog for photos of Tinkering School Day Camp in action.

In the meantime… the collaborators are taking a well-deserved rest and the staff is getting things in order for the school year. We had a week of staff development when school got out and made a ton of progress in reflecting on the last school year in anticipation of making some really great changes to the way we do things at Brightworks. We also decided on the three arcs for next year! Gever wrote a really lovely description of what they are and why we chose them, copied below for your reading pleasure:

For a brief period of time, philosophers and learned scientists thought that the defining characteristic that separated humans from animals was the ability to count. This turned out to be a flawed bit of induction – derivation of an absolute from a small sample – and it didn’t take long to find various avian and primate species that could count. Nevertheless, we humans are the top counters on the planet and it has given us the unique ability to measure things – and once we started doing that, we never stopped. It is safe to say that we are obsessed with measurement. We know the tallest, smallest, heaviest, lightest, fastest, slowest, thickest, thinnest, quickest, slowest, widest, deepest, furthest, nearest, flattest, roundest, smoothest, roughest, softest, hardest, loudest, quietest, nicest, meanest, highest, lowest, hottest, coldest, prettiest, ugliest, smelliest, grossest, serenest, tiniest, furriest, of pretty much everything in the known universe.


In the 2013 school year, Brightworks will explore the human impulse to measure and compare things. Based on the past two years of Arc experiments, we are going to make an adjustment to the timing of the year and try a short seven week arc followed by two fourteen week arcs. For incoming students, the first arc of the year is their introduction to the school, and for returning students it is a time to recalibrate, realign, and re-engage – because of this, the first arc is designed to quickly build and integrate our sense of community. The winter arc that follows is when we see some of our best engaged work here, so that arc takes us deeper into the conceptual and abstract. In a similar way, the Spring arc is designed to take advantage of the light and irrepressible energy that builds up in the school as the world turns green again.

In the Fall, we will look at the RULER, the protractor (the curvilinear cousin of the ruler), and a tiny fraction of the myriad measurement tools that have been invented over the ages, we will measure that which is physical, seen, and heard, and all that which can be quantified; and what we cannot directly measure, we will calculate or estimate. Accuracy will be our watchword, and we will enthusiastically ferret out our sources of error.

Come the Winter, we will turn our attention to the humble CLOCK, quiet dictator of our modern lives. From the simple leaky urn of the dripping water clock to the common alarm clock with its gears, catchments, shafts, and miserly and metered consumption of potential energy. Having poked around in the clocks innards we will look out at the world, compressing days to seconds with time-lapse photography and subdividing the second into fractions to capture the fleetingly instantaneous with high-speed photography, and because time is relative, we will come to see it as elastic and subjective.

As the days lengthen and Winter turns to Spring, we celebrate the return of the sun and delve into the many meanings of MIRROR and the role that the reflective surface has played throughout history. The water in the dog bowl catches the morning sun and lights up the ceiling of the kitchen. The reflected light amplifies the tiniest ripples on the water’s surface, making visible the minute vibrations in the floor and faint gusts of wind moving in the room – photons traveling in straight lines. From Narcissus to Snow White and Through the Looking Glass, from reflection (and it’s many meanings) through symmetry and illusion to infinity – we will come to know this thing that we call light in a new way.

We are thrilled to announce these arc topics not only because we find them fascinating keyholes into a myriad of subjects, but also because we feel they will match the ebbs and flows of what the kids need at various points in the year. We’re also excited to have so much time to think and plan both for and with the kids.


After summer camp ended, we had two weeks to turn our school from summer camp and last year’s mess into a functional space that would support the needs of all the people in our Brightworks community, starting with the kids, of course. What followed was a whirlwind of moving, building, dumping, changing, and cleaning, that resulted – to everyone’s shock, amazement, and delight – in a gorgeous school that greeted returning and new students this morning, the first day of our second year.

The transformation has been a little mind-blowing and I wanted to share a brief photo timeline of the work we have done to make this place anew.

We started with a drawing from Gever’s notebook for new band spaces:


With four collaborators this year and thirty-two students starting, we needed several things from these spaces: focus, good workspace, cozy spots for curling up, storage, and the ability to display student work and collaborate on big paper. The answer, of course, was very Brightworks-obvious: treehouses! With tall rafters and 9,000 square feet to work with in our warehouse-school, each band’s treehouse would be two stories tall with walls that enclosed three sides on top and two on the bottom to provide that focus that is so hard to come by in an echoing warehouse and would be small enough to let each band of eight kids cozy up and use smaller spaces to come together, have conversations, and keep everyone in the same spot.

We began intense construction in the third week of August. Our friend and previous artist-in-residence Brian was the most fantastic foreman we could have ever asked for in the building process, and we met three other incredible builders – Schuyler, Todd and Brett – who put in long hours to get things done. The first steps included dump runs and purging unneeded materials from the space, piling up furniture, and trying to be strategic about what was put back first.




Things always get messier before they get clean. By the end of our staff orientation week, we had to plow through the materials and furniture that had oozed out of the space and onto the main floor.


Two band spaces up by Friday, and the third and fourth on their way.



Saturday night’s progress.


More things in the “Done” column of the To-Do board than in the “To-Do” columns, which was a good sign all week.



Moving the Artist-in-Residence box to its proper place on Sunday.




The cork floor was free of furniture by Sunday afternoon.


As was the center of the school.


Unfortunately we were a little further from being done…







But by the time ten o’clock rolled around and our cleaners had come, mopped twice, and gone, and we had cleared up as much of the clutter and unpresentable mess of garbage and unused materials behind a couple temporary walls (shh!), the school looked like this:


Ready and waiting to be occupied this morning – for the first day of school of our second year at Brightworks.

Construction Camp Week 9

We built a roller-coaster-train-cart and tracks with the 5-7 year olds and a arbor-fort-textile-sanctuary with the 7-14 year olds this week. We had a blast, we worked hard, we played hard and we focused. The highlight of the week for me was the peered teamwork. There was tons of it across all ages. The work ahead of starting up the school year keeps me from saying to much but there are a few good photos over at our flickr.



Check them out here.

The End of an Era


1 year ago, just about this time, I purchased 1000 ft of black paracord for the school. It’s likely the most useful chord in existence. Small, thin, and strong. The width of most yarn, it can hold 550 lbs of weight. Yesterday, at summer camp, we used the last of our first roll. I almost teared up a little.

We are also halfway through our second roll, and ordering our third. Most useful cord, ever.