is searching for a particular kind of human that is becoming increasingly harder to find.
“Where is the guy who is an herbalist and loves electricity and can invent a musical instrument and also really loves global politics? Where is that person?”
Dan longs for the Benjamin Franklins of the world. He is searching for deeply curious and passionate individuals because he is one, too. Best known as the co-founder of the award-winning Minneapolis-based design studio, Aesthetic Apparatus, Ibarra owns the term creative hyphenate. His full professional title?
Now you can add schoolmaster to the list, because starting a school is exactly how Dan plans to lure other creative hyphenates out of the woodwork. Along with a few friends, Dan created Schoolhaus to celebrate people who are interested in stretching the professional titles tied to their creative efforts.
Schoolhaus is a 12-week-long evening educational program Dan co-directs along with Zak Sally of La Mano. The school is dedicated to an interdisciplinary approach to making art and open to a broad spectrum of students.
Artists are not merely enrolling in Schoolhaus, they are signing up to work within the hallowed physical realm of Aesthetic Apparatus. For 12 weeks, the fledgling hyphenates will create from the home of one of the Twin Cities’ most accomplished artistic exports. Aesthetic Apparatus holds god-like status among screenprinters and its favorite subjects, musicians. The magic of the space is sure to rub off on the eager makers. But the location also makes it clear that Schoolhaus’ educational explorations exist alongside a working studio, making it possible to take abstract ideas and apply them practically.
Ask Dan how Schoolhaus operates in relation to traditional education programs and he lights up with fury talking about how modern academic institutions of all stripes pressure people to shrink their focus to a very small area of study and develop expertise that is deep but narrow.
Dan is looking for students that want to learn everything they can about themselves and what they are capable of as an artist and a person. Students should be ready to discuss typographic theory, visual narrative, conscious and unconscious creativity, and printmaking. The students will take hold of those ideas and do as Dan does: make wholly original artwork, build inventive systems, and create programs that are focused on the greater good.
In order to understand why Schoolhaus exists, you need to understand why Dan Ibarra does things the way he does them.
Aesthetic Apparatus design studio was founded in late 1998 in Madison, Wisconsin, by Dan Ibarra and Michael Byzewski. The studio was born out of a shared affinity for punk rock, an appreciation for the absurd, and a desire to have full creative control. It also came from a desire both founders had to be designers but still do the physical work of printmaking. Dan describes the studio’s beginnings as “much more like the start of a band than a studio.” Aesthetic Apparatus doesn’t just have clients and one-off jobs, they have friends; Friends who come back again and again for different projects and refer others to the design studio.
As Aesthetic Apparatus’ reputation grew, Dan started to receive opportunities to teach as an adjunct professor. But Dan discovered that while he loved to teach, becoming a staffed professor would require additional degrees and certifications. His perspective would need to shift from approaching design as an artist and craftsman, to approaching it as an academic. But to be a good teacher, Dan needs to be a maker. He needs to be a doer. He also needs to be a Designer-Printer-Maker-Owner-Writer-Teacher-Mentor-Thinker-Musician.
“I’m starting the school for the same reason that I would make any piece of art, it’s because of this intangible reason that you just want to see a fluorescent screen print of a dollar-store toy gun. It spoke to me, I had to do it.”
Dan is quick to acknowledge that as much as he wants to contribute to community building, creating Schoolhaus is not a purely altruistic act. For him it is also an opportunity to learn from co-director Zak Sally and the school’s participants in a concentrated format. It creates opportunities to expand his own thinking and ask his own questions. For Dan, the magic of the school lies in its ability to transform Aesthetic Apparatus into an an ecosystem for collaboration between creative and thoughtful individuals.
“What makes education valuable are those mentors, those social relationships that you make with the people in the classrooms. That’s the important part.”
Schoolhaus itself is one giant art project. Dan and Zak have made Schoolhaus for the sake of making it. It will take shape over and over again with a different collection of students each time, but the connections made at the school will be the most important part of the experiment. Together, they will make some art, yes. But really, Schoolhaus is in the business of making better humans.
“Schoolhaus is not about guaranteeing 80 percent job placement. Our guarantee is that we’ll try to help people come to terms with living a creative life.” – Dan Ibarra