Studying Studium

I recently sat down with Dan Rudmann, principal director of Studium, and we discussed this still-new but highly ambitious organization and all that it umbrellas—which is a lot. Originally located on East 5th, Studium recently found a new home on Rosewood to rest its proverbial bones. Okay, so what is Studium? I am going to walk you through this from the beginning.

Three years ago, Rudmann started working as an editor for a publishing company called Punctum Books—the world’s largest open access critical theory press. “It’s this really incredible source, but it was also really successful in harnessing a community,” Rudmann said. “It was a really nice way of bringing academics from all over together, and I really respected that community building prowess.”

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So Rudmann thought, “Let’s do this in Austin but with music.” And from that, Punctum Records was born—a record label concentrated on community-building and introspective songwriting. An idea, but Punctum Records needed a brick-and-mortar both to sell the vinyl it was pressing and for music performances. Punctum found its home on East 5th and dubbed it Studium.

Studium became a gathering point for regular musical performances and good old-fashioned hanging out with like-minded artists. At one point, the Department of Anthropology at The University of Texas at Austin approached Studium about having a portion of their annual conference at the space, including film screenings, poetry readings, and experimental installations, which eventually instigated the realization that there was more of a need for this type of diverse programming than for retail offerings, which admittedly they had become less interested in. As all of this is happening, Rudmann is in school earning his PhD in Sanskrit literature.

Still with me? Cool. Because this is where an alternative pedagogy school is born out of a record label.

Human Sciences started as a way for Rudmann to translate his graduate schoolwork into community work. Perhaps slightly disenchanted with the academic institution and the lack of accessibility and integration in the community, he noticed that many of his friends and acquaintances were genuinely interested in sharing this academic experience through informal dialogue.

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Initially, Human Sciences was simply a group that would casually meet once a week at a local coffee shop to discuss critical theory topics. To date, this has evolved significantly. Rudmann and Megan Bontempo, director of education at Studium, facilitate a weekly critical theory-based curriculum, which includes a Critical Theory Reading Group and a compendium Civic Responsibilities class. These are Human Sciences’ core classes, free and open to the public. They are 75-minute, seminar-style classes designed so people can join at any point in the “semester.” There is also an archive of previous classes as a way to fill people in beforehand. Human Sciences also invites the larger community to propose and teach their own classes.

While the classes are always different, there seems to be a very strong standard of topical relevance upheld and applied. For instance, my first visit was before an Introduction to Aesthetics class discussing the aesthetics and politics of Beyoncé’s “Formation” music video, which had just released the weekend prior.

The civic responsibilities classes, while also topical, are both discussion- and action-based. For instance, there was recently a class based around the migrant crisis, which turned into a discussion about Greg Abbott and his negative response to refugees coming to Texas. Visual artist Eva Claycomb suggested reaching out to the Refugee Services of Texas and proposed filling a few of the re-settlement apartment buildings in the area with local art as a way to make it a more welcoming place for people who are essentially arriving to a new place with and to almost nothing. Watch out for this upcoming project, Welcome Home Art Show.

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“These classes are about trying to see where we have some power in the issue we’re discussing,” Rudmann said. “We have a strong community of artists, and it matters to people to live in a place where they feel welcomed.”

This active community response is an important part of Human Sciences’ mission and outlook concerning what it believes higher education should look like.

Studium has recently started working as a press as well. Their first book was Words by visual artist Kevin McNamee-Tweed. This is, again, hand in hand with how Human Sciences views a university should theoretically function: producing good conversation and also publishing its work. As they nest in their new Rosewood home, they now have a physical space to house not only its classes, workshops, records and books but also Lower Left Gallery, run by Andrea Calo.

So yes, Studium is a lot of things, a lot of people, and a hell of a lot of heart. And Rudmann’s hopes for Studium reflect this:

“To build into an organization that has a seat at the table when academic institutions are discussing what humanities-based education should be and what its utility is. I hope we have an impact on that conversation and show that you can be an institution and serve your direct community or grow into serving your direct community rather than being an institution that is just admissions based.”

 

Amen.

 


Rebecca Marino is co-editor of Conflict of Interest and works as a visual artist and curator in Austin, TX. She curated Kevin McNamee-Tweed’s exhibition Words at pump project in conjunction with the release of his book Words with Punctum Books. Marino also completed her Grant Writing Certification with Catherine Naiser, Studium’s Director of Community Outreach.

 

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