Sarah Wild Interview

Sarah Wilde

Sarah Wild

Your job title + brief description of your job duties –

Project Manager, Part-time, AP Summer Institute for the Arts, Academic
Initiatives and International Programs.

As manager I coordinate the running of the Institute, an annual summer program for AP high school teachers who come from around the US and abroad to learn and develop AP high school courses in studio art, art history and music theory.  My responsibilities are varied from program development, registration, participant advising to acting as faculty support person and general handy woman.

How did you come to Columbia College Chicago –

I am originally from the UK and have been a practicing artist, studying and working in the US on and off since 1991. I received my MFA from the University of Tennessee and after moving back to the UK, working in Germany for a while I finally arrived in Chicago in 1996. I worked at The School of the Art Institute before enrolling in a doctorate of philosophy program in Switzerland that involved some quite long commuting.
After finishing some very hard, humbling years of course work, I am now working on my dissertation as I work for Columbia. It was important for me to continue working in arts education (no thinking without living). Columbia offered me an ideal opportunity to pursue that aim. I heard about the position from a colleague who worked here and recommended the College. I have been fortunate to be involved with the AP Institute for the last four years

Talk about growing up in England –

I was born in Leeds, a northern city in the county of Yorkshire.  Known for it’s once thriving textile, steel and now declined coal industry that developed during the industrial revolution of the 19thC. For some romantic Yorkshire images, think dark satanic mills, cloth capped workers and the bleak Haworth mores where Emily Bronte set the lone Heathcliff clamoring in Wuthering Heights.

I grew up in the 1980’s under Thatcherism where British society socially and politically went through drastic and violent shifts. The beginning of mass privatization and de-industrialization, that for Yorkshire meant the dismantling of the coal industry that devastated whole communities, to this day there are many areas in Wales and the North that have still not recovered from the huge loss of incomes and ways of life. These transformations were accompanied by the demise of unions as a national political force, laws were passed restricting union activity and in a terrible nutshell workers disappeared from political life (though compared to US Labor law individual workers are still allowed more legal protections) As a self-involved teenager I had no direct involvement with collective action at that time but growing up in a such climate did nurture the seriousness of what being a worker means to us now here in the US or any country.

I recently re-watched a 1990’s UK film called Naked by Mike Leigh, a hard tale to watch about a lone working class unemployed northerner who heads south to London with no desire for anything other than his own and others abuse.  For a psychic barometer of late 20thC life in post-Thatcher Britain with enterprise economy in full swing, it is not far off the mark. Now in the 21stC with the recent economic collapse, that we often interrupt like it was a one off disaster, how we choose to understand forces that structure our daily lives and act within our specific worlds is a hard but I think a most important issue. It involves, often reluctantly and painfully re-assessing many of our thoughts and feelings. But we are in an arts environment and creative works can inspire and help us even though the medicine is often not the dose of sugar we crave, as Leigh’s cruel but courageous film shows

Why did you come to US –

Whilst studying for my BFA at Cardiff College of Art in Wales, UK I met a visiting American professor who invited me take some courses at the College of Charleston, SC. This turned out to a most inspiring and productive time, I decided to come back for my MFA, then one thing led to other and here I am in Chicago.

What do you see as the value of unions –

As my answer about growing up in the UK shows the value of collective action is, I think, one of the most serious issues facing our contemporary lives—it is so often outlawed as an abomination of reason, socialized away as a useless and non realistic option. This seems to be amplified when workers are employed in higher education, and art institutions are particular examples. It is not an easy thing to hear, somewhat shocking in the face of our art and student- supporting minds, that our learning institutions are in the business of education and as such function as corporations. We might believe as college employees we are protected from the forces of economic decision-making, and to go against this belief feels wrong–that we are betraying something most precious or betraying those who appear to be in the driving seat of college wide planning. This is where we must insist on the complexity of the situation: to focus on decisions of upper administration as being the product of individuals alone is a mis-recognition of what are wider structural conditions, This also means that what occurs between students and faculty, what students learn and produce, is not reduced in importance and worth by our attention to the business of education. I have great faith that this the case and as the successful organization of part-time faculty here at Columbia shows, collective actions of workers is not in opposition to the quality of teaching students receive, in fact it is the opposite.

What do you think of the United Staff of Columbia College –

I think having a staff union here at Columbia is vital for the reasons I have already given. Their long struggle to form and produce a contract that offers protection for over 700 workers is to be commended and supported. It takes great courage and tenacity to form a collective force from scratch, with no resources or technical infra structures, no allotted time, all those things that we are used to when we show up at our jobs each day. That this Union is committed to representing fairly and justly the interests of employees here I have no doubt but they are only as effective as we workers want them to be, a large active membership is necessary. To use a trite phrase, it is us; not some internal enemy out to deceive but we do need to show up, really… we have everything to gain by doing so.

Your hobbies and interests –

When it comes to hobbies for me its more a case of an addiction or a collection. For example a large number of milk rings (blue2%, with the amount always increasing unless I become lactose intolerant) David Simon’s The Wire, film soundtracks, recently acquired Moon (2009) Clear plastic molds from the endless, useless packaging that accompanies all the stuff we consume. I am a bike rider but do not ride for pleasure or interest, I must always have a place to go or an errand to run, whatever enjoyment arrives is a non-substantial bonus, an also-ran to put it in horse racing terms.

Five songs on your playlist –

I am an old fashioned sort and only whole albums are on the virtual turntable: Alina by Arvo Pärtes, Mad Blunted Jazz by DJ Cam, Pole by Pole, The Good, the Bad & the Queen by The Good, the Bad & the Queen Good, Babel (soundtrack) by Gustavo Santaolalla