Monday, March 30, 2015

RECAP // MF @ SXSWedu Conference

This post was written by Felice Cleveland, the Mattress Factory's Director of Education.

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of attending the SXSWedu conference in Austin, TX. Most people associate SXSW with music, films and technology, but five years ago they launched SXSWedu as a place to imagine the future of teaching and learning. SXSWedu is a community-fueled event, and one of the unique qualities of this conference is the Panel Picker feature where anyone can submit a proposal and the crowd votes on which sessions, speakers and topics they are most interested in. According to, this conference “fosters innovation in learning by hosting a diverse and energetic community of stakeholders from a variety of backgrounds in education.” During the conference I met fellow museum educators as well as architects who design schools, educational app-builders, designers and all sorts of teachers.

I participated in a panel with several Pittsburgh-based colleagues about a project-based learning collaboration called The Galleries Project. The panel was titled “Using Art to Transform Physical Spaces and Minds.”  The Galleries Project is an opportunity for high school students to partner with a mentor from a local art institution (the Mattress Factory, the Warhol Museum, the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Pittsburgh Glass Center and last year it was the Toonseum and this year the Children’s Museum). The students visit their partner organization, learn more about career opportunities in the arts, and see behind-the-scenes how exhibitions are installed and curated. The students then work together as a group to choose a place within their school to create their own installation inspired by their partner institution. The students present a detailed plan and budget to their peers and partner organizations. Once their project is approved they have to work on installing and making their plan a reality. This sort of holistic way of thinking about an assignment is called project-based learning. Through this process the students begin to gain many 21st century skills – like teamwork, collaboration, creative problem solving and communication. Another key aspect of this project is that students have a direct impact on the physical space in their school. They are allowed to paint the walls, hang work and create art that they will see every day in their hallways. During our panel discussion we had several educators who were very interested in the project and asked questions about how they could replicate it in their cities and schools.

The conference was a lot to take in and I am still pondering how the Mattress Factory Education Department can tap into and respond to many of the trends, concerns and new ideas around education. I wanted to share some information about the people that I heard speak who were particularly inspiring, and other interesting issues that arose at SXSWedu.  

The conference started with a keynote by Charles Best who is the founder of It is one of the first crowd funding sites, specifically built for teachers to request resources for their classroom – anything from pencils and paper to field trips, iPads, books or art supplies. (Check it out! There are many Pittsburgh-based schools and projects featured.) I also got to hear Rosanne Somerson, the new president of the Rhode Island School of Design speak about the impact of critical making. Design is not just a way to solve problems, but a way to reframe the questions. Learning how to be a critical maker means coming up against uncertainty, being nimble and working through it. At the Mattress Factory this is a quality we encourage in our artists and all of our students. Many of the challenges that we face here we have never had to deal with before – whether it be an installation where we are slicing through the building inthe name of art or creating a rainbow in one of our galleries. We don’t know the final product and how it is going to work out, but we problem solve and work through it. We encourage our students to do the same and know that this is a quality that will serve them well as creative adults in the world.

One of my favorite parts of the conference was eduFilms—at the Alamo Drafthouse (imagine a movie theater that serves you food and drinks during the movie!). They showed a series of poignant narratives and documentaries focusing on all aspects of education. I saw Most Likely to Succeed, a documentary about how our education system has remained the same in many ways since 1893. A school is highlighted that is turning our current education model on its head, instead of focusing on content and testing, students are given one large project to work on as a class for the course of the year. In this way students are asked to work together and problem solve and these teachers believe they are sending students out in the world that are better prepared for college and the workplace. I also saw a documentary called This is My Land about how students in Israel and Palestine are taught about their history and each other. The last film I saw, If You Build It, followed a keynote by the subject of the film, Emily Pilloton. Emily is the Founder and Executive Director of Project H, which according to their website is a non-profit teaching youth to design and build their future with hearts, hands and hammers. The documentary is about a course called Studio H that Emily and her partner Matthew Miller designed for a rural town in North Carolina. They worked closely with a group of 10 students over the course of the year teaching them design and hands-on building techniques with the goal that at the end of the class the students would build something for their community. I definitely recommend all of these films if you ever get a chance to see them. They also really brought home the idea of project-based learning and the power of trusting students and motivating them by connecting them to their community.

Getting back into the routine here at home, I am still thinking about these ideas and working to bring more project-based learning and community connections to our work on Pittsburgh’s Northside. To learn more about what we are doing in the Education Department at the Mattress Factory be sure to check out Please feel free to e-mail me at if you ever have any questions.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

RECAP // Coffee Dates with Kathleen Montgomery

This past Saturday, March 21st, marked the second installment of the Mattress Factory's new member program Coffee Dates with special guest Kathleen Montgomery. MF Members of all ages gathered around the tables in the MF Café to sit and chat with her.
Kathleen Montgomery is one of the artists in the Mattress Factory's current exhibition Artists in Residence. Her exhibition, "Body Memory Architecture" is located at the museum's satellite gallery 1414 Monterey Street. Kathy's exhibition closes March 29th. She is a long-time friend of the Mattress Factory that first exhibited at the MF in 1989 with a solo show "Toward the Dark," and again in a Gestures show in 2003. More information about these exhibitions can be found in the Active Archive on our website.

After everyone got settled with their coffee and tea, the conversation was quick to begin with an opening comment by Kathleen regarding how she begins her artistic process. "It's all made by hand. My hands are where I start," she said. Members were eager to jump in, drawing their own connections to the human form and body. One member made the comment that the exhibition felt "meditative and spiritual." Another referred to it as "beautifully wild." Another member said she was speechless.
The next Coffee Date will be with artist John Peña on Saturday, April 18, 2015 at 10:30am in the MF Café. RSVP to

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

PREVIEW // "Factory Installed" Exhibition

Preparations for the upcoming exhibition Factory Installed are already underway! Factory Installed is a two-part exhibition opening in May and September that will feature installations from eight artists chosen from a pool of over 500 applicants. One of these artists, Biogenous, explores the architectural use of mutually beneficial microbes to change buildings from units of consumption to units of production. Earlier this week, Jake Douenias of Biogenous explained some of his early designs to Heather McElwee and Jason Forck of the Pittsburgh Glass Center (PGC).

During day one of working in the PGC hot shop, Jake continues to tweak his CAD designs while Jason begins work at the glassblower’s bench. New school and old school unite in a beautiful way.

The final shapes will be filled with several gallons of water and suspended from the ceiling, so Jake must test the design of his hanging system using an unfinished early prototype. The results are great!

We would like to give a huge thank you to the PGC for their support in the design and fabrication of the glass structures that will be used in this installation at the Mattress Factory running from May 15, 2015 through Winter 2016. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

ALL-NEW // "Screenings 2015"

This is the third installment of Screenings, an installation of spontaneous film sketches inspired by the Mattress Factory's Gestures series. In this ongoing exhibition series, artists have been invited to create a new work specifically for the Mattress Factory's lobby projection screen. Each artist was asked to provide a quick and gestural "sketch" and encouraged to experiment outside their normal way of working. The second screening of 2015 will be Alexi Morrissey's Pirate Copy, which will run from March 13 - April 2 in the Mattress Factory Lobby.

Pirate Copy
Running Time: 38 minutes

Alexi Morrissey (b. 1971) is an American artist working in sculpture, performance and installation art. He has exhibited nationally and internationally working both as an auteur and a collaborator executing projects with individuals, collectives, institutions and governments. These concerns have led him to interrogate the commonplace notions of function, public space, history, language and the pervasive construct of narrative. He has done tele-present performance art with young prisoners, lectured on the history of planetary robotics and made sculptures that talk to the dead. He lives and works in Pittsburgh, PA.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

PREVIEW // ARTLab: Penny Arcade in the Galleries!

This Saturday, Penny Arcade is joining us again at the Mattress Factory for some afternoon fun! Using inspiration from the artwork and input from visitors, the Penny Players will create spontaneous theater right in the galleries.

Penny Arcade's Penny Players at their Winter Cheer show!

Penny Arcade is an improv comedy group specializing in family shows at Arcade Comedy Theater every second Saturday at 1pm. The show is a fun and creative learning opportunity for children to see how their contributions can change a story into something zany and unique.

Improvised comedy is a type of theater that is made up in the moment. None of the content of an improvised show is ever rehearsed beforehand. There are no scripts or lines to memorize - it’s all created by the performers using suggestions from the audience. It is an agreement between the performers to play together and to accept and build upon the ideas each performer brings to the stage. Just as our Mattress Factory artists-in-residence are inspired and influenced by the gallery space, an improviser also takes inspiration from their fellow performers, the theater space, and the audience who comes to watch. We’re really excited to have installation art and improv in the same place this weekend.

Come to the Mattress Factory this Saturday and see some live performances by the Penny Arcade. They need your suggestions to make their show come alive.

As always, ARTLab is FREE with admission and takes place from 1-4pm in the MF Lobby. All ages welcome (even adults).  Don't forget there’s also a FREE drop-in tour that begins at noon - just meet at the Admissions Desk at that time to join in.

Penny Arcade’s next show will be on March 14 at 1pm downtown at Arcade Comedy Theater, just in time to celebrate the St. Patrick's Day parade festivities!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

MF IN THE NEWS // Pop City Media

The Mattress Factory was recently featured by Pop City! They featured MF Director of Education Felice Cleveland, who will be attending the annual SXSWedu Conference and Festival in Austin, Texas to participate in a panel discussion about the benefits of project-based learning in schools.

Monday, March 2, 2015

RECAP // Mini-Factory: SENSES!

Our SENSES are the portal to discovering the world.  They evoke emotions which shape our experience on a sunny day, in a noisy room, or at the Mattress Factory.  Our group of young artists started their SENSES journey with a discussion and a book, Five for the Little One, during the Mini-Factory program.  After building a solid understanding of how people use their senses of sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch, we explored Danny Bracken’s current installation.

Bracken’s piece entices us to touch the soft grass, peek at the blue light, listen to the music and look at the rainbow.  What does it smell like after a storm?  What can you see after the rain?  What do the rocks feel like when you climb a mountain?  Everything in this gallery pulls the viewer in, and demands closer observation. It is a sensory explosion.

After visiting Bracken’s exhibit, we put our SENSES to the test with some fun activities. We received discovery bags that held secret objects which could be touched, smelled, tasted and listened to, but just like our book Seven Blind Mice tells us, no looking!  We used our other SENSES to guess what the objects in the bags were. What happens when we take one of our senses away?  Does it become easier or more difficult to "see" objects?  How do our SENSES play tricks on us?  How important are our SENSES?  When we explore art, just how much do we use all of our SENSES? Visit the Mattress Factory to find out!

Mini-Factory is an interactive learning program for children ages 3-5 years old and their parents or caregivers. Using contemporary installation art, parents and children will explore new ideas and concepts from the everyday world. Join us on March 14 at 10am to learn about PLACE. Email to RSVP today!