A Regional Artistic Exploration with Youth by Kellen Cooks

This is an image of Kellen Cooks, who is looking into the camera and is sitting on an armchair.

Kellen Cooks at curriculum planning session in summer 2022.

This is an image of Kellen Cooks, who is looking into the camera and is sitting on an armchair.

Kellen Cooks at curriculum planning session in summer 2022.

By Kellen Cooks

The Dreaming-on-Hudson project involved developing interactive mapping activities and place-based lessons that engage students’ spatial imaginaries and root sociological concepts in place and lived experiences. These activities and lessons constitute the Dreaming-on-Hudson curriculum, which was implemented at Ossining High School in Ossining, NY within the SUNY Racism, Classism, and Sexism (SUNY Race) course during the 2022-23 school year. The curriculum was co-developed and co-taught by the author. SUNY Race teachers Samuel North and Jillian McRae, and Joyce Sharrock Cole, the Ossining Village Historian. We began with activities that mapped and explored students’ own identities and communities, and widened towards understanding how sociological phenomena manifest within the town and region. At a time when attacks against critical race theory and educational equity initiatives are at a high, the Dreaming-on-Hudson project and SUNY Race provide a model for holistic social studies education that empowers students to shape the future of their community.

A short film created by Melody Chen and the Just Places Lab team about Kellen Cooks' Dreaming-on-Hudson curriculum. 

This project is rooted in the Hudson Valley, for one, because it is where I grew up and graduated from high school (Ossining High School Class of 2019!), but also because it is a region with a deep history of change and dreaming about the environment. Ghost stories and fantasies about the environment from the 1800s grew to define the image of the Hudson Valley far into the future. These past images remain, even as the region has evolved so much over time. The Hudson Valley I've grown up in is uniquely socioeconomically, culturally, and ecologically diverse. As we march deeper into the 21st century marked by a changing economy and a global pandemic, the future is gray and flexible. Children dream, activists organize, planners plan, developers develop, politicians promise, yet everyone is grasping at strings for what comes next.

Dreaming-on-Hudson is especially rooted in the dreams and perspectives of children and young adults as they look into this gray future. It's rooted in my memories of feeling frustrated about how detached social studies felt in some classrooms and how much history I learned from purely living and talking with people in the Hudson Valley. It also stems from how mind-blowing one social studies class I took in high school was in engaging us students with sociology concepts and the realities of growing up in the area. (Thank you, Ms. McRae and Mr. North!) The goal of Dreaming-on-Hudson is to make American social studies hit closer to home for students in the Hudson Valley, to acknowledge the unique view that young people have about their communities, and to empower local high-schoolers to dream about their communities and tell stories about how they identify with their home.

This is a link to my undergraduate thesis, "Dreaming-on-Hudson: Spatial Pedagogies and Holistic Social Studies Education in Ossining, NY", if you would like to learn more. 

Poster for Dreaming-on-Hudson exhibition

Poster for Dreaming-on-Hudson exhibition

The Cornell Council for the Arts selected Kellen Cooks’ Dreaming-on-Hudson for the 2022 Cornell Biennial: Futurities, Uncertain. An exhibition in the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning's Hartell Gallery featured the collaborative work of Kellen Cooks' with teachers and students at Ossining High School and the Ossining Village Historian. 

Dreaming-on-Hudson was curated by Kellen Cooks (B.S. URS '23). The curriculum is co-created by Kellen Cooks, Jillian McRae, Samuel North, and Joyce Sharrock Cole.

This exhibition principally represented the progress of the Dreaming-on Hudson curriculum at Ossining High School in Ossining, NY, located in the Hudson Valley of New York. Materials produced by students over the past two months were exhibited alongside maps produced by Kellen Cooks and Thomas Petluck (B.S. URS '22), who are both 2019 graduates of Ossining High School. These were exhibited with other examples of environmental speculation from institutions and community groups in Ossining.

Dreaming-on-Hudson explores how spatial imaginations are produces from socially-diverse suburban communities, and how youth imaginations relate to the plans of established institutions within Ossining and the Hudson Valley. From this project, we can universally learn to question how the way in which a place is told shapes its identity, its communities, its development, and its future, within the Hudson Valley and beyond.

The Dreaming-on-Hudson exhibition was realized with assistance and advising by Dr. Jennifer Minner, Wyeth Augustine-Marceil, Melody Chen, the Just Places Lab, Dr. Raymond Craib, Dr. Derrick Spires, Jillian McRae, Samuel North, Joyce Sharrock Cole, and the students of SUNY Race. This project was funded by the Cornell Council of the Arts, the McNair Scholars Program, and the Rawlings Presidential Research Scholars Program.

Instagram post about the Dreaming-on-Hudson exhibition November 7-18, 2022.

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