Vision + Rationale
The Oregon Institute for Creative Research, a 501(c)(3), is a platform for envisioning, generating, and developing new models for art and intervention, theory and practice, research and critique, representation and verification; a school and educational initiative in which students and researchers work on major questions of pressing concern and global import in terms of junctures and intersections (Ethics, Æsthetics, Ecology, Education); and a project incubator for actuating optimal futures in the face of massive global change, political polarization, and environmental crisis. Towards this end, the OICR fosters the work of thinkers and makers devoted to tackling social, psychological, and ecological problems in new and innovative ways—scholars, theorists, researchers, journalists, documentarians, social-justice advocates, artists, writers, and poets.
Each year, fifteen students/research apprentices are selected to work with OICR faculty and associates on projects possessing direct relevance and applicability for rethinking major sites of contemporary contestation in the twenty-first century, from the threatened disappearance of politics to the rise of social media; from biotechnology to the posthuman; from surveillance to war, revolution, and political terror; from the question of visuality to the art of the question, with special attention paid to the central role played by aesthetics. Many of the Institute’s inaugural projects address the rural-urban divide, quandaries of verification, epistemological crisis, and the increasing attenuation of sense-based experience.
They include Readings for Now, a series of seminars and podcasts devoted to texts by major thinkers particularly relevant for today (Arendt, Adorno, Agamben, and others); M.A.P. (Millennial Agricultural Projects), a mobile kitchen devoted to post-slaughterhouse agricultural outreach that will traverse the entirety of the Continental U.S.A., one town at a time, introducing citizens to non-GMO plant-based proteins in collaboration with local farmers, artisans, entrepreneurs, and food activists; Over These Prison Walls, an arts-and-humanities initiative at the Donald E. Long Detention Center; and The Missing H, an initiative that, as part of OICR’s emphasis on new journalism and new documentary, will train groups of citizen journalists in debate, fact-checking, and research design and methods while attempting to develop new means for distinguishing the true from the false, the real from the fake, fact from fiction, and documentary from mockumentary. All of our projects are based on the fact that information per se, whether in the form of facts, statistics, or data visualization, has proven increasingly inadequate to the task of judgment. Mere data have failed to create value, meaning, or even a sense of direction.
Building on 100+ years of combined experience in teaching, writing, and research and a long history of promoting student and alumni success in fields ranging from teaching, writing, creative direction, strategic research, design research, visual research, ecological restoration, intellectual property rights, and social advocacy, we seek to advance the reunification of all branches of knowledge as the necessary first step in resacralizing the Earth and everything in it.
Why & Why Now
The Oregon Institute for Creative Research seeks to create new models for research and learning at a time when current enterprises seem increasingly fragile, economically out of reach, and misguided. The time has come to resurrect and revivify the goals and ideals of Black Mountain College, the most important of the experimental colleges of North America that have had at the center of their mission and their curriculum the unifying power of the arts. Indeed, to our minds, the ultimate accolade would be something like: “If Black Mountain College were alive today, it might look like this.”
In the OICR Seminar, students and research associates devote themselves to the historical, theoretical, and aesthetic exploration of a major concept. At the end of each term, knowledge is translated into actionable ideas during an intensive charrette and workshop. The structure is synergistic, giving the program a rare coherence and unity of purpose and creating the conditions for fostering critical thinkers who are able to cross back and forth between the verbal and visual, melding them in significant ways; who think in a rigorous and creative way about major questions and challenges; and who are at home in a number of domains. The rigorous exploration of ideas continues throughout the year through an ongoing series of transdisciplinary seminars, guest lectures, workshops, conversations and conferences, and innovative new platforms that facilitate the intelligent exchange of ideas and solutions across borders, national and international. We have recently established an alliance with the University of Iowa’s International Writers Program (IWP), arguably the finest in the country. Each year, the Institute will host published writers from around the globe, who will attend the OICR Theory Studios.
In addition to its mission of teaching and learning at the highest levels, the OICR is a research institute and archive. Combining theory and practice in equal measure, it brings people together to think through contemporary crises and to work on addressing them through the emerging domain of creative research. The Institute sponsors and organizes collaborative and individual research, events, and conferences as well as interventions, social practices, and social-justice projects on matters of critical concern that reach far into the community. It is particularly interested in fostering critical investigations of the role played by aesthetics in contemporary developments, given that the basis for thought, behavior, and action is never information alone, intelligence and judgment being embedded in perception itself. The OICR aspires to become a major, influential center for research, learning, outreach, and intervention for the 21st century.
The Power of Unified Knowledge: Ethics, Æsthetics, Ecology, Education (E4)
Moving beyond traditional divides while reinstating the ideals of rigorous critique, authentic collaboration, common purpose, and unified knowledge, the OICR works to foster conditions for rethinking critically and creatively the most urgent issues of our time, expanding the alternative worlds and actionable futures made possible by art and the imagination. We are guided by the mantra of E4—Ethics, Æsthetics, Ecology, Education. Indeed, all the activities of the OICR take place at their critical junction. The insularity of the various fields of learning is now greater than ever before and functions increasingly as a hindrance to thought, judgment, social change: an optimal future.
The OICR aims to create, develop, and test new models for the transmission of knowledge as well as new models for living in the 21st century.
It brings together groups of people to make things happen in the form of seminars, conferences, roundtable discussions, hands-on projects, grassroots initiatives, positive interventions, and acts of social justice. Given the high stakes, it insists on true dialogue between those in the arts, humanities, sciences, and social sciences, rejecting simplistic assumptions and false consensus.
It addresses major problems, whether heavy metals in the air we breathe to homelessness to a failed educational system now based largely on commerce rather than the transmission from one generation to the next of everything deemed indispensable for the continuation of life and culture.
It sponsors collaborations with individuals committed to the same ideals and core values, which include the power of critique to effectuate positive social change, rigorous conceptualization, unified knowledge, authentic collaboration, and an indefatigable emphasis on ethics as the starting point for, and solid basis of, all endeavors.
It seeks to establish modes of verification, discernment, and judgment at a time when all the old protocols have been radically weakened and damaged—and, in many cases, eliminated entirely.
It fosters and supports intelligence, commitment, and courage—and the infrastructure necessary for intervention. It facilitates the work of those able to hold true to principle in the face of great pressure to do otherwise.