If I ever disappear, save for a random kidnapping, you might want to look for me up in a 100-year old farmhouse in Bethel, Maine, trying desperately to be a welcomed fly-on-the-wall at Project M, the brainchild of John Bielenberg.
Where did I first hear about this stunning adventure in learning, design education, and trying to change the world for the better? I'm not sure. But yesterday at Borders I was thumbing through the most recent copy of "How" magazine (2.06) when on page 66 I ran again across news of Project M and the Bielenberg inspiration.
And see, this is where it gets tricky. Because I want very badly to share this remarkable example of how design and education and radically re-writing the rules for what it means to learn and study and professionally develop. Because it's the right thing to do. But I also want to keep it a secret, because I'm hoping one day to spend a few weeks up there in Bethel, not too far from where I spent my childhood as a Maine boy, and if you read about it, you'll fall in love with it, and you'll threaten to take my spot. And that's not a good thing.
But, in the spirit of a good poker game, here's a few snippets from the article limentioned above ("Brought to You By the Letter M"). But as soon as you read about it, and maybe go to the Project M link and download the application, forget everything I told you. And one day I'll tell you first-hand what all the fuss was really about.
"Part sweat lodge, part think tank, John Bielenberg's Project M teaches passionate young designers why its their job to change the world" -- article intro
Project M stands for Maine, messages, and Mockbee (as in Samuel Mockbee, aka "Sambo", the beloved founder of the Rural Studio out of Auburn's School of Architecture and Hale, Alabama...and if nothing else, then fall in love with the Rural Studio and Mockbee's legacy...and play a small role in his challenge to us all to "Proceed and Be Bold"!).
Okay, this is a killer...and in a good way! The summer program, and a highly competitive one at that, has a) no schedule, b) no curriculum, and c) no deadlines. Mercy. And amen!
A little head-music for you: "In the creative process, however, heuristic bias doesn't work. It's only by abandoning these habitual processes that we can find unexpected solutions". A teaser as to the mental approach they take up there in Maine at Project M.
"Project M is designed to hit these young people before they become disillusioned and inspire them with the idea that design has the potential to have a meaningful and positive effect on the world" - Bielenberg.
"Thinking Wrong to Design Right" centers everything for Bielenberg and his team of 2 to 7 students (why take a full class when you only need a few at a time?). As he states, the goal is to change the world. And to do that, it's necessary to start small (a poster, listening to teens in a clinic, challenging people with questions previously unasked, a book jacket design, etc.). "M focuses on finding a tiny, righteous piece of the world that needs a voice and giving it the proper bullhorn."
And maybe it means one day realizing that villages in Ghana are forever changed. Or women in 3rd world nations are the recipients of micro-lending opportunities. Or conservation programs in Costa Rica are enhanced. Or kids with severe behavioral problems feel like someone actually listened.