Simple Math, Too by Nick Azzaro
Simple Math, Too by Nick Azzaro
I am a lifelong artist, with over 20 years of commercial and fine art photography experience. My personal work has been rooted in social justice most of the way. Working in education was never my plan, but in 2017, after running after school photography clubs for years with Eastern Michigan University Bright Futures, I had the opportunity to build a photography program from the ground up at Ypsilanti Community High School as a full-time teacher.
Being a teacher was one of the most rewarding, challenging, fun and not fun, enriching experiences I have ever had. It is not about entering a room and making sure young people fall in line but rather meeting the future of this country where they are and creating safe and inclusive environments where learning is possible. No two students learn the same way, and few have the same experiences outside of the classroom. While we cannot change home life, we also cannot ignore trauma related to circumstances stemming from outside events, and we absolutely cannot deny that appearance and identity directly affect life experiences.
I learned all the ways we have tried to standardize education and hold young people accountable, and all the ways we have not standardized accessibility. Much of my work over the last 8 years has been responding to that. The pandemic showed me how inaccessible photography can be, which brought our photography program to an end and challenged me to think of other ways to create outlets for young people. While I will never not be a photographer, I have moved on to sculpting with accessible materials and site-specific installations.
Printer paper and wheatpaste, which is a glue made from cooking flour in water, are among my preferred materials because they are so accessible. I also sculpt with out-of-use school materials, like broken furniture, outdated books, and more. In addition to being abundant in districts that have had to downsize and consolidate, which usually goes hand-in-hand with systemic hurdles, such materials also bring context and prompts for dialogue.
Simple Math, Too
CultureVerse collaborated with Nick to scan his exhibition Simple Math, Too using the Matterport Pro2 3D Camera and offer the exhibit virtually. Three installations are on display across three former classrooms to comprise the full exhibit, including a new piece entitled Educution, made with support from University of Michigan Stamps School of Art & Design. Explore the space on your device and interact to learn more information about and intention behind each piece:
The effects of state mandated limitations of discussions in public schools on race, identity, and this country's past cause undeniable harm through repression while simultaneously encouraging prejudice and bigotry. My work is informed by contrasting the research that began when I started working in Ypsilanti Community Schools in 2013, with the biases I grew up with as a white man in America.
There are many states taking extreme measures to silence such discussions, while providing white-washed alternatives. Florida has outlawed AP African American studies in public schools, among many other things. Iowa will allow public school funds to go towards private schools, who can easily discriminate. Kentucky's SB1 limits all discussions on identity and orientation in public schools, among other things. Virginia's governor signed an executive order banning any discussion of Critical Race Theory in public schools. Two Ohio moms are even challenging a private school they chose to send their kids to for teaching Critical Race Theory, and are seemingly getting support.
As a teacher at Ypsilanti Community High School, I did everything I could to meet students where they were. It's common sense that most humans have a sense of identity before high school age, and discussing different life experiences allows for understanding and awareness. However, not every parent agrees and I saw just how detrimental that lack of support can be. I realized in the realm of public schools, I couldn't argue with parents and win. My support would have to be discreet or come through my work as an artist outside of schools.
The public school system is flawed but not beyond repair. However, repressing information and limiting discourse will ensure a void of diverse, accepting, creative thinkers. It’s simple math, too.
Simple Math, Too is a follow-up to my 2019 show Simple Math, which commented on the academic lynching that results from failing students forward.
To learn more about the exhibit and Nick's works, visit his website: https://www.nickazzaro.xyz/simple-math-too