Many years ago, I worked at an arts high school. The school gave students who were actors, dancers, musicians and visual artists an opportunity to focus on their particular art form as well as taking academic classes like math, english, and science. It was a vibrant community filled with high energy and an abundance of creativity. Most of the teachers were artists themselves, totally committed to making the school work. In its early years, the art department at the school was the smallest and we felt like the underdogs as far as policies and attention paid to us. We decided to create a happening that would bring that much desired attention.
Each student in the art department was assigned a different public section of the school, a particular hallway or stairwell. For a week, the students planned and created disposable sculptures/ art to alter the space they were assigned. After the bell rang on the day of the happening and everyone went to their classes, the art students transformed their assigned spaces. They only had a class period for this metamorphosis to take place so that when the bell rang for the following period, the entire school would have to negotiate their “transformed” spaces to get to their next classes. One student built a kind of tunnel which went down a stairwell and students literally needed to slide or climb through the tunnel to get to another floor. There were streamers and boxes and chairs and desks creatively strewn in the public spaces through which students and teachers needed to pass. One student buried himself, with the help of a few cohorts, beneath a huge pile of shredded, crumpled papers and assorted garbage in the hallway in front of the principal’s office.
The principal had been informed about this “happening” when the idea first occurred to us, but clearly didn’t really realize the extent to which this transformation would disrupt the whole school. He was nervous, edgy, anxious about how the entire school had been turned upside down. He paced back and forth around the huge pile of papers that had been placed in front of his office. He shouted at everyone who was clearly enjoying the altered journeys—sliding down stairwells, leaping over obstacles in front of the math room, negotiating the maze near the dance studios. “It’s over,” he said. “Get to class. Everyone get to class. It’s over. It’s over.”
It was then that MD, the student beneath the mound of detritus, sat up very, very slowly, with his finger pointing directly at the principal, causing the immense pile of paper and garbage on top of him to cascade all over and said quite ominously and with great purpose, “It’s. Never. Over.”
The halls were quiet. Everyone had found their next class. The art students removed every last bit of material and put it all in large rubbish bags that were put into the trash of the building next store, as was previously planned and an essential part of the happening itself. Not a trace of the event was left anywhere in the school. When the bell rang and students and teachers looked anxiously and with great anticipation out the doors of their classrooms for what might come next, there was nothing. It was as if the whole event had never happened.