Making and Mending

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[Editor’s Note] The following blog post by Agency by Design Oakland Senior Fellow Susan Wolf is the first of a series that explores the intersection of maker-centered learning and repair.  Return to our blog for future updates on our fellows' projects that explore the dynamic intersection of repair and making.

 “Artful making & mending projects have a real function…they provide space for thinking and daydreaming and the tangible artifacts birth a moment of pride when the maker can announce: ‘See what I made?’” - Susan Wolf

“Artful making & mending projects have a real function…they provide space for thinking and daydreaming and the tangible artifacts birth a moment of pride when the maker can announce: ‘See what I made?’” - Susan Wolf

 In addition to her work with Agency  by  Design Oakland as a senior fellow, Susan Wolf is an artful maker and mother. “In my art practice, I have been thinking a lot about mending and the kind of making I did when I was young that included knitting scarves, embroidery, macrame and stuff in the kitchen, says Wolf. “Currently, I have been making use of vintage pieces of clothing and stuff like linen napkins that have been passed to me that I will never use for anything but art. Taking them apart and reassembling them in unconventional but loving ways reunites me with my elders and connects back to what I did as a kid.”

In addition to her work with Agency by Design Oakland as a senior fellow, Susan Wolf is an artful maker and mother. “In my art practice, I have been thinking a lot about mending and the kind of making I did when I was young that included knitting scarves, embroidery, macrame and stuff in the kitchen, says Wolf. “Currently, I have been making use of vintage pieces of clothing and stuff like linen napkins that have been passed to me that I will never use for anything but art. Taking them apart and reassembling them in unconventional but loving ways reunites me with my elders and connects back to what I did as a kid.”


In the past dozen years, my teaching practice has evolved beyond urgent love and advocacy for access to the arts in public schools and into more complex and beautiful territory of culturally responsive art integration strategies. More woke each year, I now hold an urgent love and advocacy for culturally-responsive teaching and healing-informed pedagogy.

Along this journey towards healing-informed pedagogy, I often reflect on Sean Ginwright’s idea about how important it is to shift away from deficit-based, trauma-informed pedagogy toward what he calls “Healing-Centered Engagement.” In Ginwright’s recent article The Future of Healing: Shifting from Trauma-Informed Care to Healing-Centered Engagement, he writes:

A healing-centered approach to addressing trauma requires a different question that moves beyond “what happened to you” to “what’s right with you” and views those exposed to trauma as agents in the creation of their own well-being rather than victims of traumatic events. Healing centered engagement is akin to the South African term “Ubuntu” meaning that humanness is found through our interdependence, collective engagement and service to others. Additionally, healing centered engagement offers an asset driven approach aimed at the holistic restoration of young peoples’ well-being.
— Sean Ginwright

Ginwright further states that “there are four key elements of healing-centered engagement that may at times overlap with current trauma informed practices but offers several key distinctions:

Healing-centered engagement is explicitly political, rather than clinical.

Healing-centered engagement is culturally grounded and views healing as the restoration of identity.

Healing-centered engagement is asset driven and focuses well-being we want, rather than symptoms we want to suppress.

Healing-centered engagement supports adult providers with their own healing.”

This reframing of trauma-informed pedagogy to healing-centered engagement is especially important for our educator community in Oakland, who are expected to operate within extremely complex social spaces. Navigating the complexities of a broken educational system, we must be many things beyond our credentials, and we are often times left feeling exhausted. When our learning spaces shift their focus toward repair and mending, a door is opened...

As a senior fellow in the Agency by Design Oakland fellowship, I support educators as they dig into a personal inquiry about maker identity. I support our Oakland educators with ideas that the acts of making, repairing and mending give birth to. Our fellowship also nurtures learning spaces that problem solve, create and heal.

In mid-September, our Agency by Design Oakland fellowship met for our first daylong retreat. Before the retreat, everyone was asked to bring something that needs to be repaired. After breakfast and introductions, we asked our fellows a seemingly simple question: What is repair?

As our fellows shared their answers, I transcribed their thoughts to build our collective knowledge. I noticed how their thinking shifted between the verb and the noun, as well as how quickly our fellows dove deeply into the metacognition of the question. Nico Chen, our Agency by Design Oakland Program Coordinator, also noticed how the fellows’ co-created definition also vacillated between hope and despair. It also made me wonder when the practice of mending and repair becomes an act of survival? I love how educators show up.

After reaching our collective understanding of repair, it was time to experience the transformative power of repair through two immersive options for making and mending. Our Agency by Design Oakland fellows had two choices in deciding what to repair:

Literal: If you remembered to bring an artifact that needed repairing or mending, take some time to mend or repair the object you brought.

Figurative: Repair the Impossibly Broken (a nod to Yoko Ono) — using the ceramic shards, wax, tape and fiber provided, mend and transform these seeming impossibly broken artifacts.

Walking around the room, I saw our Agency by Design Oakland fellows quiet while working, immersed in varying modes of literal and figurative repair. A bit more than a half hour later, we asked our fellows to resurface, reflect on their repairs, and to prepare for their gallery walk. I was interested in how our fellows were feeling. One fellow told me, “I forgot everything while I was working.” “My mind stopped,” said another fellow.

Below is a collection of our fellows’ thoughts from the process, as well as pictures of the artifacts that our fellows made and mended:

As we transitioned from making and mending to our gallery walk, I saw and heard fellows sharing their process of making and mending. While the literal process often became a straightforward repair project, the figurative process became a nebulous moment of exploration, discovery and healing. One fellow said, “I did not know what I would make, I just began.” Another fellow said, “I started with one idea and saw it change.” As they shared, I took in our fellows’ calm and wonder — while the fellows who chose the figurative process said that they needed more time, they also found in this process a restorative and satisfying experience.

Reflecting on the results of this figurative process of making and mending, I once again see “mending the impossibly broken” as a perfect metaphor for educators navigating complex, broken systems. The materials are limited and janky. There is no predictable outcome. It is an invitation to muck about — an invitation that becomes a magical moment of healing.

[Editor’s Note] Agency by Design Oakland is proud to announce a partnership with Culture of Repair, whose mission is to “transform our culture into one that repairs more readily than it purchases.”  In partnership with Culture of Repair, we are offering 20 mini-grants so that our current and former Agency by Design Oakland fellows can carry out projects that promote sustainable making.  So far, our grantees’ projects range from creating an on-campus bicycle repair center to establishing an after-school club that learns welding as a skill to fix school furniture.