Alternative Knowledge Access, a structure built by junior painting major Amy Borch, sits on Tyler’s lawn.
When Alternative Knowledge Access was under construction in front of Tyler School of Art, some students weren’t sure what to make of it.
Throughout any day, the space has students inside, sitting around in a circle or in a classroom set-up doing anything from meditating to listening to lectures on fracking.
“I noticed [AKA] when they first started building it, and I thought it was going to be a work of art,” said Alex Goodhart, a sophomore music composition major. “When it was first in existence, it started out as a real classroom and I had no idea what was going on with it. I thought then that it was untouchable or that it was only for art students.”
Starting out as a tent at Occupy Philadelphia as part of a class assignment, AKA provides an open forum for students to teach classes of their own, have discussions and learn with no limitations.
“The assignment we were given was to work with a community that we feel connected with,” junior painting major Amy Borch said.
Borch founded the space with classmate Elisa Mosely.
“So Occupy Everywhere started and we didn’t really know what it was about, Occupy kind of knew what it was about and we wanted to go there to see why people were there and we wanted to go there to figure out why we were there. We wound up building a space to hold our class in there. We stopped using Tyler to go have class and we went down to Occupy Philly, met with our professor, started talking to people there and just started figuring out ways of connecting with people and the ideas there and collaborating.”
After the end of Occupy Philadelphia’s physical presence, AKA needed a new location.
“This semester when we were thinking about another community to work with, we wanted to work with the one that we felt closest to, so we came to Tyler and said we’re going to build it here, have this similar idea here,” Borch said.
“We thought maybe we should recreate the tent we had at Occupy Philly, then we were saying, ‘No we can’t rebuild that tent because it’s a different environment and we have to adapt to it. So we wound up planning out a structure that didn’t look anything [like it does now] when we first planned it out.”
Built in one day, AKA instantly attracted a lot of curiosity. The space has been home to self-defense classes, meditations, discussions, compost and rust printing and jam sessions.
“When I sit out here I constantly get asked by people walking by, ‘What is this? This is so cool,’” junior sculpture major Sienna Martz said. “It’s really fun to explain and how this is free to the people, free to teach, free to love, free to learn.”
Martz taught a class on compost and rust printing, a form of dying fabric by mashing fruit and vegetables and metals into fabric pieces, putting the materials in a plastic bag for a month and then seeing the results.
The classes and discussions held in AKA also bring to light bigger concerns students have regarding their education.
“Issues that came up are, people aren’t learning what they want to be learning inside the institution, inside traditional schooling models,” Borch said. “Another thing was [that] people aren’t learning in ways they want to learn. They aren’t having intimate classes, they aren’t connecting with their teachers the way they want to, they also don’t have any agency over their schedule.”
AKA was only scheduled to stay up until March 31, but a petition went up on the outside of the building to keep the space up longer.
“If they leave it here it will be successful, I think,” junior vocal performance major Sage Dipalma said.
“The structure’s solid, it’s holding up and it has the shelter from the Tyler roof so I think it should be something that should go longer than two weeks,” Martz said. “I think the longer it’s up the more people will figure out what it is and take advantage of it.”
AKA has support from not only students, but faculty as well.
“Faculty response has been extremely positive,” Borch said. “It wasn’t just students having their own say wanting to do something, it was definitely a collaboration with faculty.”
“Everyone who comes into this space builds upon it,” Borch added. “Whether they’re just in here or they contribute to the art or they helped build pieces of it, or they helped teach or even participated in classes.”
While the future of AKA may not be guaranteed, like other social movements, the idea may live on.
Luis Fernando Rodriguez may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.