In New York, Cooper Union’s Saturday Program (SatPro) has been a bastion of public arts education in the city for more than 50 years, providing some 15,000 high school students with instruction in eight different artistic disciplines. From October to April, more than 200 young people—80 percent of whom come from low-income neighborhoods—spend their Saturdays at the institution’s Manhattan campus, taking courses taught by Cooper Union students in architecture, painting, graphic design, sculpture, and more. No portfolio is required to apply, making the program accessible to those with limited resources.
Professor Elizabeth O’Donnell, who served as associate dean for Cooper Union’s school of architecture, notes that in addition to learning concrete skills, participants gain familiarity with the higher-education environment. “They’re getting to see what being an architecture student in college looks like,” she explains. “Exposure to that world is incredibly important to helping a young student overcome barriers to getting there.”
Each year, O’Donnell says, two or three of Cooper Union’s architecture school’s new enrollees are SatPro alumni. And, sometimes, those same individuals return to the program as instructors—a fact that underscores the program’s nature of mutual exchange. “Every- body comes into the room as a teacher, and everybody comes in as a student,” she says. “Everybody has something of value that informs the process.” The fall 2020 program will take place online.