Artifice is Woodlawn-based organization with a bold new approach to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education. We seek to use project-based, hands-on learning to endow participants with the tech and entrepreneurial skills, specifically, that will make them the masters of their own destiny. Using the skills they learn at the center to create community-based social enterprises, students at Artifice will build their portfolios while benefitting the community. Ultimately, we hope to combine tech and entrepreneurial competencies in a way that will sustainably raise the economic and educational prospects of the neighborhood and surrounding areas.
“Artifice” comes from the Latin for “made art,” a fitting description for a hackerspace over which participants have creative control. We also like the word’s complex connotation, for what is a hacker, if not very skilled and a little mischievous? Being part of our world makes participants “Artificers,” who, in fantasy literature, are particularly powerful makers, tinkerers, and wizards--all terms used synonymously with hackers.
In the tech and engineering worlds, a “hack” is a work-around for a problem. It is often used to describe the act of making machinery or technology bend to the hacker’s will, rather than its intended purpose. We see the programs at Artifice as hacks that repurpose STEM curricula to solve the problems of structural inequality in public education and in the workforce.
The problem of inequality in public education--particularly in low-income areas of Chicago--has been the impetus for many STEM initiatives, but few programs are successful in setting participants up to overcome structural inequality in the workforce and thus to succeed in the long run. Tech, however, is the exceptional field; it is a meritocracy in which only the skilled prevail. Results matter far and above degrees or the ability to adhere to the arbitrary definitions of “professionalism” that exist in most work environments. Tech expertise is the great equalizer of our era and it is Artifice’s vision to prepare the underserved to take advantage of the opportunities it affords.
The project began as a series of conversations between James Crooks, computational scientist and PhD candidate in Biophysics at the University of Chicago, Adam Hammond, Curriculum Director for the Biophysical Sciences Program at the University of Chicago, and Ashley Lane, Development Associate at a youth digital media nonprofit. One of the topics was whether it would be possible to sustainably raise the median income level of a neighborhood by investing in its youth and encouraging them to stay in the community so as not to cause a “brain drain.” The other was the failure of most STEM programs to actually teach any valuable STEM lessons, change students’ trajectories as a result of participation, and/or better their lifetime earnings substantially. The outcome was Artifice, a safe community center with tech programming that endows youth with marketable skills and the know-how to monetize them without having to leave the community.
In June 2013, the group began discussing the possibility of pursuing the concept in earnest. On August 23, 2013, a series of conversations with Alderman Cochran of the 20th ward culminated in the donation of a space at 1500 E. 63rd St. by Dr. Rev. Leon Finney, Jr.
Artifice launched its pilot program on December 2, 2013.