Saturday, January 13, 2007

The New Vikings


I'm back in Viborg, Denmark to teach animation students at a small school here called The Animation Workshop. The school is a fantastically fresh and nurturing artistic environment. All week I've the feeling I had last time... wishing I'd had a chance to work or go to school at a place like this. All of the animation studios I've seen or heard about with these great laid back environments seem propped up... forced, and almost cult-like compared with the natural way that people seem to come together here. And my own Alma Mater The Art Institute of Dallas? That place might as well have been a cubical farm!

Part of it is the actual structure of place. There are work spaces for the students of course. Most are big, well appointed stations with animation drawing tables, flat screen monitors and digitizer tablets. But the communing happens in places like the big lounge/dining hall at the end of the building in which I'm teaching. They cook together and drink together and listen to music and even dance here.

The other thing that produces this feeling of community seems to be distinctly Danish... or maybe Scandinavian. Over and over I've heard people use the word cozy in a very positive tone, referring to bars they like, or maybe a party. I have in mind that it must be a result of having to escape the weather and darkness of the north and huddle together, getting along and making the most of the closeness. It feels good.

It's only 8 months after my first trip here, but it feels like a reunion for me. The first was in May, and lasted only a week. This time I'm here for over 8 weeks (6 weeks of actually teaching) and feel like it will be a much richer experience. I have time enough to get comfortable with my surroundings, which has never really happened in any of my other international trips (few as they've been).

Last night at that dinner with the students was the most insightful feeling yet. They're smart and open people. Even at their young ages (most of this class is still in their early 20s), they challenge me on the things I say, and they're hugely curious. They have strong opinions about the world, and are perfectly willing to share them.

It's stupid, but I can't help but think of them as the Vikings the Danes once were. I wonder if it's the same curiosity that made the Vikings such big time explorers. It also seems like these kids are a lot different than their parents. They're more connected to the rest of the world and they're ready to go see it and challenge it.

I hope they do.

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