Summer workshop VI | July 8th - August 6th 2017 | Averill Park, NY


"In moments of existential crisis, time has a tendency to collapse, whole chains of events that may usually require years and decades to unfold, suddenly happen overnight."

- Farid Moslehi


Arts Letters & Numbers is a place of creative urgency and intensity of purpose, a place to create new linkages, new thought processes, new pathways of understanding that embody our best hopes and aspirations.  It is a place where many elements come together to co-construct questions and works, of empathy, of ethics, of imagination; it is a place to explore the nuanced fragilities in our shared stories.

Summer Workshop VI: Constitution

Each year, we structure our summer workshop through a question or questions that address the moment we are in. This year we ask: CONSTITUTION.

We frame Constitution as a constellation of questions with the hope that we can inhabit them and create new works, acts, and actions, that speak to the urgencies of our time.


What Constitutes Drawing

What Constitutes Music

What Constitutes Film

What Constitutes Writing

What Constitutes Acting

What Constitutes Number

What Constitutes Food

What Constitutes Craft

What Constitutes Light

What Constitutes State Changes

What Constitutes Bodies

What Constitutes Life


and what transforms when we transform their Constitution?


Constituting Hope


"It is quite likely, as homer has said, that the gods send disasters to men so that they can tell of them... The gods send disasters to mortals so that they can tell of them but men speak of them so that misfortunes will never be fully realized, so that their fulfillment will be averted in the distance of words… Boundless misfortune, the resounding gift of the gods, marks the point where language begins."

 - Michel Foucault


"For a poet’s despair is not just personal; he despairs of the word and that implicates all our hopes."

- Anne Carson


The United States is facing a Constitutional Crisis.

The deep structure of this project is under great stress; we are confronted with a daily onslaught of actions specifically intended to stress test and ultimately overload the structures of constitutional democracy within the United States. The ideals, ethics, hopes, promises and trust that are the aspirational frameworks of this nation are being shaken, and elements of this framework have been broken, threatening collapse. The speed and intensity of the current administration’s attacks on human rights and civil liberties speaks to the depth and structural nature of this crisis, perhaps the most serious national crisis since the civil war.

We must resist the confusion that the crises we face are so grave that they demand abandoning our principles in order to survive. We must reject the notion that the urgent eclipses the essential: history is littered with disasters born in the missteps of suspending principles in the face of crisis. The hard work of navigating this moment lies in recognizing that like many moments in history, this is a crisis of comprehension, of understanding, and of knowledge.

As we struggle to address this crisis, to comprehend, navigate, and act within it, we hold close the many monumental moments in history that grew out of the urgent demands of their time. In each case, the crisis caused by threats to fundamental principles of human rights leads to a clarification of the very principles at risk, galvanizing the meaning of the principles themselves, and leading to movements that revolutionized the historic trajectory.

The crises we face today contain just such a potential.


Emergency Nation


"With its seemingly unlimited growth of material power, mankind finds itself in the situation of a skipper who has his boat built of such a heavy concentration of iron and steel, that the boats compass points constantly at herself and not north. With a boat of that kind no destination can be reached; she will go around in a circle, exposed to the hazards of the winds and the waves."

- Werner Heisenberg


Recently I learned that ‘emergency room’ actually comes from ‘emergence’, I learned this because I used the word emergence a number of times in the presence of a surgeon. He shared that every-time I said emergence, he thought of the emergency room, but then pointed out that it is not just the same root, but in-fact it’s called emergency room because the conditions that occur there are emergent. The surgeons will get a call from that room and are told ‘we have an emergent heart condition, prepare for surgery’, hence, it is the ‘emergency room’.

Perhaps we are now in an ‘emergency nation’ and this is a time to inhabit and make visible the original links between emergence and emergency, to dive deep beneath the wind and the waves, into constituting questions and emergent situations as a means of absorbing, registering, transforming this emergency nation and world into an empathic living system of transformation. The transformations of our time contain great challenges– but also great promises. Creative invention in the spaces and structures of education offer the capacities and possibilities to understand, withstand and ultimately to bring about transformations that embody our best hopes and aspirations.


Social poetic acts of will


"Every epoch is a sphinx which plunges into the abyss as soon as its riddle is solved."

- Heinrich Heine


When space breaks down into barbarism this does not remain external, the porosity of being offers no such shelter, the plane of collective tyranny becomes a line penetrating the individual, manifesting an inner disregard for another’s humanity. Perhaps the world is broken, fractured, fragmented, as much of the confusion, crisis and brutality of the previous century and our own would seem to prove. Perhaps, as much of late 20th century philosophy sought to prove, we are destined to forever drift within fragmentary shards of meaning, leaving ethics and poetics walled off, trapped, abandoned in irreconcilable difference.  Or perhaps, all of this will be eclipsed by an act of nature or an act of will.

When confronted with intractable problems it is rarely the rush to solutions that solve them, but more the search for the questions, the work of digging deep into the structure of the problem and articulating its roots. In this, our current crisis, the social poetic imagination at the heart of Arts Letters and Numbers offers a politics of slowing down, of excavating Constitution in search of new modes of concern for the other, new spaces of empathy and ethics, new words for binding freedom, new works constituting life.


Finding north


"Beneath the subatomic particle level, there are fibers that vibrate at different intensities. Different frequencies. Like violin strings. The physicists say that the particles we are able to see are the notes of the strings vibrating beneath them. If string theory is correct, then music is not only the way our brains work, as the neuroscientists have shown, but also, it is what we are made of, what everything is made of. These are the stakes musicians are playing for."

- T-Bone Burnett


The demands of our time are urgent: our present and emerging challenges, and the very real possibilities for a better world, calls for new modes of comprehension and action, new questions, and new forms of knowledge.

Navigating this moment requires looking at and absorbing the lessons of the past but it also requires: present tense creativity. As we move into the deep questions of Constitution we will search for the strings beneath the notes, for a largeness of being that repels our current accelerating violence, one that embraces life and articulates a poetic, spatial and material imagination of the social contract. Perhaps the greatest source of this largeness of being is found in the fragility of being, for in the act of embracing our fragility we enact a social-poetic imagination, making visible the connective tissues that bind freedom.

With CONSTITUTION, Arts Letters & Numbers proposes a dynamic crucible of free thought, a space where the widest spectrum of who we are can ask the questions of our time and create works that will bring us forward. A space where many elements can come together to create the alchemy of transforming how we experience today into how we will experience tomorrow.

The poetic imagination is the most pragmatic means of addressing our social and political lives: it affords a means of comprehending this fragile globe and its people, and nourishes the fibers of our social contract. The poetic imagination is a dimension of human life, a mode of insurgency, a language of empathy and difference that speaks to our nuanced fragilities, our shared stories. These are the stakes we are playing for.  The questions of CONSTITUTION open a riddle, a space, an eddy, and contain perhaps, a way of finding north.


David Gersten

Director, Arts Letters & Numbers


Our annual summer workshops have been the driving force of the Arts Letters & Numbers project.  Each year we are building and evolving a unique space and growing our community: drawing on the experiences of past workshops and programs, and incorporating discoveries found through new works, every workshop also sets out to explore new territories and questions.

Our first summer workshop, Circles: Drawing on Friendship in 2012, we inhabited the Mill and a spectacular performance emerged. The collective creative urgency was a crucible of emotive precision from which we poured the foundation for our future workshops. Our first summer workshop, Circles: Drawing on Friendship in 2012, began the project of restoring and inhabiting the Mill, and a spectacular performance emerged. The collective creative urgency was a crucible of emotive precision from which we poured the foundation for our future workshops.

In 2013, with Exquisite Broken Circle: Suddenly a Chora, we turned to the field around the Mill and began the project of physically building a link between the Mill and the hill. This opened up enormous potential in understanding construction poetically between multiple disciplines as we asked: “What is excavation/foundation/structure/horizon in drawing, in film, in writing…?”

With Circling Towards a Disciplinary Chora in 2014, the ‘House on the Hill’ adjacent the Mill was acquired, and the project emerged through exploring the relationship between the two bodies, constructing one inside of the other.

Inspired by the Galapagos Archipelago and the knowledge transformations that emerged from Darwin’s five-week experience within their dense bio-diversity, in 2015 Galapagos Now: was situated between the collective embodied process of construction and the dynamic interactions of a wide range of disciplines understood as a living system.

In our last workshop, Zoëtrope Sun in 2016, we engaged in co-constructing a disciplinary zoëtrope: a living system of knowledge-transformation turning within light and time, water and clouds, life and still life, cameras and projectors, nights and days, words and voices– an emergent microcosm evoking the origins of life itself, animation, anima, zoë, life.

Constitution, this summer’s workshop, will be held at our headquarters: the Mill and the House on the Hill in Averill Park, a small hamlet within the town of Sand Lake, a twenty-five minute drive from Albany, New York. The Mill was originally the storehouse for raw cotton, a part of the historic Faith Mills textile complex founded in 1829. The house on the hill was the Mill owner’s house, which overlooked the entire Mill complex. In its peak, the Faith Mills harnessed the power of the Wynantskill River and was one of the premier textile factories in the area. The Mill complex was incorporated into the Sand Lake Historical Society in 2005.

Today the Mill and the House on the Hill serve as the home of Arts Letters & Numbers, and have become the site of the renewed transformation and the convergence of multiple disciplines. On the first floor of the Mill are the shops for wood and metal work. The second floor is currently under construction, and will unfortunately be of limited access through out the workshop. In addition to the Mill we also have our Barn, located next to the house. The surrounding exterior grounds provide open space for artistic exploration and experimentation.

Workshop Living

This summer’s workshop is arranged as a four-week intensive program. The structure and nature of the questions are intended to encourage participants to engage in individual and collaborate works, to explore how one’s own work contributes to and supports the workshop as a whole. The Mill, the House on the Hill, the Barn and its context are stages for questions, asked across all of the disciplines, and serve as the primary sites for collective sharing and learning: our dinners, lectures, workshops and critiques.

A communal live-work environment is an integral part of the workshop experience: the practice of living reflects an approach to the work and the potential for interactions across disciplines. Shared accommodations will be provided in the House on the Hill, in one of our nine bedrooms. They all have simple comfortable futon beds on low raised platforms, arranged in double, triple, and quad sleeping arrangements.


Arts Letters & Numbers is constructed by us: not just those who are directly involved in its day to day operation, not just the fellows, participants, visiting artists and local community members, it has and continues to be built by everyone who sets foot in this remarkable place. It is being constructed by and between us.

The four-week intensive workshop will be led by Director David Gersten, the Arts Letters & Numbers Fellows and a wide range of visiting Artists including: Architects, Filmmakers, Musicians, Composers, Physics, Poets, Photographers, Lawyers, Actors, Mimes, Chefs, Scientists and Scholars. Together, we will ask questions of CONSTITUTION and co-construct social poetic acts of transformation.

Each participant will be asked to fully engage in the questions through their works and in an emerging larger body of work. We will build a conversation among all of us together to explore and embody the questions of constitution. This ‘in-between’ offers the opportunity for individual disciplines to speak to each other and to create new disciplinary linkages within the questions. At Arts Letters & Numbers we are all teachers and we are all students.

The workshop will conclude with a two-day Festival sharing a full spectrum of works that emerge during the project. We hope you can join us as we continue our journey.

Workshop Cost

The Workshop fee covers the following:

  • Accommodation: includes shared room and board with daily dinner and self-service breakfast & lunch.
  • Participation: includes communal studio space, hands-on construction experience, individual and group instruction, critiques and exhibition, and visits from guest speakers and artists.
  • Transportation: for group excursions and also including pick-up and drop-off to/from bus (Greyhound or Megabus),  train (Amtrak) or airport (Albany Int’l Airport)
  • Material: tools and equipment connected to the group works for the Summer Workshop is covered. Participants are responsible for personal materials used in their creative work.
  • Equipment: please make sure to bring the equipment you find necessary for your participation. We will have a limited selection of instruments available for shared use. Please contact us for more detailed information.


    The Workshop fees:    Full workshop July 8th – Aug 6th ............... $ 2400

                                              2 weeks (first 2 or last 2)……………............. $ 1600


We will strongly recommend attending the full four-week workshop. However, depending on available spaces, we will accept shorter attendances with a minimum stay of two weeks.

Workshop scholarship

We recognize that the costs are significant and do all we can to keep them as low as possible. It is our goal to make the workshop available and affordable to all qualified applicants who would like to attend. To this end, we do offer a limited number of Work-Scholarships, which trade one week of Pre-Workshop work for a 50% discount off one week of the workshop. 

The Pre-Workshop scholarship involves coming to Averill Park, NY before the workshop begins and working with the preparation team to get things ready. This can involve a wide variety of tasks from basic construction and painting to material sourcing, gathering and set up. Most people who have participated in the pre-workshop organization have found their experience of participating in the community to be quite rewarding. These pre-workshop scholarships can be from one to four weeks in advance of the workshop.