School for Designing a Society in West Virginia

Desire and Design, Caring and Clowning

May 28-June 18, 2017 | Hillsboro, WV


A course in desire and design for people with a passion to make the
world a better place by means of the arts and performance.

This summer, the School for Designing a Society invites you to participate in changing the world by means of your desires—a desire being something you want that does not yet exist, that requires you and your design to bring about. .

For this intensive session, we propose a hybrid methodology—mixing desire and design with caring and clowning.

In the morning sessions, using desire and design, we’ll create a thinker’s workshop in brain-storming and-heart-storming; in the afternoons, using caring and clowning, we’ll create a daily laboratory for performances in everyday life.

  • What do you desire?
  • What’s a design that could bring it about?
  • As care-actor, how do you walk towards suffering?
  • As clown-actor, how do you use play in this walk?

The three week session requires:

  • self-reflective work—the work of desiring, of looking at oneself as a wanter and generator twoards that which is, as yet, non-existent;
  • critical and theoretical work—the work of designing, of studying design tools from permaculture, cybernetics, performance, composition, care theory;
  • involvement and participation work—the work of caring, of non-transcendence, of being present;;
  • play, performance, improv work—the work of clowning, of the inventive eliciting of playfulness in one another.

What’s clowning got to do with it?

Simply put, we want to add an alternative to the ‘seriousness’ of care work.

We noticed that in clinical situations everything shouts a solemn-ness, a serious-ness. Care-providers, trained in the medical model, are required to demonstrate professional distance and efficiency, mastery of medical technology, capacity to do bureaucratic work. Care-providers are perceived as busy, detached, efficient, serious, in a hurry.

In many situations this may be what’s needed. But we think of other situations–situations where people have chronic or mental illnesses; situations of people who are handicapped, aged, dying, lonely, bored, housebound, fearful. Will efficiency, mastery of technology, seriousness, capacity to do bureaucratic work, here be sufficient?

We think not.

Clowning, humor, play: we offer these traits as additions to the care giver’s capacities. We value seriousness in some caring situations–we don’t want to lose that. But we do want to add. Clowning, humor, play are additional resources to meet the calls on care.

Clowning is a design where the activity of ‘caring’ is framed within a model of  play (and not framed only within the medical model)

Who Should Attend this Session?

This three week session is for people, like ourselves, who feel ‘stuck’ in uncaring systems, and who want time, tools and new ideas in order to figure out “what next?”  It’s for people who have dreams, and who would like to be in a climate of other dream-makers. It’s for people who have no dreams (yet!), and who would like to be in a climate of dream-makers. It’s for people who see systemic, seemingly intractable social problems, and who do have a notion, a seed, for how to solve these problem–but they feel themselves too small and the problems too big, to develop that notion/seed as a way to change something.

Pedagogical Methodology

This three week course teaches social change through a methodology of braided formats: lecture, experiential, and project-based. Lectures explore the intersection of humanism and social change through theoretical underpinnings, analytical tools, and current and historical examples. Experiential learning calls for experiment, self-reflection, and response. Group projects require that students learn from and teach each other. Attention and feedback will be given to projects planned for students’ return to their home communities.


Desire and Design

  • Consulting our hearts and imaginations, what the world we dream of look like?
  • How can silliness and systems theory help us confront issues of scale and autonomy?
  • Intervene in an existing system, or build an alternative? How do we choose?

Strength and Vulnerability

  • How can we make humanizing our work dangerous to ableist, racist, patriarchal, imperialist capitalism?
  • How to bring our human strength to bear on vulnerabilities in the systems we oppose?
  • How do we decrease differences in power? How does vulnerability increase alternatives?

Performance, Listening, and Response

  • How can we telegraph our intensions though our Performance in Everyday Life?
  • How can we amplify the role of listening? What does virtuosic listening involve?
  • How do we respond so that we protect variety and potential and avoid dismissal?

How do I apply?

Cost: $1200 tuition. Tuition includes room, board, and transportation pick up and drop off. Some partial scholarships available.


Application consists of 2 parts.

  1. Registration form: Please take a moment to fill out the application form. We will then contact you to arrange a phone interview. After the phone call, you will hear back from us concerning your acceptance in the program. Register HERE ⇒
  2. Payment: Upon your acceptance, we ask that you pay either the entire fee, or  a $200 non-refundable deposit—either online with the secure payment button below or by mailing a check payable to School for Designing a Society. Pay HERE ⇒

For more information contact Mark ⇒

The School for Designing a Society does not discriminate against anyone on the basis of race, color, religion, national or ethnic origin, age, ability, gender identity, or sexual orientation.


General Information

Facilities: Gesundheit! consists of a 300-acre pristine tract of farm and mountain land in rural West Virginia, with gardens, a multi-story workshop, mountain hiking trails, creeks, a lake, and clean air and water. The dacha, with its onion domes and Russian architecture, serves as a residence and meeting place, and has won awards for its unique design.

Travel: Please meet us in West Virginia and arrive by the evening of Sunday, May 28. You can plan to leave Gesundheit on Sunday, June 17th, by the afternoon. We will only be providing breakfast on that day. 

Patch Adams MD & Gesundheit Institute, P.O. Box 307, Urbana, IL 61803

© Copyright 2018 Gesundheit! Institute