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It Takes a Village

Posted on Sep 01, 2015 in Academic Village , Seaside Institute , September–October 2015

The Seaside Institute’s Academic Village is a center for learning by Wendy O. Dixon and Lori Leath Smith

What was once an idea in Seaside founder Robert Davis’ mind came together two years ago in the form of the Seaside Institute’s Academic Village. Since then, Davis’ vision has become a reality. “My grandparents’ dream of their Florida property becoming a center for learning has been part of Seaside from the beginning,” Davis said. “The idea of an academic village in Seaside predates the founding of our town by a decade.”

The Seaside Institute, already a leader in educating a generation of architects, planners, developers and civic entrepreneurs in new urbanism techniques, built the academic village at the Lyceum, an area within Seaside already devoted to education and other civic activities. “In the earliest plans,” Davis said, “the Lyceum was at the heart of Seaside.”

The academic village is comprised of seven cottages with 11 separate sleeping quarters, each with a private bath. All surround a large courtyard space where outdoor classes and other events are held. Classroom space and lecture/exhibit hall space is located in the adjacent assembly hall and is used for educational meetings and classes.

We asked Diane Dorney, director of the Seaside Institute, what the academic village has been doing for the community and for those who stay there.

What has been going on at the village lately?

The academic village has been used by a lot of different people for a wide range of purposes since we launched our programming two years ago. Several different architecture schools from various universities have come to Seaside to learn about traditional town planning and architecture. Both faculty and students stay in the village and spend their days drawing and measuring the town.

We’ve worked with programs established at Notre Dame, Hampton University, Georgia Tech, the University of Maryland and the University of New Orleans. In addition to the student workshops, we have also held several new urban professional workshops, such as the retail workshop with Bob Gibbs and Daryl Davis, an affordable housing symposium with Todd Zimmerman and Laurie Volk and a new urban conference led by Andrés Duany.

The Seaside Institute has worked with a number of artists to bring their workshops to the village. Those have included creative writing, plein air painting, photography and drawing. The institute has also worked with the Seaside Neighborhood School and Seacoast Collegiate High School to sponsor a writers conference in the village for the past two years. This annual event brings together published authors with those who aspire to become great writers. With classroom space in the adjacent assembly hall, the academic village provides a wonderful venue for groups to hold workshops, classes and lectures.

What kind of impact does the academic village have on the community of Seaside, and on the people who stay there?

I think the impact is two-fold: People who stay in the village are thrilled with the ability to walk from their cottages to the classroom and then to meals and the beach in between. Many have never been to Seaside before and have fallen in love with the town, as most people do. It’s wonderful to be able to offer this type of venue to groups who are looking for places to hold their workshops and conferences that have easy accessibility to these kinds of places. No one needs to have a car when they come; it’s such a great mind + body experience to offer.

On the other side, I think adding an adult education component to Seaside has had a positive impact on the town similar to the way the Seaside Neighborhood School has become an institution with which we connect a sense of pride. It also means that Seaside is a more complete town, adding that often lacking fourth component “learn” to “live/work/play.”

How is the village used to perpetuate and support the arts, architecture studies and education?

By offering a much-needed affordable classroom component to the town. Prior to the opening of the academic village, when the Seaside Institute held conferences and workshops, it was more challenging for students to attend. The village also encourages post-classroom discussion by situating everyone close to each other. Many groups have arranged to have meals catered in the courtyard, perpetuating the discussions long past the formal sessions.

Do people who visit the village tell you they would have never known about Seaside if it weren’t for the academic village?

Yes, they do! And, I think maybe the idea that they are learning while they are in Seaside makes the cost to travel a little easier to rationalize.