The Leo’s Cool-Person-in-Residence: John Schaefer


Media teacher John Schaefer is in “the Lab” at the Leonardo, and he will be through the end of December.

John is dedicated to preparing children to make a contribution to the media world. He teaches school age children a variety of skills, from the basics of using a camera, to filming and editing their own movies. His ultimate goal is to transform schools by helping the rising generation become active contributors to, instead of passive consumers of, the media. These youth have the ability to shape the future. Find out how in our exclusive interview with John.

What are you doing to transform schools?

“My nonprofit Children’s Media Workshop ( has been in existence for almost 30 years. At one time we built the largest teacher training in US history, putting over 600,000 educators through Visual Learning Workshops on how to effectively use the seeing in the learning process. In general, our guiding principle is that the latest studies report that the average American student is involved with media for over 10 hours a day (yes, a day). There is almost no substantive media literacy in schools, so our job is to put the language of the students (media) into the system. The concept is simple, empowering students to use media actively rather than remain passive consumers; our society’s very existence depends upon it.”

Do you focus on teaching children to take pictures and make movies?

“Yes and no. Media is a means to an end. Our real goal is to transform schools into 21st Century learning communities characterized by inquiry based activities (make a movie about the pros & cons of using different ways to travel to school …) that require students to become critical thinkers, innovators, and problem solvers.”

What’s your own background in photography/movie making?

“I graduated with economics and education degrees, but I loved photography and was lucky enough to be thrown in with a group of serious Utah artists who were also pursuing photography under the direction of Brent Herridge. There were about 12 of us and every one is still practicing the art of photography. A rare moment in time. One of my early breakthroughs was when Robert Redford asked me to live for a time at Sundance and document the beginnings of the Institute and subsequent film festival. I have had various interesting projects including photographing President Ronald Reagan using highly experimental film. As digital video developed and democratized the movie making process, I found myself creating short films, including a movie with architect Moshe Safdie on his design concepts for Salt Lake’s Main Library. Then of course making movies with students, and of students making their movies, drew me more deeply into the process. I learn from them every day.”

What inspired you to spend so much time to transform schools?

“It seems like a necessary ingredient to revolutionize our culture, helping people move from thoughtless consumerism to active creativity. Besides, it’s great, great fun.”

What will you be doing at the Leonardo?

“All of the above, with a special emphasis on using all the media tools in people’s pockets with a personal aesthetic, critical thinking.”

What do you hope people will walk away with after visiting you in your exhibit?

“The excitement and enthusiasm to use their own media substantively. Nothing’s more fun than taking it seriously.”

How can school officials get a hold of you to help them transform their school?


“The Lab” is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. The Leonardo is located at 209 E. 500 South in Salt Lake City.

Admission is $14 for adults, $12 for seniors, $10 for youth (6-17), and free for children five and under.

Check for more info about artists and family discounts.

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