Relative importance of community-based art projects climb

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Photo by Art Matters, on Easy City Art

By Nicole Lafond

Editor

Two University of Vermont students recently curated a community art project on the school’s campus, encouraging student and faculty members to express what makes them feel “Alive.”

The two Davis Center curators and juniors at the University of Vermont were inspired by a recent gallery at the Penny Cluse restaurant, and decided to bring the idea to their campus, the Vermont Cynic reported. The exhibition is currently being featured in the Dudley H. Davis Center on campus.

The Dudley H. Davis Center is a community center on the university’s campus. It claims to be student focused, complements the university’s academic mission, supports social justice and is environmentally conscious, according to the center’s website.

Maya Curtis and Blair Borax were the brains behind this community art project. The two-student team arranged the specifics of the exhibit and held an opening reception on March 20. The exhibit opened March 19 and will last until April 12, according to the University of Vermont’s arts calendar.

Community member participants were given few instructions for this exhibit. They were given an eight by eight piece of plywood, asked to express their notions of the word “alive” and then return the finished product to be displayed in the exhibit.

The exhibit’s inspiration, “Run” featured at Penny Cluse, functioned similarly to “Alive,” but Curtis and Borax told the Cynic they hoped to make their exhibit more community focused.

“It is definitely important to value fine art, but I think it’s equally important to level with a public who aren’t all art critics, to makes this space inclusive.”

A vast array of skill levels and artistic mediums was the goal of the exhibit, according to the student curators. Community artists who have contributed to date utilized products such as markers, glitter and fake flowers, according to the observations of the Cynic reporter.

Borax has worked with the concept of community art before, and said she sees it as an important part of any art gallery’s relations with the public.

“This is not a super fine art thing, but I think it’s important to get the student body involved.  Especially in the Davis Center where their mission is related to social justice and environmental sustainability.”

Despite experience with community-based art projects, Borax was disappointed with the level of engagement she has encountered so far at her university’s art center. Only 15 people had signed up to participate in the “Alive” exhibit, but the pair said they were expecting more to express interest after the opening reception.

The pair also plans to engage in and curate more community art projects in the future.

Community-based art projects are not a new concept in Washington, D.C. and the surrounding area. Organizations such as Civilian Art Projects and City Arts exist because of community engagement in artistic exhibits. These community-based art projects could be the future of art programs in D.C. and beyond.

Civilian Art Projects is a gallery located on Seventh Street in the North West that exists solely to help spread the vision of amateur artists. The gallery provides a platform for community members to engage in the art works of local emerging artists while allowing community members a place to explore their own interests and engage in expression.

Similarly, City Art has created a business model based around the importance of community art.

“City Arts also conducts mural and mosaic residencies at Washington, DC area public, private, and charter schools. These projects involve hundreds of students – most of whom do not have formal art training – in the creation of artworks that pay tribute to their schools and surroundings. Through partnerships with local nonprofits, City Arts offers after-school and summer art workshops.”

I argue local community art projects are one of the most productive means of engaging locals in the power and importance of the arts, and may be the answer to art education in the D.C. community and beyond.

Local D.C. school officials have recently made plans to close 15 public schools in the district, the Washington Post reported. Plans to cut art funding to a prominent art organization, Fillmore, have also been recently announced.

These cuts have local parents and community members frustrated with the priority quality education, specifically arts education, has in the local community.

An increase in the number of art, music and foreign language programs was used as a justification for the “consolidation efforts”  of the DCPS, in response to a recent law suit filed by activists hoping to halt the closure of these 15 schools.

School officials should be criticized for the lack of evidence behind this claim made by DCPS spokeswoman Melissa Salmanowitz. The connection independent community art projects have with schools in the district could be the source of DCPS’ claim, making the claim invalid, as these independent organizations do not claim to be active DCPS affiliates, but rather affiliated with student based non-profit organizations.

The importance of community of art projects is more prominent now that community members fear art funding cuts and public school closures, but should not be cited as a justification behind such actions.

The future of the local art industry in D.C. may lie in the hands of community-based projects, such as “Alive.”

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