Thursday, July 28, 2011

Art, Activism, and Transformational Learning

Roosevelt University undergraduates in Maggie Leininger’s Art as Activism (ART 360) class and the youth and young adults from La Casa Norte had the unique experience of collaborating in creating a public art project. Leininger had “always wanted to integrate art in public spaces and in a communal dialogical manner, but struggled with how to complete something of this nature.” The class started to take shape with the help of a book (The Citizen Artist: 20 Years of Art in the Public Arena) and a partnership with La Casa Norte (LCN), a non-profit group that provides services to homeless youth. Leininger used transformational service learning so her undergraduates could work with youth to produce a mosaic mural for the center and allow them to experience the artistic process of collaboration.

Using the theme of self-identity and portraiture, Roosevelt students and LCN youth each completed individual squares of mosaics. As Leininger described, “RU students guided LCN clients through the visual art process of designing a mosaic tile that reflected their identity through form, shape, and color. They did this by talking directly with LCN clients, getting to know them and then directing them towards images or ideas that seemed suited to the project. Roosevelt undergraduates also assisted in constructing a felted portable art space called Commun-ique that was placed at the museum campus area of Grant Park in which public art workshops were offered.” The mosaics were then assembled together into a larger mural that was installed at a new housing site constructed in late 2010 at LCN.

Collaboration with community members initially presented several unknowns for Leininger and her students. Though they generally came from different backgrounds, the Roosevelt students and the youth were able to connect on age-related interests of music, tattoos, art, and movies. Leininger observed, “these valuable interactions removed so many barriers of participation for the LCN youth and proved to be a valuable asset to the successful outcome of the project as LCN clients felt that they could identify with RU students despite obvious sociological differences.”

This transformational learning class provided students with an educational experience that emphasized collaboration and societal engagement that extended beyond a typical academic setting. Students were individually responsible for achieving their own goals, but there was also a communal goal for all involved. The format of this class helped students develop the skills to work with others and to manage personal issues in the service of a positive outcome for the group.

Leininger found the class to be a real success. She described time as being her greatest obstacle. Both Roosevelt University students and LCN youth had set time restrictions that allowed for a limited window for interaction. Because both groups were excited about the experience, they were able to determine a time that worked for everyone. Leininger’s flexibility and creative problem solving were also helpful for her use of transformational learning. She recommends this teaching approach to any professor who has larger goals for students.

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