“Hi” Art

Photos by Brooke Hall
Words by Justin Allen

Anne Kotleba
 This exhibit runs through Friday with a closing reception from 5 pm – 6:30 pm. To learn more about the M.A. in Community Arts program follow this link.

Community outreach and social justice aren’t topics that traditionally come to mind when discussing the Maryland Institute College of Art. But it seems reasonable that any respectable art college would eventually connect the dots and so they have. When you stop to think about it, it’s clear that artists are better suited to act in the best interests of a community than the dysfunctional government bueauracracies we’ve all grown to know and love. One reason for this could be that it is in the artist’s nature to explore all the ways one might express oneself. They explore it in circumstances they initiate and those beyond their control. They explore their own modes of expression, and of those they admire, and, at times, the ideas of those they may find fault with or even despise. Whether this investigation is an effort to satiate humanity’s innate curiosity or simply a stab at better understanding oneself is debatable, but what is certain is the ability to express oneself effectively is powerful. It’s this openness to ideas that heightens artists’ sensitivity to their environment and empathy for those around them. It’s the same sensitivity that often compels them to act in the best interests of the communities they call home.

In recent years, governments and institutions have followed the lead of grassroots organizations by utilizing artists and artist programs to literally make the world a better place. In Baltimore, they’re being invited to the parts of the city that need the most help in return for whatever assistance the city can afford. MICA’s recent addition of MICA Place in East Baltimore and the M.A. in Community Arts program are two examples of such initiatives. The art institution’s foray into community engagement was spotlighted in a recent article in Communication Arts “Descent From The Ivory Tower.”  Often we think of universities as set apart from the communities in which they reside. We applaud MICA for taking steps to integrate their interests with those of the city at large. And why wouldn’t they? We’re all in this together.

We recently paid a visit to an exhibition of work by students in MICA’s M.A. in Community Arts program. The program affords the students hands on experience giving instruction and experience with established non-profits over a wide variety of environments and circumstances. While the students were working in the community, they were also using the experience to inform work for their thesis. We had a chance to talk with a few of them about their experience in the community and the creative process that produced the work on display.

Anne Kotleba helped found the Baltimore United View Finders in East Baltimore as part of her course work. The program, based out of MICA Place, teaches inner city children the art of photography and provides the tools and guidance necessary to process their work. The kids were given the opportunity to learn photo editing software such as Aperture and Photoshop and given instruction how to effectively use their cameras. Her students then documented life in East Baltimore and published a book that chronicled their lives.

 

When asked to describe her collection of sculpture, she explained, “I see them as self portrait, the first as an individual, then mixed with community starting to work with other people and finally, the abstraction of working with people with twists, and turns, and exploration. I asked friends and family from all over the country to help me create the base of it all. Because they’ve created the base of who I am, so I wanted them to participate in creating the base of this sculpture.”


Sarah Blosser
Sarah Blosser taught me that while Baltimore Clayworks is based in Mount Washington, they’re deeply engaged with neighborhoods all across the city. Sarah chose to work with Baltimore Clayworks because she wanted to get a deeper understanding of an arts non-profit organization and also because the experience would give her the opportunity to explore the effect of art on the lives of a wide variety of people. She worked across the city with children, men suffering from addiction, senior citizens and disabled individuals, among others.

Her installation also featured an audio component that consisted of interviews with many of the people she worked with. She found an unexpected recurring sentiment in the interviews and shared it with us.

“Many people in the interview process expressed feeling joy in having gaining the ability to create something they then could give to someone else.”

MICA’s M.A. Community Arts “Hi” Art Exhibition: Shana Goetsch, Sarah Blosser, faculty member Fletcher Mackey, Program Director Ken Krafcheck, and Anne Kotleba.

Shana Goetsch’s thesis exhibit consisted of over 4000 individual prints of row houses on one sheet of paper. This intense exhibit challenges the viewer to acknowledge the long lasting affects of domestic violence.

Shana Goetsch has been a victim of domestic violence having survived the murder of her mother by her brother. For this reason it’s no surprise the Shana chose to use her time to work with House of Ruth Maryland, an organization that provides a safe place for abused women and children. Because of her experience, she felt as though she could relate to the children and interactions that could easily be misunderstood. She used the words “exceptional” and “amazing” to describe the children she worked with.

As for her overall experience she had this to say, “It brought it home again for me that there’s power in art, there’s communication in art. If you can’t find the right words you can always draw it. We have a dancer in our group of six (students in the program) and I think of it in the same terms; when you can no longer speak about something you’re gonna move.”

 

Shared Journeys, an installation by Tamara Payne, was kept in a small dark room with illuminated stained glass at one end and bench not far away. Audio playback of a woman telling, what sounded like, stories from her past gently filled the air. I was immediately struck by the power of the story being told in an atmosphere not unlike a temple.

In Tamara’s artist statement, she likens her art and process to ministry and it’s appropriate. I hope to get the chance to return to the exhibit and explore this and all of the work on display further.

 From Shared Journeys by Tamara Payne.

  From Shared Journeys by Tamara Payne.

 

Often times, we discuss art in terms of objects of varying complexity and scarcity created by personalities whose names carry a subjective value. Lately, it seems there is a growing awareness of the incredible power wrapped up in the creative process, separate from what’s produced. It’s not a new idea, it’s just one that has yet to be widely accepted. The truth is the urge to express oneself is at the core of what it means to be human though this trait has been stifled by all of what you already know is wrong with our society.

The ways by which culture establishes identity for a society is most evident in all of the ways we transmit ideas to one another, whether it be stone carvings, paintings, or digital photography, and it’s in our nature to participate and to connect with one another through meaningful expressions and thoughtful reciprocation. I would even venture to bet that we are hardwired to be happiest when doing so. The exploration of expression is the exploration of how we connect to one another and is quite possibly an essential component of a healthy society.

To learn more about MICA’s M.A. in Community Arts, follow this link.

To learn more about MICA Place, try this one.

Photos by Brooke Hall
Words by Justin Allen

Brooke Hall

Photographer. Brooke is the co-founder and publisher of What Weekly.

Justin Allen

Justin is a co-founder and managing editor of What Weekly. He also runs What Works Studio with Brooke Hall, the studio that publishes What Weekly.