Creating communities

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What hangs on the walls of the Haggerty Museum of Art’s second-floor gallery is the vision of students. Visitors pass by images of stoic faces, joyful reunions and postures of anxious grief. Together these pieces present the complex nature of a community.

Students didn’t create the works of art on display. Artists such as Gillis Mostaert or Tina Barney did. But students chose these masters from the museum’s permanent collection and curated the exhibit Clear Picture: Looking at Communities from an Art Museum.

Eugenia Afinoguenova and Pamela Hill Nettleton won the 2014 -15 Way Klingler Teaching Enhancement Award that supports innovative teaching methods.
Eugenia Afinoguenova and Pamela Hill Nettleton won the 2014 -15 Way Klingler Teaching Enhancement Award that supports innovative teaching methods.

The exhibit is a pilot academic project that takes students far beyond the confines of textbooks and lectures. The leaders of the multidisciplinary project are Dr. Eugenia Afinoguenova, associate professor of Spanish in the Klingler College of Arts and Sciences; Dr. Pamela Hill Nettleton, assistant professor of journalism and media studies in the Diederich College of Communication; and Lynn Shumow, curator of education and community outreach at the Haggerty Museum of Art. The project, which began in fall 2014, received the 2014–15 Way Klingler Teaching Enhancement Award, which funds the development and implementation of innovative teaching methods.

Afinoguenova and Hill Nettleton bring together their students in the separate disciplines of Spanish and journalism to build an art exhibit focusing on the theme of community. Working on the project also creates another community, one among students in the two classes.

“The Clear Picture exhibit had two classes with not much in common,” says Diana Arreguin, a Klingler College freshman who took the class last fall. “Working on the project has made a community within us. Everyone came together and collaborated to finish the exhibit.”

“Compromise and open minds were crucial in curating Clear Picture so that the end result was an art exhibit that includes multiple ideas and perspectives,” adds Ariel Gonzalez, a Klingler College senior who also participated last fall.

For any piece to be included in the exhibit, a small group from the two classes articulates why it should be used and how it works in conversation with pieces around it. This allows students to engage more deeply with the artwork.

“It takes a lot more work than just choosing pieces that seem to go together,” says Eva Sotomayor, a Diederich College senior who was a classmate with Arreguin and Gonzalez. “Deciding what stays and what goes, what we want the exhibition to mean, and how and what outsiders will take away from the pieces we choose is a long, thought-provoking process.”

Three classes are continuing the project this spring, with Dr. Julia Paulk, associate professor of Spanish, leading the two Spanish classes.

To bring its mission to life, the project requires collaboration and creativity, says Afinoguenova. She and Hill Nettleton credit Shumow for approaching them with the idea of using the museum as a learning laboratory.

“We’re always looking for new ways to engage students and faculty,” Shumow says. “In Clear Picture, they’re given the opportunity to create the exhibits. They have a voice about the artwork that goes on the wall.”

One of the project’s goals is for students to better understand the communities around them. Selecting and writing about the artwork challenges their own perspectives, as well as opens space for dialogue that allows the project to grow.

“The objective was to break the barrier between the communities that are not represented in art exhibits in a museum,” says Afinoguenova.

In November students hosted an opening for the exhibit and served as tour guides. The deans of their colleges; Dr. Gary Meyer, vice provost for undergraduate programs and teaching; and community members heard the students explain how they were affected by each piece of art. Tours were given in English and Spanish, an important component for Afinoguenova’s Spanish for Heritage Speakers class. She explained that mastering a language, whether it’s native or learned, requires being able to articulate complex ideas.

“The Clear Picture project is structured so they could use Spanish as a language of intellectual exchange, thereby becoming academic performers in their mother tongue,” Afinoguenova says.

The journalism class Critical Writing: Covering the Arts uses the Haggerty Museum project in collaboration with other components to teach students to write about the arts. Hill Nettleton’s students also attend ballet, theatre and opera performances, and concerts and museums, and learn to write critical reviews. This spring, students in her journalism capstone course will work with the multidisciplinary project to create a bilingual magazine that covers the arts.

Hill Nettleton emphasizes the role the art plays in uniting the two classes. “One of the points of Marquette’s mission is to touch the hearts of students and that’s what art does,” she says. “It can reach you wherever you are and take you to amazing places.”

Afinoguenova and Hill Nettleton plan to write an academic paper and present their project at conferences so other disciplines can use the framework  and the assets of the Haggerty Museum of Art in cross-disciplinary teaching. — WM

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