MICA Graduate Student Stretches Boundaries of Teaching Art

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Park exhibitThere’s a lot of talk these days coming out of art institutions about making art more accessible to the broader community. Then there are graduate students like Qianfei Wang, who has taken this message to heart and developed an amazing project that’s allowed hundreds of Baltimore-area students to experience art in a whole new light.

Wang is a MICA graduate student studying Curatorial Practice, the first graduate-level program of its kind in the country. As part of her studies, Wang designed an independent project with two objectives: to focus on a new way of presenting an exhibit and to forge connections among art, artists, and the community. Before she began, Wang spent an entire semester observing and researching at the Park School and the Baltimore Lab School. She then decided that her project, Language+: Let’s art a conversation!, would be well-received in both academic environments.

“Both schools share a commitment to progressive education based on individual interests and needs. My project, Language+, furthers this philosophy through a series of interdisciplinary workshops and lectures that introduced students to artistic languages that they then used to create original work,” Wang explained.

Recently, I visited Park School to see (and hear) the results of Wang’s project, which cleverly intertwined art lessons with the school’s existing curriculum.

Take the seventh grade language arts class. They read The Giver, a book known for its use of euphemisms. Then, local artist Julia Kim Smith presented a series of art workshops to the students. Her input helped inform the students as they then created a visual image of a given euphemism. Criteria for the art project? It had to be mounted on a pizza box.

Jonathan, a seventh grader at Park, considers himself more of a writer than an artist. “I found it challenging,” he said of the project. Nonetheless, his depiction of the euphemism ‘Casualty of War’—two tattered stuffed animals splattered with deep red blood and affixed to a pizza box—created a moving portrayal. That the seventh graders’ art work is displayed in Park’s exhibition space, a spacious and well-lit room on whose walls professional artists would be proud to hang their work, made the projects that much more special.

As seventh graders confidently explained their artwork in the exhibition space, down the hall in the school auditorium a group of second graders was working hard to depict water; not on paper, but on stage. As they morphed from slow to fast moving currents, then a stream at night, their little bodies wriggled across a stage, prompted by performance artist and Park School parent Liz Pelton. With the performance art lesson built directly into the curriculum, the young students also took away an ecology lesson, part of the science curriculum.

In yet another show of interdisciplinary work, students in an upper school design class and a beatz (electronic music) class collaborated in a learning experience that taught them about the relationship between design and music. First, design students created posters based on a single word, liked ‘danger’, while beatz students wrote music based on a given word. Then, each student in the beatz class paired up with a student in the design class, exchanged artwork, and created a new piece in response to the work they received from their partners. A workshop by graphic designer Ellen Lupton guided the students’ work.

“I am surprised by the students. They are really smart, and have great ideas for the projects. Their talent of using art-making to express and communicate is very strong,” Wang said.

The closing reception of the Park School component of Qianfei Wang’s project, Language+: Let’s art a conversation, takes place on Thursday, March 6, from 3:00pm to 5:30pm, at the school’s Richman Gallery, and is open to the public. For more information on Language+, click here

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