Members of the MICA Community Perform Tremendous Feats of Community Engagement
Posted 10.04.11 by Communications
Typically, a hero is someone who is willing to be of service to others and looks for ways to improve the world around them. No shortage of heroes exists in the MICA community, where artists and designers use their talents for the betterment of their communities and the world. The following pages honor some of the heroes who have been nominated by a MICA member.
For some, community engagement is a natural outlet for art. Cait Byrnes, a general fine arts major who graduated in 2010, fulfilled her desire to help others through MICA’s Community Art Partnership (CAP), a MICA program that links artists, communities, and organizations. “I did some work teaching art at a senior housing apartment, and I started an event sophomore year called CAPfest, which is a celebration of all things related to community arts,” she said.
Byrnes’ work with CAP led her to the Community Art Collaborative (CAC), an AmeriCorps program that connects artists, communities, and educational institutions. Through CAC, Byrnes was placed as a program coordinator at 901 Arts, an organization founded upon a successful partnership between MICA and Baltimore community leaders that provides free after-school programs in art and music to children of the Better Waverly neighborhood. “The process of making art connects everybody,” Byrnes said. “The process of working on art together is enough to open a conversation and create a relationship,” she added.
Joining Byrnes at 901 Arts is fellow MICA alumna Sarah Tooley, who serves as director of the organization. “I believe 901 Arts is one of MICA’s greatest success stories in connecting with community,” said Tooley, who received an MA in Community Arts in 2010. Among the projects 901 Arts has completed with community youth is the Sea Creature Storm Drain project, an effort in which young people painted sidewalk murals of sea life around the neighborhood’s storm drains. The designs brought attention to what happens to underwater life when street trash and litter are dumped illegally in storm drains or streets since that trash eventually drains into the Inner Harbor.
A recipient of a $49,000 Open Society Institute Baltimore Community Fellowship, Tooley will use the money to further her work at 901 Arts. “The point of my fellowship is to create a more sustainable infrastructure for the program,” Tooley said. Among the changes Tooley has managed to implement: “We created a summer employment program to hire high school teens from the neighborhood.”
Breaking Barriers, Changing Lives
When Whitney Frazier ’07 arrived in Baltimore from her hometown of Plano, Texas, “I was in shock about what poverty meant and how it was affecting people,” she said. She thought art could be used as a means for young people in the city to communicate about what they were going through. “I knew art could break down barriers and change lives,” she said.
While working on her MA in Community Arts, Frazier completed her residency at Child First Authority, Inc., an organization that partners with 17 Baltimore City Public Schools to create after-school and daytime mentoring programs. Afterwards, Frazier was hired full time as the community arts coordinator, where she created arts and youth leadership programs, including Art Core, a program in which local artists teach art classes in the schools.
The change in the students who discovered an appreciation for art showed Frazier that her instincts about art’s potential impact were correct. “Child First took it to the next level for me,” she said, “showing that art can make tangible change for people.”
Also recognizing how art can impact culture is MICA alumna Julie Lin. Having immigrated to the United States with her family from Taiwan when she was seven, “I always wanted to find a way to bridge my background with my own artmaking and community arts projects,” said Lin. She did so by having participants in community arts projects share aspects of their cultures while working together and also by using art to illustrate different cultural customs. Lin graduated from MICA in 1999 with a degree in painting and now serves as a MICA staff member for CAC.
Lin also created the Kitchen Stories Project, an effort that lets immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers share conversations, recipes, and memories through artwork and writing. Participants attend workshops where they share stories and illustrate their experiences through artwork, writing, and recipe development. When recounting emotional stories, some participants have even been driven to tears of joy because they are able to keep their memories alive, Lin said.
Another MICA alumna who discovered how art could impact young people is Ashley Minner, who completed her BFA in 2005, her MA in Community Arts in 2007, and her MFA in Community Arts in May 2011. Born and raised in Baltimore, Minner sought to bring art to the Native American community she grew up in. She did so by creating The Native American After School Art Program, which uses art as a vehicle for Lumbee Indian youth to address issues that matter to them. “Having grown up in the community, I think it’s wonderful that you can dedicate yourself, your career, and your living to doing something you would do naturally,” Minner said. “And I can instill it in young people so that they might follow similar paths.”
Kayleigh Porter, a ceramics major who graduated in 2010, found that art could make a difference with troubled young people. When she started teaching a ceramics class at Good Shepherd Center, an organization for at risk youth, she found the class gave some of the girls a sense of freedom they did not have in other areas of their lives. “I thought it was important that they have a place to retreat to and still be able to make decisions for themselves without being questioned,” Porter said. As a result of her class, many of the girls developed a love and talent for ceramics they never knew they had.
A Bridge Between Worlds
Of course, it’s not only young people who can benefit from art classes. Gina Pierleoni, who received her MFA from Mount Royal School of Art in 1985, runs creativity workshops for women once a month. “For the most part they’re people who have always yearned to make things,” Pierleoni said. “What I do is provide them with a garden bed that’s just been composted so they can do whatever they want with it,” she said.
Pierleoni traveled to Kenya for 10 days in October to help build a school with the people of Masai Mara. Pierleoni believes such a trip does not only help the people of Kenya, but also her art. “Being in a variety of communities deepens my artwork,” she said. “It’s important that my artwork and what I do are connected and accessible to others.”
A Healing Effect
Not only can art be used to educate and communicate, but it can also promote healing. Dennis Isaac, a member of MICA’s fiber faculty and a senior pattern maker at Under Armour, is using his artistic talent to help injured veterans in their rehabilitation process. Using compression fabrics that are built into garments, Isaac has helped veterans transition into their prosthetic legs and arms. Thus far, Isaac has completed garments for about 60 soldiers.
“There are soldiers that have gotten into these garments and where they used to be able to walk only 15 minutes, now they can walk an hour,” Isaac said. “My role goes beyond just making visible products; there’s a need to make under garments that are personalized and can be reproduced. There are soldiers that went back to school because they now have this compression garment.”
Another member of the MICA community who has seen the healing power of art first-hand is Emily Wade, who graduated from the Master of Arts in Teaching program in 2011. While an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, Wade learned that a local artist she admired had died of cancer. In honor of the artist, Wade taught workshops about pain and healing at a local cancer center. When she relocated to Baltimore to attend MICA, Wade continued to bring comfort to cancer patients at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. Since 2010, she’s taught art classes to children with cancer and their families through the hospital’s pediatric oncology unit, a program funded by a grant through the MICA Student Affairs Community Service Fund.
For the young patients, who range in age from about 4 to 21, “art is empowering,” said Wade. “It can be relaxing; it’s exciting, and they have control over what they’re making, whereas they don’t have control over what’s happening to their bodies.
Bringing Art to Communities
Many MICA heroes seek to bring art to people who might not be inclined to visit galleries or exhibitions. After meeting with community leaders interested in creating murals that drivers would see as they traveled busy Baltimore streets, Frazier and 15 local artists created two murals on Harford Road— one of fruits and vegetables outside a local farmers market and grocery store, the other of a sunflower near a community garden. “There have been studies that art calms traffic,” Frazier explained.
Carl and Linda Day Clark, who met at MICA while studying photography and later married, both bring art to communities that might not otherwise be exposed to it. “I make portraits of people who walk up and down the street,” said Carl ’86. “Poor people don’t have portraits of themselves. They’re unable to see themselves. I give them Polaroid portraits.” Linda ’94 produced a series called The Beauty of North Avenue that highlights everyday people on the busy Baltimore thoroughfare. “We love to make art in the community, and we find ways to teach and do workshops about art in the community,” Linda said. The Clarks also look for unusual places to show their art. For example, some of Linda’s work that just left a solo show at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is now hanging in a local barbershop. Her views reflect those of many MICA heroes engaged in community art. “People can live their daily lives and still benefit from works of art,” she said.
Image captions (top to bottom): Local artists pose on top of one of the community murals that Whitney Frazier spearheaded; Ashley Minner taking part in community activities sponsored by the Native American After School Art Program; Carl Clark's work highlights the beauty of ordinary people from the community in everyday situations.