Community and Social Engagement
“More than a decade ago, we decided that community engagement would be something that we did as part of our jobs, not just something we did on the side.” Fred Lazarus IV, President, Maryland Institute College of Art

In large and small ways, MICA is a national leader in community engagement—both locally and globally.

Hundreds of courses, programs, campus organizations, and individual projects make up MICA’s community engagement lattice. The extensive outreach is integrated into every facet of the College’s curriculum and operations, giving rise to a model of collaboration between an academic institution and the community—both locally and globally. Last year, in the undergraduate curriculum alone, more than 50 courses were focused on creating tangible outcomes for the community, such as:

  • the creation of a mobile “Injury Prevention” van used to educate children and adults about home health and safety
  • a “virtual” supermarket that brings fresh foods to neighborhoods that lack healthful nutrition options
  • a public awareness campaign for “Stepping Up,” a peer mentoring initiative aimed at reducing gang violence by keeping kids in school

Community engagement projects at MICA often cross disciplines and departments. For example, through MICA’s Loss and Consequences: The Drunk Driving Project partnership with the Maryland Highway Association and Urbanite magazine, 400 students researched issues related to drunk driving and generated 150 works of art. Up to 10 of these are set to be used in a statewide public awareness campaign.

Not only are MICA’s students active agents in community change, MICA’s faculty members, like Interdisciplinary Sculpture faculty member Sarah Doherty, are leading by example. To bring life to sometimes desolate evenings in downtown Baltimore, she secured a grant from the Downtown Partnership to project video in the windows of a vacant storefront in the center of the city. She hopes that the colorful, moving dynamism of the video will add energy to the area. During the day, she plans to use the space, which she is calling the In/Flux gallery, for a series of exhibitions.

MICA is the literal hub for educational initiatives related to community engagement. The Community Arts Convening and Research Project conference, hosted by MICA in March 2011, gathered dozens of educators, artists, activists, students, and practitioners together to discuss the relevance and future of community artists. The conference attendees together explored curriculum design, outcome measurement, change management, pedagogical modeling, cross-sector connections, racial matters, and democracy, among other topics.

Coordinating all of the social and civic initiatives at MICA may prove to be an almost impossible task. Simply cataloguing them all could be herculean in scope. But those are exactly the tasks undertaken by the team in the College’s Office of Community Engagement, inaugurated in fall 2010. The office’s goal is to “connect the dots” between the myriad community-oriented projects and activities spearheaded by MICA students, faculty, and staff in the following areas: academic, experiential, research, facilities, and operations. In this way, the College can examine why successful projects have been meaningful, build synergies among people, departments, and ideas, and maximize the impact of MICA’s seemingly innumerable programs.

Determining the impact of MICA’s outreach initiatives will be helpful not only for internal use, but also for community-serving organizations around the country. With this in mind, a $200,000 Kresge Foundation grant provided seed money for MICA to collaborate with the Gallup Student Poll to measure the impact of community arts programs on children and youth. The grant will also allow the College to serve as many as 200 additional low-income, inner-city residents through MICA’s Community Arts Partnership (CAP), a program that sponsors student-designed initiatives that use art to uplift underserved communities. Like the CAP program, MICA’s Community Art Collaborative also works with partners in the community to uplift youth; last year some 15 nonprofit partners and 1,000 youth were engaged. Last year, CAP students alone performed 8,100 hours of community service.

Studio Center RenovationIn much the same way, MICA is using the renovation of the Graduate Studio Center on Baltimore’s North Avenue to enhance the cultural and economic energy of the Station North Arts and Entertainment District. One of the first state-designated arts districts in the country, Station North has already benefited from MICA’s leadership in community development. The students and faculty members who showcase their creative work in the area’s galleries and entertainment venues, patronize the area’s shops, and live in nearby neighborhoods have already given new life to the area. Station North has been profiled in The New York Times and won the 2011 Arts & Entertainment District Outstanding Achievement Award from the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. The renovations to the Graduate Studio Center will further enhance the area’s vitality by adding or improving the quality of 120,000 square feet of space that can be used for graduate programming and provide publicly accessible street-level galleries and event spaces for free exhibitions, performances, and discussions.

MICA’s involvement in the community is multi-faceted, with every level of faculty, staff, and students doing its part. Last year, for example, MICA faculty or administrators served as chairs of the following organizations: Baltimore Collegetown (Theresa Bedoya, vice president of admissions and financial aid), Maryland Citizens for the Arts (Douglas Mann, vice president of fiscal affairs and CFO), Station North Arts and Entertainment District (Michael Molla, vice president of operations), Reginald F. Lewis Museum (Dr. Leslie King-Hammond, Center for Race and Culture director), and Central Baltimore Partnership (Fred Lazarus IV, president).

MICA’s leadership in community engagement is one reason the Washington, DC-based Partners for Livable Communities presented President Fred Lazarus IV with its 2010 Founders Award for Civic Leadership. The honor, given to an elite group of individuals who demonstrate “leadership that has a significant impact on the quality of life for people across America,” has been bestowed on notable figures including William Reilly, former administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency and former president of the World Wildlife Fund, and Benjamin Hooks, former executive director of the NAACP and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.