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MICA: Catalyst for Change

President, College Recognized for Community & Social Engagement by Next American City, Baltimore Magazine, Baltimore Sun, Others

Posted 01.01.11 by mica communications

MICA’s approach to community engagement is at once comprehensive and strategic, and also dependent on the freedom to pursue unconventional approaches to complex challenges. 

MICA undergraduates paint a mural of Baltimore’s skyline

- MICA President
Fred Lazarus IV

Though MICA has always recognized its unique role in linking art, culture, and education, the Board of Trustees made it one of the College's priority initiatives a decade ago. Since that time, community and social engagement have taken on an intensity at MICA not duplicated elsewhere. Students design projects that tackle Baltimore's challenges at the most basic levels and implement them through coursework, MICA programs, or independently. The senior staff has been empowered to work with cultural and economic-focused nonprofits across the city, from the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance to the Midtown Development Corporation. However, nowhere has MICA's commitment to community and social engagement been more pronounced--and grown more rapidly--than in academic programming, where it has been incorporated into curricula throughout the College.

  • READ: Next American City's interview with President Fred Lazarus IV about The Art of Change.
  • READ: In its "power" issue, Baltimore magazine honors given to Lazarus for community leadership; also in article: Eddie and Sylvia Brown, Michel Modell, Michael S. Beatty and several alumni.
  • READ: Baltimore Sun's front-page story on interdisciplinary sculpture faculty member Sarah Doherty's grant, which aims to help revitalize Baltimore.
  • READ: City Paper interview with faculty member Hugh Pocock about Baltimore Food Ecology Documentary project
  • READ: Stories about MICA PLACE.
  • READ: Coverage on the new Office of Community Engagement.
  • Also featured in Diverse: Issues In Higher Education for the new Office of Community Engagement, the Think Tank conference, and the Kresge Foundation's College/Arts Initiative grant; Public Art Review and The Chronicle of Higher Education for Kresge; and The Baltimore Sun for a front-page story on urban gardening












There is good reason for MICA's placement on the President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll-the highest federal recognition a college can receive for volunteer, service-learning, and community engagement efforts. MICA created the nation's first MA in Community Arts program led by Ken Krafchek, now expanded into a sister MFA program. Undergraduate classes team MICA students and local youth, such as the Community Arts and Documentary course, taught in conjunction with the Finding Our Wings Community Documentary Collective, which brings teen girls to campus to participate in an uplifting, cathartic experience of film-making. New graduate programs like the MA in Social Design, a one-year program that will launch in fall 2011, will provide students with an in-depth opportunity to participate in the discovery and problem-solving process involved in community-focused art and design work. The program will build on the College's current social design initiatives, including the Design Coalition class, a 10-year-old partnership with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health that works on issues such as healthy lifestyle communication challenges in East Baltimore. In fall 2011, the interdepartmental, undergraduate concentration in Sustainability and Social Arts Practice (tentative title) will link together classes exploring ecology, sustainability, urban studies, and social engagement.

The social design and community arts graduate programs are among those that will be housed in MICA PLACE (Programs Linking Art, Culture, and Education), located in East Baltimore. The facility acts as a hub for graduate study and housing, preparing students for civic-minded careers through immersion in the community where they both live and work. MICA PLACE is managed through the College's new Office of Community Engagement (OCE), which is charged with coordinating initiatives on campus, developing new programs, facilitating collaboration with external partners, and providing visibility and support for community engagement and service-learning initiatives.

OCE, led by Director Karen Stults (previously MICA's director of Corporate, Foundation, and Government Relations), hopes to support the work of community artists and activists by increasing the evidence of impact. A first step in this direction is the groundbreaking Gallup Student Poll partnership, supported by Kresge Foundation's College/Arts Initiative grant. Through the project Community Arts Partnership: Making a Difference, Measuring Impact, which commenced in mid-September, MICA and Gallup are surveying 200 young people currently served in MICA-sponsored community arts programs, with the goal of measuring the programs' positive impact on the lives of children and youth. Such findings, scheduled to be released in summer 2011, will help make the case that artmaking has a positive effect on hope, engagement, and well-being, which in turn has a positive impact on achievement and success. Additionally, MICA's AmeriCorps program, Community Art Collaborative, is participating with other AmeriCorps programs across the country in a national performance measures pilot project aimed at evaluating academic improvement of students who participate in arts-based learning during out-of-school time, with a special focus this year on literacy. Foundations, schools, universities, and youth-serving organizations will then be able to use these findings to prioritize and invest in arts-based community programs.

One of the most important, if less visible, ways MICA has an impact on Baltimore relates to economics and quality of life. As the College has grown, it has met many of its space needs through reuse of existing structures. The renovation of Mount Royal Station and the conversion of the 1882-built Hospital for the Women of Maryland into the Meyerhoff House student housing complex are two examples. The reuse practice maintains the vitality of neighborhoods by preventing abandonment and neglect, and it has led to awards including Preservation Maryland's Stewardship Award.

In much the same way, MICA's use of an abandoned factory on North Avenue for graduate programming and studios has helped revitalize the area known as Station North. Through the College's efforts, in collaboration with the city and other organizations, the area was designated Maryland's first official Arts and Entertainment District, and MICA has been nationally recognized for its transformation, including a highlight in The New York Times.

MICA campus-anchored Artscape, the nation's largest free arts festival, draws 350,000 visitors annually and has an annual economic impact on the state approaching $26 million. And, as a partner in the $19 million Living Cities Integration Initiative, MICA is helping to create job opportunities and improve neighborhoods in Central and East Baltimore, while preparing students for opportunities created by the construction of the Red Line, a 14-mile east-west transit line.

MICA's community engagement initiatives delve into a wide array of civic arenas. For example, the Center for Design Practice (CDP), a multi-disciplinary studio housed in the Office of Research, partners with a variety of outside organizations looking to make a positive impact on society. This semester, the center partners with the Baltimore City Health Department's Bureau of STD Prevention to enhance outreach efforts to decrease risky sexual behavior and increase HIV and syphilis testing in populations at high risk for the diseases. CDP also worked on awareness campaigns for Great Kids Farm and Real Food Farm, two organizations offering healthy food options and education about nutrition and sustainability. Likewise, the Baltimore Urban Farming class is exploring the artistic, social, political, and ecological issues associated with growing food in the city. The class and its faculty member, Hugh Pocock, have been spotlighted in The Washington Post, Urban Farm magazine, and The Baltimore Sun. The project is based at Great Kids Farm and Participation Park, an urban farm and social sculpture developed by alumni group Baltimore Development Cooperative (BDC), which has also been applauded by publications such as The Washington Post and Art in America.

Students in the National Art Education Association Student Chapter draw cancer survivors’ portraits at Race for the CurePerhaps the most impressive projects, however, are those that are initiated by the students themselves or through student groups like the student chapter of the National Art Education Association, which has launched its own online student journal for scholarly articles about community art and arts education. The group also organized MICA volunteers to draw portraits of breast cancer survivors at the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in October, and it hopes to continue this partnership in the future. The students were a hit, drawing almost 150 portraits and caricatures of survivors that morning.

"I wanted the survivors to realize they can treasure this moment through their portraits and always remember how far they have come in their fight against cancer," said student organizer Amy E. Buckler.

The Baltimore Sun says MICA is defying age-old stereotypes of art schools because "in this vision, art students aren't just eccentrics in Bohemian clothing, crafting abstract images in rooms neatly cloistered from the surrounding world. They're people who use aesthetic skills to understand and help the neighborhoods around them."

To send an inquiry or question about a community engagement partnership, please e-mail OCE at engage@mica.edu.


Photo captions (from top): MICA undergraduates (closest to farthest) Adam Dirks, Taylor Carlton, and Cory Osterman paint a mural of Baltimore's skyline with University of Baltimore students; Students in the National Art Education Association Student Chapter draw cancer survivors' portraits at Race for the Cure.

Related stories:

Kristy Taylor Adds Expertise to New Office

Kristy Taylor joined the community engagement team as program manager for MICA PLACE this fall.

Projects, Class Work Have Community Focus

Overview of classes and programs focused on building the greater community.

Essay by Karen Stults, director of community engagement