Each term, one participant from each HECUA program takes on the role of student blogger, sending regular dispatches from the field. Eleanor Giese is HECUA’s student blogger for Art for Social Change this spring. They are a student at University of Minnesota- Twin Cities, majoring in art, minoring in social justice. Read on for their first post!
Hi there! My name is Eleanor Giese and this semester I am participating in HECUA’s Art for Social Change program. Every month or so, I will be catching you all up on what my class has been up to and share my experience of HECUA’s curriculum. Here’s a little about me – I am a sophomore at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. My areas of study are art and social justice. I will likely be focusing on sculpture, with the hopes of a career in arts administration. I love to take part in all the opportunities that this area has to offer in terms of public art, live music and community events.
I chose to be a part of HECUA this semester because of the program’s clear commitment to building community and educating for change. While options for a student are endless, it’s easy to get lost in a big state school like the U of M. Last year I struggled with the idea of finding a place in our college where I felt like I belonged. With HECUA – only about three weeks into the semester – I feel like I’ve found that. I have to say it has been a pleasant surprise. Instead of feeling like I was simply going back to school, my first impressions of our class have me thinking of it more like a family around the table, a place where I already know I will be very comfortable.
After reflecting on the reason that I feel so optimistic about our semester, I am beginning to realize how much of an impact the learning environment has on all of us. Growing up, I was good at school, knowing and being able to execute what the teachers expected of me. While it was easy, I felt that most of the information I was supposed to be learning wasn’t actually sticking. I was a skilled memorizer. When I am invited instead into a space that is based in conversation and community, I feel better able to absorb information, interact with what I’m learning, and gain a deeper understanding of those learning with me. I have had few classes at the U – apart from those in the School of Social Work– that get me excited to learn, or that enrich my experience by fostering real connections. The importance of the alternative learning HECUA provides is evident after just a short time.
Part of the Art for Social Change curriculum is an internship at an organization in the Twin Cities. I am happy to say that I will be interning at the Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center. I’ll refer to them as CAFAC, because that is a mouthful! CAFAC is an organization committed to making fire arts accessible to the community and to supporting local artists in the public arts scene. They offer multiple layers of access to the facilities – you can take beginner, intermediate and master classes, rent studio space, and volunteer to help with shop maintenance and supervision.
This past week, I really felt like we got into full swing. My schedule is filling up fast. I am a person that loves feeling busy, especially when I’m doing something that really energizes and motivates me. Being around all of the incredible women in this program, both in our class and at CAFAC, helps me see the possibilities that are available to me in my future. Those possibilities are becoming clearer and feel more attainable. I’m excited to say that, this semester, the individuals around me are role models for myself. The art world can often feel inaccessible, but it is very inspirational to be surrounded by women who have similar ideas and careers that I can see myself having.
On Thursday, at my internship, I got to meet an artist who is working on a project at a government building downtown. The artist’s work is a light installation that will span across the ceiling above the elevators. This week, he had to undergo a critique and get checked off by the Public Arts Director. They came into CAFAC to examine the prototype. This was an interesting behind-the-scenes look at how public art is approved and commissioned. Seeing this process revealed many of the logistical things about this field that I never considered. One my favorite parts about the Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center is the work they do to support local artists. CAFAC works with artists to help them find space to create, store, display and promote their work. It is work that is rewarding and benefits an entire community.
I am excited that I was able to choose which aspect of the organization I’d like to focus on. I will oversee their Ignition program, in which CAFAC works as a middleman between local artists and potential art commissioners. The ladies at CAFAC are looking to either host an event, create a database, make a booklet – that choice will be up to me after learning more about the needs on both sides. Since community organizing and art are two of my passions, I feel that this will be a great fit for me. One of the things I’m most looking forward to about this internship experience is that the women working at CAFAC have successfully created a unique, creative, fun and safe environment. I’m excited to get to know each of them more, as I have a good feeling that our personalities will align well. The space is also incredibly dynamic. Throughout the entire meeting, there were people walking in and out, music going, chatter and laughter. People clearly enjoy being there. Because of the organization’s deep connection to local art, they have many relationships with artists in the area. I can tell that I will continue to have experiences like this as the semester goes on.
It’s been wonderful connecting with you all. Hopefully this little reflection gives you more of an idea of how HECUA works, and offers some insider information on my program. I’ll have to sign off here – check back soon for more updates on Art for Social Change and stay well!