Student Blogger Study USA

HECUA Classrooms and the Art of Hosting

A group of people sit in a circle on a gray striped carpet. Blue string crisscrosses the center of the carpet.

Each semester, one student from each HECUA program takes on the role of student blogger, sending regular dispatches from the field. Savannah Spirov will be HECUA’s student blogger for the Art for Social Change program this spring semester. Savannah is a junior at Hamline University, majoring in Communications and minoring in Social Justice. Read on for Savannah’s experience creating an interactive and site-specific work of art – a dinner party.

There is something incredibly artistic about hosting a gathering for a group of people. Whether it is in your own home or a public space, it truly is an art — or, rather — a socially engaged craft. This is a topic we have been discussing in our Art for Social Change class over the last few weeks. On Tuesday, we held our first of three class dinners at Art for Social Change professor Marcus Young’s home. The goal for this dinner was to create a menu for what we wanted to cook and serve everyone, what activities and conversations we wanted to bring to the table, what we wanted our theme for the evening to be, and how we were going to incorporate our magnificent guest, Eric Avery, into our few hours together. In a group of three, Sophie, Marcus, and myself, we managed to successfully put together our first-ever class dinner!

Dinner gatherings take a lot of prep work, sometimes even weeks of advance planning. Brainstorming what everyone can eat, how we will fill our 2:00-7:00 PM time frame, and how we want the space of the home to be rearranged prior to everyone’s arrival are all important details when planning such an intimate event. Sophie, Marcus and I decided to go with the theme of circles for our evening. This included most of the dinner items we ate being circular, everyone would eat and gather in a circle, we would create bracelets to signify a circle, and we even ended our evening with an inspirational quote about a circle.

“The most powerful thing we can do is get involved locally. Help our local community and become community activists in our own smaller circle.”

Gavin Creel

Our evening started with doing some community-building exercises that involved a theater game I learned at my internship, Washburn Black Box Acting Program, and a well-known ice breaker formally known as Concentric Circles. This was an opportunity to open up in a goofy way and then bring it back to a deeper scale. All of these activities were done in a standing or sitting circle. Some questions we discussed in pairs were, “What is a topic you wish you knew more about?”, “Which artist that we have learned about do you relate to most?”, and “If we could have anyone talk to our class, who do you wish that could be?”.

We transitioned to presentations from Art for Social Change students Cedar, Hope, and Sophia on artists and projects associated with their internship sites In The Heart of the Beast, Pangea World Theatre, and East Side Freedom Library. This is an assignment we will continue with the rest of our class throughout our two future dinners. It offers an opportunity to learn more about each of our internships and artists involved in our local communities.

After presentations, we transitioned to the highlight of the evening: dinner. Sophie, Marcus, and I prepared an array of delicious bite-sized foods. These included tomato-basil-mozzarella bites, stuffed mushrooms, marinated carrots, stir-fry broccoli, potatoes with cream cheese and goat cheese, apples/pecans covered in brie cheese, and Nutella-covered bananas. Needless to say, it was a total success. Practicing the art of hosting, we served each dish individually to each person, one by one, as we sat in our circle. By this time, our guest for the evening, Eric F. Avery, was able to join and eat with us.

Eric wrote a powerful, heartfelt letter about coming to terms with art. While I could dive into the letter and discuss the important takeaways, I am going to discuss what came up in conversation after dinner with Eric.

Sophie and I were in the kitchen cooking while the rest of the students had the opportunity to get to know Eric briefly. When we returned, Sophie posed a question. “Who is your role model?” she asked. Eric pondered this for a few minutes and returned with the most truthful and honest answer they could give. “I don’t think your question applies to me,” they said. They talked about how there has never been one specific person that they felt like they wanted to model their life after or look up to, because the answer changes every day. This set the honest and powerful tone for the remainder of our time together.

We began discussing working for a field that is exploitative and thinking about how to fix it. Do you take a step in the field to “fix” it or do you “fix” it from the outside? An example would be the education system in the United States. Do we become a part of and work for the U.S. school system to break down the exploitation, white supremacy, and systematic oppression? Or, do we fix these issues by working on the outside of this field? How are we creating this world that we want to live in? Eric said they want to “make a world for me because so often there hasn’t been a place in this world for me.”

This conversation progressed into the topic of creative practice. Eric continued to talk about how creative practice can be a vehicle for our future desires and dreams. The evolution of creation can make so much more possible. The point they made that inspired me the most was that we can take our creative practice and use it anywhere. It takes creative practice to become a lawyer just as much as it does to become an artist. It takes creative practice to become a doctor just as much as it does to become a middle school teacher. “Teach because that is going to make you a better learner. Learn because that is going to make you a better teacher,” Eric preached to us. It takes creative practice to work in any field just as much as it does to simply live your everyday life. “Always have a creative practice no matter what you do,” were Marcus’s final words to end our delightful and inspiring class dinner. And that, my friends, is the art of hosting.

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