Art for Social Change Student Blogger Study USA

Looking Back, Moving Forward: Goodbye HECUA!

Photo of Art for Social Change students sitting in the car together, smiling

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 last post!

May 6, 2020

I sit in the last week of the semester with a big knot of emotions. Looking back at the time I’ve spent with HECUA, I feel sorrow and optimism. I feel motivation and love. I feel disappointment but also so much appreciation. HECUA has given me opportunities that I never dreamed I would have as a college student and taught me so much about the way I best learn and how I can effectively communicate with others. I know now that a conversation-based, social justice minded education really works for me. I feel I have learned more in these short months than in the whole two years I’ve been at the U so far. What makes HECUA so special is their willingness to try a new way of teaching, and the confidence they have in their students’ prior knowledge and skills. Each of my classmates bring something different to the table and every one of us has gotten to both teach and learn throughout the semester. The program took careful consideration of what we all had to offer and how we could use our previous experience to further our understanding of our curriculum.

I was speaking to some of my friends who were registered for normal classes this semester at the U about the differences in our education. I’m sure they’re probably all sick of me gushing about HECUA, but I can’t help it! One complaint that I hear from a lot of my peers in different programs is about how regimented the semester is. With each week laid out in an unwavering syllabus, it can be difficult to contemplate topics you find interesting because the course has already moved on. If you wanted to learn more or reflect on something that caught your attention, you would need to do this on your own time. Unfortunately, for a lot of students (and people in general), time isn’t a luxury they have.

The program that I’m currently participating in is flexible, giving students time to actually reflect and digest the material we learn. It is a given that we will veer seemingly off-topic. We in Art for Social Change call it going down a rabbit hole. However, these conversations that we’re having, while they may seem unrelated, always tie back in and help us make actual connections to the material we’re learning about and our own lives. This is especially important when it comes to information regarding social change, as the topics can be extremely new, dense, and emotionally draining. When learning about the violations of social rights in our very close communities, time is needed to sit with this. We need time to talk through it. These are not things you can bring up for one day, take a test and move on. That is not the point. HECUA and my professor Sarah Petersen have considerately opened up our time to do what we feel we need to do in a given moment. For that, I am extremely grateful.

HECUA has also given me the opportunity to find out about a lot of wonderful things happening around the Twin Cities when it comes to social change and the arts community. Because I am not originally from here, I don’t know that I would’ve been able to gain as much knowledge about my area by just exploring alone. Sarah is a native of the cities, and many of my classmates have lived here for a while as well, so they each had wonderful suggestions about things to do and people to connect with. We were always so impressed by how many people Sarah knew! I learned about a lot of people that I can use as a resource in the future.

This program also organized a guest artist or field experience every week, meaning we were coming face-to-face, (eventually screen-to-screen), with an individual or organization that was actually doing the work we were studying. The amount of information that I gained through this way of operating our class is incredible. I have to commend HECUA and our professor with how well they have handled continuing education amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Sarah has continued to set up meetings with guest artists and organizers over video conferencing. Although we are apart, the work we do together in these meetings still makes me feel connected and very involved in artistic processes with our guests.

Art for Social Change students gathered around in a circle, looking at a piece of art together.
Group photo at Wing Young Hui’s the Third Place Gallery. Photo credit, Eleanor. (Note: photos were taken before Minnesota’s shelter in place order.)

I feel so lucky to have gotten to meet the six women in Art for Social Change. In January, when I first learned our class was so small, I honestly was nervous, especially with the difference in age between some of us. In my time at the U, I have never experienced anything like this, and I didn’t know what to expect. I could have never expected this. These women have changed my life. I am so impressed with how close we have gotten in what really is a short amount of time — even with being online for the second half of the semester! I never would have thought I could feel such love and joy, pain and sorrow through a computer screen. My classmates are some of the most supportive people I have ever met. I leave each video conference feeling brighter and ready to create, organize, and learn.

This reflection wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging how much appreciation I also have for my internship site, Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center. I am so glad this was the organization I got to work with this semester and am really proud of the work I’ve done there. I encourage everyone to check out their website and learn about the various ways they are supporting their community through art. The women at CAFAC are another group of incredible people, artists, and organizers. I really support their mission and am certain my relationship with them will continue.

Looking forward, I know the people I have met this semester will continue to be a part of my life. We have hopeful plans for a reunion in person, as I’m sure many have planned with their loved ones once the stay-at-home order lifts and it is are safe to get together. I know these ladies will continue to be a resource and amazing friends to me and that our work together will not stop when the semester does. Although these past months are not what anyone expected or hoped for, I am so extremely thankful for the opportunity to be a part of a program like this. Thank you to everyone who made my experience possible. I know what I have learned here will continue to inspire, guide and motivate me far into the future.

Signing off,

Eleanor Giese

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