Art for Social Change Student Blogger Study USA

Making adjustments and moving forward

Student laying on the group facing upwards, underneath a tent.

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 next post!

Hello all! I hope I find you in good health. So much has happened since I last wrote a post for HECUA. As I reread my first blog submission, I feel worlds away from this experience. With the recent COVID-19 pandemic and Minnesota’s response of the Stay at Home policy, everyone has had to adjust their daily lives. HECUA’s Art for Social Change program is no different. The seven of us in class have been meeting remotely for the past few weeks. We use Google Hangouts, a video chat program, to delve into our typical rabbit hole of topics, sharing recent projects and trying to be as connected as possible when we are caught so far apart. Our meetings often feature a guest artist, organizer or other creative. Originally, these individuals were meant to join us in class, where we could participate in a project of theirs and learn a lot from the experiences they’ve had in the real world. Because we are no longer able to meet in person, they join us virtually for a few hours to give us a presentation about their work and answer our questions. Many have found a way to take their practice online, so we are still making real connections and getting involved in their work.

Group of students gathered on the floor together, sitting and discussing. Large open window is streaming in light.
Art for Social Change students met in Pillsbury House and Theatre before HECUA moved courses to online.

This past week, our class got to work with three awesome artists and organizers from around the area. I enjoyed meeting with all of our new guests. Artist Sarah Peters’ work in the Twin cities was incredible. She has participated in so many different events and projects around here! It was awesome to listen as she talked. Her work connected to experiences that I’ve had in the Twin Cities, and I learned that she personally was a part of many of those events or has worked with others who organized them. I’m always so impressed by the artists and organizers that this class allows us to connect with. I feel that, along with the curriculum and community that I’m gaining by participating in this program, I also am making connections with really key players in the field — people I can potentially reach out to in the future.

Molly Van Avery, a seasoned social justice organizer and former HECUA faculty, was such a fun person to connect with, too. She clearly was so experienced in the bureaucratic, administrative side of public art and social justice organizing. One of her current projects that I was super intrigued in, and excited to participate in, is called “Shelter in Poetry.” Molly has written on the spot poetry before, but in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, her practice has had to change a little bit. I have signed up for a slot to videoconference with her again, speak about someone I want her to write a poem for, and she will personally send it in the mail to my intended recipient. It is encouraging to meet with people near me that are continuing their mission even in such uncertain and difficult times as these.

One of the most exciting aspects of this week for me was getting to reconnect with Shanai Matteson. Shanai is an artist from the Twin Cities that we met a couple weeks ago to begin working on a project she is doing related to women and our connection to water. Each person in our class went through the brainstorming process- journaling, discussion, drawing – to create an individual poster with a phrase describing our relationship with water. These posters will be made into riso prints by a collaborating artist and compiled together in a quilt or collage. We met again this week to share what each of us had come up with. It was illuminating to see how differently each of us interpreted the prompt and hear the stories behind the artwork.

Meeting twice with someone really reinforces the connection we have made, and makes it feel a little more real than just someone just hopping on a conference call for an afternoon. I really think that’s part of what makes this HECUA program so enriching. The participatory elements and encouragement of real relationship-making are so important. It makes me feel like an active subject in my learning, which is something I really value, and believe it is a change that can revolutionize how we learn.

The internship component of our program has also had to change. Last blog post, I spoke about the excitement that I had about my placement for the semester at Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center. The anticipation for all our planned projects was really curtailed by the announcement of the shelter-in-place policy. I was really bummed out that I wouldn’t be able to be in that environment anymore, see my supervisors and the regulars at the center, and work side-by-side with some great artists. I felt we had just gotten started and that was suddenly cut short. No longer able to go into the workplace, my duties as intern have certainly been adjusted. I still try to do as much work as I can remotely, as many have had to do, and we have found there are definitely still areas where my help and input will still be very valued. I will continue my work on our artist directory and assist with setting up an online store. Although this is not how I pictured my semester at CAFAC, I am confident that my work there remains significant, and I am hopeful for the chance to return in person when all of this is over.

I realize that as I speak about all the changes I have had to undergo in the past few weeks, I am not alone in this experience. Each of us may have been affected differently in this crisis, but no one has gone untouched by the times. I recognize my privilege even more in moments like these, where personally the only thing that has really been affected in my life is convenience. I am grateful to still be participating in a program as wonderful as HECUA and am thankful to all the people who are continuing to work to make that possible. Take care in the coming weeks and be kind to each other.


Eleanor Giese


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