Professor giving a lecture to students in old main

Innovative arts course combines learning with service

Woffords Community Engagement in the Arts course allows students to get first-hand work experience 

Reigel 382
2015-06-12

SPARTANBURG, S.C. - During the fall of 2014, Wofford students taking the Community Engagement in the Arts class explored the various artistic outlets in Spartanburg through hands-on work in the community. Some have continued that work, not for academic credit or for a monetary reward, but because they want to contribute to the quality of life in the county.

Ni’Asia Daniels, a first-year student from Spartanburg, S.C., initially took the course for the opportunity to have a connection with the community. Daniels, a double major in biology and chemistry from Spartanburg, S.C., continues to work with the Northside Initiative to create Porch Stories and Pictures, a project that involves interviewing Northside residents.

“I’m not really artsy, but I’ve always been involved in community service, so this course was a good fit,” says Daniels. “Even though the course is over, I still work with leaders in the Northside Initiative who facilitate meetings with community members. I try to form some type of connection with these members and try to learn more about their lives and experiences.”

Eventually, according to Daniels, the project will culminate in an “artlet” area, which is a creative and informational outlet that gives the community a place for self-expression. The Northside Initiative is planning to incorporate Daniels’ project in hopes of creating a place where members of the community can display their talents, whether through a poetry night, concerts or an exhibit.

“We just want to keep the Northside community and history rich. It’s been really educational to see that the area still has relative meaning to the people who live there,” says Daniels. “To them, the Northside is home, it’s what they’ve always called home, and it’s what they’ll continue to call home.”

Besides projects based on community-service, the Community Engagement in the Arts class offered a variety of internship opportunities. Students were involved in developing school art curriculum, designing and curating a photography competition and blogging for Hub Bub’s recent Love Where You Live campaign.

Art history major and studio art minor from Fort Mill, S.C., Mills Reigel, who just graduated in May, worked with the Wofford Archives in order to catalog a recent donation of artwork by Julia Elizabeth Tolbert. According to Reigel, cataloging artwork is a meticulous but interesting process that involves giving an overview of each artwork.

“These works were donated by the artist’s nephew, who said that they were sitting in barns throughout South Carolina. The nephew donated them because he felt that Wofford needed more art that is accessible,” says Reigel. “We have a variety of artwork in our collection, a lot of which is Asian, but we don’t have Southern art.”

Although the internship only included the cataloging process, Reigel extended the project in the spring to include an artist biography as her Senior Capstone project.

“I feel like if I didn't write the bio, nobody would. As time passes, it only gets harder to obtain information. Julia Elizabeth Tolbert deserves to have a legacy at Wofford,” says Reigel. “She was a really talented artist, but never got the recognition that she deserved in her lifetime. There’s a widely read article in the art world explaining that the reason there are no great female artists is simply because they haven’t been discovered. That theme fueled me. Tolbert fits into this category of undiscovered greatness.”

Recent Wofford graduates Sari Imber, an art history and French double major from San Antonio, Texas, and Sarah Baldwin, an art history major with a minor in studio art from Chapin, S.C., worked collaboratively at an internship for the Hub City Press in order to create a book featuring local artists. They completed the project this spring.

“For this project we had to find the contact information of local artists, send them questions and then take their statements and write something coherent and eloquent for the book,” says Imber. “There were a lot of phone calls and miscommunications, and we ended up working with the company outside of the course.”

The book is set to be published this fall, and both Imber and Baldwin will be listed as compilers. According to Imber, this experience was meaningful because it combined her passions of design and art.

“This has undoubtedly been the most useful, meaningful and challenging class I have had the opportunity to take at Wofford. It directly impacted my career search,” says Imber, who now has an internship with an interior design firm in Houston, Texas. “The Hub City Press internship and the community engagement in the arts course gave me real-world, concrete experience, and I was exposed to information I would not have otherwise gotten through a traditional lecture-based setting.”

Likewise, Reigel is thankful for the internship opportunity that the class provided.

“When I graduate, I want to work in art museums and galleries as a curator, so this has been an amazing and eye-opening process,” says Reigel. “It’s helped me so much with experience necessary for both grad school and for my career. It even opened my eyes to other aspects of the art world, such as investigation.”

Directed by Dr. Karen Goodchild, associate professor and chair of the Department of Art and Art History, the course allowed students to explore the founding and funding aspects of arts organizations, as well as offered first-hand experience with local arts organization. As of right now, the Department of Art and Art History hopes to build a continuation of the course and continue to offer similar service-learning and internship opportunities to students.

By Kelsey Aylor, Class of 2017