Our Service Learning Project began as a mural project. The administrative team at Hope Station voiced the desire to create a more open and sustainable space where community members could spend more time and use the space as more of a resource. We were given the task of decorating the walls of Hope Station with imagery that reflected the community and livened the space. Hope Station offers many services to the community such as Kid’s Café and Homework Club as well as outdoor recreational spaces utilized by the community. We were to aid in the revitalization of Hope Station in conjunction with the upcoming renovations. We decided to create three murals each in spaces frequently used by different programs: Homework Club, Kids’ Cafe, and the teen lounge.
“A commitment to collaboration and reciprocity allows participants to both direct the development of their intended artistic and social justice impacts towards their audience while also experiencing some of those impacts (increased awareness, critical consciousness) themselves”
During the span of this project it was important for us to recognize the inaccessibility to art especially in communities of color. Art, as a mode of activism, is a way to force visibility in spaces where dominant narratives prevail. Art, especially fine arts, is coded as elite and we found it important to involve the community members in the creation of the work that would be used to decorate their space.
Our initial method of brainstorming ideas for our paintings was to get to know the people that utilized the space. We began to spend time at Hope Station particularly during the time between Kids Café and Homework Club. Early on we observed the transient nature of the space in that people moved in and out quickly. It became difficult to find ways to interact and cultivate enough time with people individually to get ideas for the space. For example, the younger and older kids will get their snack and either leave or go to Homework Club. Most of the kids that hang out at Hope Station spend their time outside using the basketball courts or other outside facilities. Then we decided to go to a couple sessions at the Homework Club because in this space the kids are engaged and comfortable in the environment.
We began by talking with kids at Homework Club to see what kinds of interests they had. We talked to them about painting a mural and then had them work in groups to decide what they would put on a mural. Some common themes among the kids’ drawings were plants and animals, so we decided to go with a nature theme for the Homework Club mural. Thinking about the teen room, we wanted to include things that would be relevant and relatable to teens, and we found that music was a common interest that had the potential to intersect well with messages of empowerment. This space is envisioned as more of a lounge area where kids of different ages can utilize the area for leisurely activities. For this room, we designed an abstract illustration of circular objects such as planets, music records, sports equipment, images of the earth, and other objects that reflect the interests of younger community members. For the Kids Cafe room, we were told originally that it might be converted to a spaced used more by adults, so we decided to do an artistic interpretation of a map of Carlisle.
Our process of designing and planning the logistics of the murals changed slightly along the way. We decided to aim to tie the Homework Club and teen room murals in with two other service learning projects being done for our class: the Girl Scouts’ flower badge project and bringing healthy food to Kids Cafe. We added fruits to the nature theme for the Homework Club design, and we decided to go with a circular theme for the teen room mural, allowing us to incorporate music, produce, and nature. Our plans also changed due to renovations going on at Hope Station. While we originally planned to paint directly on the walls, we ultimately found that the best option was to paint on large canvases that would then be displayed.
Personal Reflection: Manny Ocampo ’18
“I believe BLACK music, with its rudimentary foundation in BLACK sound, gives a framework for organizing without institutionalization, structuring without strictures.” (Crawley, Ashon T.)
This quote by Ashon T. Crawley resonates with the methods I employed. It was really important for me to incorporate the creativity of people who lived in the Carlisle community. I provided the frame and the structure of the mural but did not impose any restrictions. I believe that art should not have any strictures because then you are limiting expression. I wanted to capture the current moods of the people helping us.
I was influenced by Ella Baker, an activist who was involved in social justice movements for over fifty years. Baker’s “experience within these movements is a testament to her own commitment and points the way forward.” (Capeheart, Loretta) It was important to Baker to listen to the voices of the people. Baker “insisted that authentic leadership could only come from those most affected by injustice.” (Capeheart, Loretta) Baker’s methodology inspired me to incorporate and learn from the people in the community.
Our project correlates to Distributive Justice because of the accessibility of visual art. Distributive Justice concerns the nature of a socially just allocation of goods in a society. That good is visual art. It’s important to think about the unequal distribution of visual art throughout different spaces. Visual art has taken an elite role in the art spectrum. I pull from Andria Blackwood’s, Curating Inequality: The Link between Cultural Reproduction and Race in the Visual Arts. Here, Blackwood says “art museums project a predominantly white image creating a place of whiteness, which in turn fosters a social barrier of racial exclusion.” Lets think about the places people can access visual art. Visual art is most likely displayed in art museums. Now, lets think about the location of art museums. Art museums are near popular business areas, popular tourist areas and popular schools of higher education. Art museums shifted from a communal space to a more exclusive elitist space. Part of this shift has to also do with economic decisions. Art museums used “to educate the public on the value of art and the process of art appreciation.” We felt like it was up to us to take this into our own hands and create a space where art can be appreciated for what it was meant to be. It was made to be an accessible way to express oneself. Like mentioned above, our grassroots approach allowed us to collaborate with the community. We used our privilege to access the resources to provide kids the materials to freely express themselves on paper.
Personal Reflection: Samantha Mendoza-Ferguson
When members of the Hope Station administration came to our class and outlined their goals to make Hope Station sustainable as well as change the space in a way where people would want to spend time, art immediately came to my mind. With the rearranging and redefining of the space, I saw the paintings as a way to revitalize Hope Station, which in turn will show the community that their spaces are important and valued. To me, the rooms utilized by Homework Club were especially important because kids from the community spend 4 days a week in the space. Because of this, I decided to focus on the painting for this space. For this painting we were able to get the majority of our ideas from interacting with the kids in addition to the adult workers at Homework Club. Instead of intruding upon their space, we worked cooperatively in the crafting of ideas and the actual production of the work. In this way we centered their experience and gave them agency in the work that would be shown in their space. They voiced interest in natural landscapes and bright colors so I designed a stylized tree bearing different fruits. Still wanting to involve the kids at Homework Club we asked the kids help us paint different parts of the image. In this design, I integrated different aspects that reflect the activities of the kids at Homework Club such as Kid’s Café and Girl Scouts. In Marit Dewhurst’s “An Inevitable Question: Exploring the Defining Features of Social Justice Art Education,” she examines the ways in which collaboration is integral part of dismantling hierarchies of power in social justice art education thereby “empower[ing] all participants to act as agents, not subjects of their own practice” (Dewhurst, 11). Because we are working with real people, in a real community instead of creating a theoretical project, it is important to understand that circumstances change. Even though we could not complete our initial designs, I recognized the importance of improvisation. Although the paintings will not be a permanent part of the space, they will still serve the important purpose of revitalizing the rooms in tandem with the renovations. In addition they can be moved around to accommodate and decorate different spaces. I believe we were successful in creating work that enhanced and personalized the space. Despite certain difficulties, we were able to get to know members of the community and have a mutually beneficial experience!
Personal Reflection: Emily Katz
Originally, one wall in the Kids’ Cafe room had a large display of pictures of people in the Carlisle community, and the wall across from it featured a smaller map of Carlisle. Once I found out that we would be changing our project from murals on the wall to painting them on canvas to be hung up, I decided that we could then incorporate the already-printed pictures. By shrinking the size of the mural, there will be room to keep many of the pictures of Carlisle residents around the borders of the mural. The artistic map of Carlisle places Hope Station at the center, rather than having Dickinson as the center. Placing the community-centered map directly in the midst of the pictures of Carlisle residents literally ties them to the geography of the community.
The need for murals at an organization like Hope Station reflects both past and present social justice issues, and a lack of distributive justice. Carlisle can be seen as divided by the train tracks, and the resources available to the communities on either side are not equitable, creating the need for the programs that Hope Station runs. One goal of our mural project is to foster a deeper sense of community ownership over the space, so that people who use the services at Hope Station will feel more connected to and proud of their community.
In a time when Black people still face institutional and interpersonal racism and are undervalued in American society, Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza talked about writing a “love letter to Black people.” Hope Station serves predominantly Black families in Carlisle by providing them with critical resources and a sense of community. Yet the space the organization physically inhabits used to be a train station and there have not been significant changes or renovations to the space since then. By introducing murals that reflect the strengths, values, and interests of the community members, I see our project as a way for people in the community at Hope Station to fully claim that space make it even more meaningful, especially in a political climate that challenges Black people’s right to take up space or be present in specific spaces.
While we are excited about the vibrancy that our three murals will bring to Hope Station, we also know there is room for more social justice-oriented artistic work in the space. If this project were to be continued, another mural could be made to fill the other former window that is now a covered space in the teen room. We already have one mural for the other window, but it would be even better to have both of them filled. Teens who come to Hope Station could be directly involved in the brainstorming, planning, and painting of the mural so that they feel a sense of ownership and connection with the art and the space itself. This could also be an opportunity to have discussions about social justice issues, especially those that the teens face in their daily lives. Another way to continue the project would be to find other ways to incorporate art into the Homework Club room. This could be through other small murals on the wall or collaborative large-scale temporary art, such as banners or paintings. Any further art could incorporate more social justice themes in the brainstorming process, as well as in interactions with the kids.
The volunteers for these projects could be other Dickinson students who are interested in social justice work or who are taking social justice related classes, or even art classes such as drawing or painting. Volunteer outreach could be done through organizations such as the Center for Service, Spirituality, and Social Justice, the Arts Collective, Social Justice House, and the Center for Sustainability Education, which is looking for more ways to incorporate social sustainability. Overall, it would be ideal to facilitate more direct interaction with community members and build a stronger connection between Hope Station and Dickinson students. This could include expanding access to more art or music resources by partnering with more Dickinson groups such as WDCV, Arts Collective, eXiled, and dance groups such as Synergy and Hypnotic. By being in such close proximity to Dickinson, there are many resources that can be shared between the college and Hope Station. As college students, we must remain humble, and recognize our privilege. We have to admit we don’t know everything. This will be a collaborative effort to learn from each. These spaces will serve as platforms to create this bridge.
References & Recommended Readings
“Black Panther Party Ten-Point Program (1966).” Black Camera 21, no. 2 (Winter 2006): 16.
Blackwood, A, and D Purcell. “Curating Inequality: The Link between Cultural Reproduction and Race in the Visual Arts*.” Sociological Inquiry 84, no. 2 (n.d.): 238-263.
Capeheart, Loretta, and Dragan Milovanovic. “CHAPTER 11: Justice and Grassroots Struggles.” In Social Justice: Theories, Issues & Movements, 159. n.p.: Rutgers University Press, 2007.
Crawley, Ashon T. 2009. “Can you be black and work here? Social justice activist organizing and black aurality.” Souls 11, no. 2: 186-201.
David, E, & McCaughan, E 2007, ‘Art, Identity, and Social Justice /’, Social Justice, 34, 1, pp. 1-154, Social Sciences Full Text (H.W. Wilson), EBSCOhost, viewed 3 May 2016
Dewhurst, M 2010, ‘An Inevitable Question: Exploring the Defining Features of Social Justice Art Education’, Art Education, 63, 5, pp. 6-13, Art Source, EBSCOhost, viewed 3 May 2016.