Contemporary Ethical Issues and Studio Art Collaborate

An interdisciplinary project turns student research into works of art.
During the fall trimester, one unique project appeared on the assignments list in two very different classes: Contemporary Ethical Issues (a senior history elective) and an Advanced Studio Art course.

Students from both classes would be collaborating on one project, each bringing their own classroom learnings and skill sets to the table. The assignment came near the end of a unit titled “Black and White Race Relations” in Jason Carney’s Contemporary Ethical Issues class, during which students examined a variety of current events and issues under the larger umbrella of race relations in the United States, all with an eye toward the role of ethics in each.

The project called for the Ethical Issues students to break up into groups of three to four, hone in on a topic of their choosing, and conduct deep research that they ultimately synthesized into a 15-minute classroom presentation. Many of the presentations also integrated a more creative component, including calls for audience participation and live or recorded performances. Topics ranged from racial equality in the public school system, to implicit and unconscious bias, to protests by athletes.

Once the research and presentation phase was complete, the cross-class collaboration began in earnest. Students in the Ethical Issues course were paired with artists in Liz Mahoney’s Advanced Studio Art course; they then shared what they’d learned about their research topic, mapping out the many complexities and ethical considerations at play. The artists took the information they’d been given and turned it into a single, complex art piece meant to educate and evoke responses from viewers. The impressive pieces were first displayed in the Commons before being moved to the Library for continued exhibition.

“Working with the artist was new and challenging for me because I wanted to give her something she could transfer on to a canvas and put her own spin on, while also staying true to the research we did,” said senior Maddy Waltemath of working on the project. “Our artist did a spectacular job with what we gave her, I couldn't have done anything like that myself! The activism component is one of my favorite parts of the class because it is one thing to discuss these important topics, but it is even better to actually do something and educate our community. Bringing all of these elements together made for a really unique and fun group work experience.”

“It was fascinating to be able to enter another class and interact with a student who was completely detached from what we had been studying,” said senior Reina Nadeau. “Because Ms. Mahoney’s art class didn't have the background on the topic like we did, it was rewarding to see how communication could result in an art piece that epitomized my project.”

Reina continued: “It was definitely challenging to try and come up with an idea that could consolidate weeks’ worth of notes into a single art piece. How can one even convey such a complex topic into one drawing? However, it was also super cool, because information doesn't always have to be communicated in a single-faceted way.”
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