Building Community through Art

By Purnell T. Cropper | December 5, 2012

Photography KARA WRIGHT ’14 and CHRISTINA YEE ’14

Global Art, Local Heart, an exhibition organized by the students and instructor of “The Artist in the Community,” opened in the Judith Taylor Gallery on Nov. 29. The collection of colorful artwork adorning the walls and display tables in the Gallery crosses cultural and material boundaries and represents a semester’s worth of handiwork.

When imagining a structure for “The Artist in the Community,” Adjunct Professor Linda Ruth Paskell ’81, ’96M.Ed. knew she wanted to create something that would inspire students regardless of major. The course that grew from this idea challenges students with its unique combination of art making and community service. Collaboration is central to the endeavor, and this semester students worked side-by-side with residents at two local homeless shelters, DePaul House and Hope Gardens, remodeling rooms and completing art assignments. “We go in to build the community and create with people, and we leave as family,” said Paskell.

At the Gallery opening, she and the students welcomed Arcadia University’s art enthusiasts as well as family and friends from the community. “We’re connecting people through art. The highlight of this experience has been pulling everyone together,” said Paskell, who describes the event as one of her favorite parts of the class.

“Surface,” a series of multi-textured collage-paintings by Arcadia students and the women of Hope Gardens, had a significant impact on its creators. “Most of our moms [at Hope Gardens] are so busy that they don’t have time for themselves,” said Danielle Bossart, a representative from Hope Gardens who attended the event. “This program gave them time and hope. It was a beautiful experience.”

The time spent crafting was just as therapeutic for the students, who were encouraged to open up about themselves and address their self-doubts through art. “The first part [of the course] is about overcoming our insecurities about our own creative processes. Then, we go out and bring our creativity to others. Now, we have this party to celebrate it,” said Paskell.

“My Life,” one of the most popular projects on display in the Gallery, is comprised of poster boards designed and decorated to represent aspects of the students’ personal and family lives. One of the first assignments of the semester, it helped the classmates open up to one another. “Many of my students apologized for crying [during their ‘My Life’ presentations.] I told them not to apologize for being real. Tears are the most honest thing you can give someone,” said Paskell.

For Melissa D’Arcangelo, the project was especially meaningful. After finding out that her grandmother passed away, she became much more committed to her artwork. Remembering and creating took courage. “On October 12, I found out about my grandmother. I didn’t want to believe it was real when I was at school, but I knew that I had to do my ‘My Life’ project on her. My grandmom was such a wonderful woman. I had to do the project in pieces because I was so emotional. Linda Ruth is such a generous and selfless woman, and this class was really art therapy to me,” shared D’Arcangelo.

Both Paskell and D’Arcangelo say the impact of the course on students and the residents of DePaul House and Hope Gardens will outlast the exhibition. “I looked forward to this class every single week. I would suggest to every student here taking it,” added D’Arcangelo.