When artists create, they express a piece of themselves. Art, therefore, can provide an outlet for underrepresented people to communicate their feelings, struggles and realities with those who will listen. That makes ARTifact, a program offered through Kalamazoo College’s Center for Civic Engagement (CCE), an empowering resource.
ARTifact, fueled through K students serving as civic-engagement scholars, is a weekly studio-workshop series for high school students interested in visual art and social justice, while otherwise having limited access to art instruction. The program creates a space in which participants communicate about complex social issues and express their identities through art.
The program, including the cost of materials, is offered at no cost to participants thanks to the CCE. Since its founding, the CCE has provided service-learning courses, research opportunities, internships, and student-led programs, engaging more than 10,000 K students in partnerships that foster academic learning, critical problem-solving and a lifetime of civic engagement. Through the CCE, students, faculty and staff have worked with thousands of community residents, more than 50 organizations, and in more than 30 community-based courses across K’s academic disciplines.
The CCE employs 25 civic-engagement scholars including Angela Pastor ’21 who are student leaders facilitating programs with community partners in which they and their peers learn from communities. The scholars are supported by generous endowments and grants.
The culmination of the ARTifact workshops for the academic year came in an exhibit at the June 7 Art Hop, a fun evening of art exhibits and events in and around Kalamazoo, sponsored by Arts Council Kalamazoo, that takes place during the first weekend of every month. ARTifact’s exhibit during Art Hop was stationed at the Park Trades Center, a former manufacturing facility on West Kalamazoo Avenue that houses a creative community of more than 100 designers, entrepreneurs and small business representatives.
The ARTifact workshops gathered participants for three hours every Saturday, where they created art, physically crafted their displays and created advertising posters before spreading word of its Art Hop show.
“It’s an honor to be able to provide this experience,” said Pastor ’21 of Los Angeles, a Posse student at K who also benefited from participating in a similar experience as a high school student. “When I went through it, it taught me a lot about what I could create. I know high school is a time for questioning for a lot of people. Art, I think, is a way to figure out yourself.”
Pastor said she enjoyed ARTifact week to week, although long term success would mean expanding the program to more high school students by getting more K students to volunteer. That would also mean realizing ARTifact’s full potential.
“I know some of the high school students explore their identity through sexuality or mental health,” Pastor said. “It’s a way to use art as a tool that educates and helps students explore their identity. It can be used to support their social justice issues and anything they’re passionate about. There was one workshop where we used only recycled materials. We also talked about what makes art worthy of being exhibited and we questioned what art is and what it can be. It makes me feel proud (the high school students) were able to learn about art and have all these experiences.”