|Magazine of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls
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Along the South Fork
Becoming Art Smart
BY BENJAMIN JIPSON, ’06
Professor Lynn Jermal
UWRF art professor Lynn Jermal let out a short giggle.
She was describing a public art project she and her students helped install at Battle Creek Elementary School in South St. Paul. It wasn't a "that's funny" giggle. It was more of a giggle of disbelief, incomprehension, reproof. She giggled because the school didn't have an art teacher.
She sees it more and more these days. With a revived emphasis on mathematics and science, K-12 curriculums, like Battle Creek's, are becoming increasingly common. But schools without art programs remain nearly unfathomable to Jermal. Before receiving a doctorate in art education from the University of Minnesota, Jermal was a grade school art teacher in Illinois. Although now teaching at the college level, she's still committed to bringing art into the lives of young kids. So, she's enlisted the help of her university students to spread the value of art to communities and schools all over the River Falls area.
Her instrument? Public art installations. And she and her students already have several examples to point to as they make connections throughout the region.
As a primary focus, the projects are aimed at bringing art experiences into lives that might not otherwise have them. These projects, like all outreach or service-learning efforts, work well because everyone involved is likely to benefit—university students who practice their teaching methods; professors who see their students work in a real-life environment; and community members, young and old, who learn about and create art.
UWRF student finishes mural created and painted by students at Hudson Middle School
A fundamental dynamic of Jermal’s teaching is the collaborative process that goes into the creation of a piece. Her university students are trained to lead community clients from initial concept to completion of the work of art. One example is the mural in the Chalmer Davee Library Breezeway. The work, “Find Your Dream,” celebrates the cultural diversity of the St. Croix Valley region at the turn of the millennium. Along with local artists, Jermal and her class engaged many area middle school students and UWRF staff to complete the work. “When people can interact with each other, something much larger comes out of it than what they can do themselves,” said Jermal.
Aside from involving community members in art for on campus display, Jermal realized the need to place more art work in areas outside the campus. That's how the Battle Creek Elementary project got started. The color relief the students produced showed what can be accomplished as a contributing member of a team. Students may have thought their personal contributions were insignificant at first, but Jermal recalls the faces of all 86 sixth graders “lighting up” as the relief was unveiled. “They were simply amazed that they had made something so beautiful,” Jermal said.
Not far away at the Hudson Middle School, Jermal’s students worked with a group of kids to construct a six-panel mural, which depicts the life of a middle school student. These students were part of a gifted program and didn’t get to experience the same art classes as their peers. Jermal’s university class had a difficult time incorporating each student’s ideas into one design, but after hours of shifting, realigning and hands-on painting, the group was able to produce an amazing piece of art.
No doubt, Jermal’s passion and that of her students has made an impact on UWRF and the surrounding community. What can we make of schools like Battle Creek Elementary that don’t provide art classes, you might ask? Jermal was happy to report that recently the school has hired an art teacher. Perhaps she and her students had some indirect influence on that decision. What is important is that schools are realizing the role art plays in developing creative expression. It's a mission Jermal and UWRF students are taking far and wide through hands-on engagement—helping others "do" art in order to appreciate art.
Ben Jipson graduated from UWRF in December 2006 with a degree in English and professional writing. Now residing in Duluth, Minn., Jipson is eager to do some world traveling before landing a "real" job or enrolling in a graduate program.
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