Detroit Connections

A&D students and faculty are bringing art back into the school day — and learning some lessons from students about creativity and play.

For over 10 years, Detroit Connections, created by A&D Associate Professor Janie Paul, has been teaching School of Art & Design students to lead arts programming in underserved Detroit schools where students have no access to arts education. During that time, a total of 360 college students have led weekly art workshops for approximately 600 elementary-age children at Harms Elementary in southwest Detroit, Greenfield Union in north central Detroit, and Marcus Garvey in southwest Detroit.

Each semester a faculty member and 15 – 20 undergraduates work with a class of approximately 35 - 40 children. Through collaborative art making, participants— including both students and faculty—develop a recognition of, and appreciation for, each other’s strengths and needs.

“Detroit Connections is a powerful learning experience for the college students,” confirms founder Janie Paul. “They learn first-hand about unequal education and poverty and begin to change their world views and their actions in relation to this knowledge. And as they share their resources, they discover that the children have resources to share with them.”

In developing personal relationships with Detroit children and their schools, A&D students also have a chance to begin to form a lasting connection to the city.

And, as part of the course curriculum, A&D students take field trips to many sites to introduce them to Detroit’s rich cultural heritage.

Over the years, Detroit Connections faculty have been recognized with numerous awards and grants including President Coleman’s Honor Roll for Community Service. Most recently, the program received a $100,00 grant from an unnamed donor to support expanding its In the Classroom program to reach more under-resourced Detroit elementary schools.

The Gathering of the Herd

This past semester, Detroit Connections worked with 5th graders at Detroit’s Garvey Academy to make elephant sculptures from recycled materials including plastic bags, fabric scraps, cardboard, and more. Inspired by the work of the South African Human Elephant Foundation, the project was designed to raise awareness about how people can creatively address issues caused by humankind’s expanding ecological footprint. Students discussed conservation, sustainability and environmentalism and traveled to see Nomkhubulwane, the two-ton elephant sculpture from the Human Elephant Foundation, who traveled across North America and was elephant-in-residence at Marygrove College and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in the Cultural Center.

At the end of the semester, the elephants created were exhibited at Work•Detroit, in tandem with similar work completed by Detroit school children working with Marygrove College’s Visual Art Department. The exhibition, The Gathering of the Herd, showcased the artwork of students from over fifteen area K-12 schools.



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