The eyes of students from the seventh-grade class at St. James School lit up as their mentors, Tyler School of Art graphic design master of fine arts students, showed them around the collegiate studio for the first time.
Despite their differences in age, the master’s candidates and middle school students have experienced a semester of partnership. During the past few months, the Tyler and St. James students have teamed up for this semester’s graduate thesis project, pioneered by program head Kelly Holohan.
Holohan said she has wanted to do a community outreach partnership for a long time and has been doing research to see what she and the graduate students could do to make a difference in their community.
“I went to an AIGA conference recently and I went to some of the breakout sessions for some of these topics,” Holohan said. “Everyone I talked to and everything I’ve read said you need to start with a relationship you already have.”
Following this advice, Holohan contacted one of her friends, St. James’ principal David Kasievich, about starting a collaborative project. The partnership turned out to be a perfect match, she said, as St. James places a lot of emphasis on education in the arts.
After the graduate students settled on a theme for the project and decided how to involve the middle school students, they pitched their idea to St. James’ administrators. Holohan said the administrators “fell in love” with the project.
However, she said, the logistics were not easy to work out.
“We had to figure out how [we could] schedule all of these kids, and the [graduate students] with their schedules and soliciting donations for the poster project,” Holohan said. “That was the biggest challenge – those logistics, time and money. But we worked it out.”
Once it was decided that the seventh-grade class was a good fit for the project in terms of how challenging the material would be, Holohan said it “really took off.”
The Tyler students planned to create posters for the project that focused on the words of St. James’ school pledge, spreading messages of leadership, knowledge and positive change in the community.
The students were split into four groups. After meeting twice to demonstrate the process of screen printing and to brainstorm ideas with the seventh graders for the design of the posters, the groups met one additional time to create the final product, something the St. James students said was their favorite part.
“My hands were really one of the only ones that got really dirty,” Jonathan Newlin, one of the St. James students, said. “I actually put my hands in the paint, so at first I had a blue thumb and then I got my whole hands blue.”
While the students have participated in other art projects at St. James, they said they never had the opportunity to learn about and participate in this type of art.
“At first I wasn’t really sure what [printmaking] was, but then they showed us different examples, like the Obama poster, and then I got really excited about it,” St. James seventh grader Ainyae Holmes said.
Once the posters were finished, Holmes said 24 copies were made so the students would be able to take some home and post around the halls of St. James. The remainder will appear in a public exhibition at Tyler on May 9.
The exhibit, which will be held in the Tyler atrium from 5-7 p.m., will showcase the final products of this collaboration, but will also have work from the graduate students who created their own pieces inspired by the St. James students.
The posters created by the students from St. James, as well as the work of the graduate students, will also be available to purchase. All proceeds will go toward raising awareness for St. James, as well as contributing to supportive and creative programs for students.
Graduate student Nikki Eastman said apart from the artistic aspect of the project, getting to know the students from St. James and to be part of a community outreach program was what she enjoyed the most.
“The kids were a little bit shy and reserved at first, and now they have completely opened up and they’re running around our studio, picking things up, playing on my computer – it just feels very comfortable now,” Eastman said. “I think that was a really cool transformation to see.”
As someone who is interested in using art for social change, Eastman said this project was a great example for the type of work she would like to pursue in the future.
“I would really like to do work that is involved in designing for social good,” Eastman said. “I’ve dabbled in that here as an undergrad and in other classes, and it is something I definitely want to pursue further.”
Both Holohan and Eastman said they would love for this partnership to become a long-term relationship, with each new class of graduate students working with students from St. James on a variety of projects.
“If we do [the project] again I would run it like a graduate project, but it wouldn’t be the same,” Holohan said. “It would be with St. James, but it could be with a fifth-grade class or an afterschool program at St. James, wherever the need is coming from.”
Alexa Bricker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.