33 Mentoring Students in Their Creative Endeavors | Priscilla Briggs

This section can be divided into three categories: activities I am requested or invited to do, activities I pursue, and activities I initiate.  Being that there is no short supply of things to do on campus, assessing and prioritizing are important.

During the 2005-2006 academic year, the art department conducted a ten-year Departmental Review.  The following year, we also contributed to the Education Department’s five-year accreditation review for Art Education.  In response to our ten-year review, we followed the advice of our external reviewer in attending the Foundations in Art: Theory and Education (FATE) Conference in Milwaukee in 2007. The theme of the conference, “Shift, Connect, Evolve,” was relevant to our department as a whole in that it addressed major changes occurring in the art world due to technology and to the development of new art forums such as installation, interactive, and interdisciplinary art.  I took on the responsibility of applying for grants from the Faculty Development Program to allow our entire department to attend the conference, and I wrote the final report.

This past year, I was invited to act as an external reviewer for the tenth-year review of the Art Department at Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA.  Because Moravian is so similar to Gustavus in that it is a small, values-based liberal arts college, performing the review informed my perspective on my own department, and I found myself brainstorming ideas for possibilities within my own department as well.  I will suggest these ideas to my department this year, including: an online gallery of student work, a standardized grading system for the studio art classes, and a more rigorous portfolio review.

The spring is a particularly busy time of year in the art department.  Each year we interview art scholarship applicants during the Scholarship Day weekends.  This past year was particularly exciting in that the quality of portfolios we saw during the reviews was very high.  The spring is also the season for student exhibitions in the Schaeffer Art Gallery.  The sophomore and junior art majors are required to participate in a portfolio review and exhibition.  This gives them both practice exhibiting their work and an understanding of how important presentation is.   Each student meets with at least one studio art faculty member individually to discuss their work and their goals as an artist.  We try to pair students with professors they have not had before in order to provide them with objective feedback and fresh insight.  There is also an art minor exhibition in the spring, which gives the art minors their opportunity to shine.  The studio art faculty members each supervise one of the three exhibitions on a rotating schedule.  The Senior Seminar also has an exhibit at the end of the Fall semester, and the professor for that class is responsible for this exhibition.  There is much to manage for each exhibit: notifying students of exhibition requirements and schedule, advising students on what work to exhibit, two days of painting the gallery and hanging the exhibit, organizing the opening reception, and making sure the students retrieve their work at the end of the exhibit.

During my second year at Gustavus, I was invited to join a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL) group and have found this to be a practical and interesting endeavor (as described in Part 1 of this document). As part of a SOTL panel during Faculty Development Day in the Fall of 2005 I shared my research and ideas.  After completing my SOTL project, I participated in a writing group that met throughout this past semester to share and receive feedback on our writing.

Another activity I have twice enjoyed is as guest lecturer in Max Hailperin’s FTS class Copyright Issues in the Digital Age.  For my lecture, “Art, Video and Appropriation”, I screen video art pieces that use appropriated material and then discuss how the appropriated material is recontextualized to create new meaning and, usually, to reveal something about the original material.  A student from this class registered for my Video Art because he was inspired by the lecture.

Three years ago, students asked me to be the advisor for both the radio station and the Gustavus Film Society.  Since then, the Film Society has been absorbed by GAC TV, but I have been trying to get some students interested in reviving the Film Society and organizing a regional student film festival.  Contrastingly, I have watched the radio station programming and facilities grow under the direction of Greg Boone.  At his request, I arranged a meeting between representatives from Gustavus’ KGSM and the Carleton College radio station, because Greg saw Carleton’s radio station as a successful model.  The students at Carleton gave us a tour of their facilities as well some very useful advice.  After this visit, Greg wrote up an impressively thorough plan for KGSM’s programming and budget and received funding from the Student Senate to purchase new equipment that would allow for a more professional practice.

Being involved in student-initiated activities and witnessing the energy they put into such things, caused me to think about how I could make my classes feel more student run.  I believe this encourages them to take more responsibility for their own learning.  My approach is to mentor the students in their creative endeavors rather than exert an aesthetic authority, giving them a wide enough berth to find their own vision.

The second category of service as I have defined it, activities I have pursued, reflects my personal interests.  I was very interested in the SLSJ program because I am dedicated to the idea of introducing social justice issues into my classes. I feel very strongly that one of the major roles of artists in society is to address issues of social justice.  I want my students to recognize this responsibility, and I design some assignments that require them to do so.  Often, these projects have some of the most compelling outcomes of the semester because students are required to look outside themselves to move beyond the typical college clichés.

My personal understanding of social justice as an ethical issue compelled me to participate in the Summer Workshop on Teaching Ethics in 2005.  This was an opportunity to work on a project design for my Interactive Media class, which involves the making of net.art about issues of social justice.  I also appreciated the opportunity to listen and hear what others are doing in this respect.

The focus of the J-term class I co-taught in 2005 and 2007, Tourism in Thailand, is the social justice issue of tourism in a developing nation and its social, economic, and environmental repercussions.  I think this is a very successful and eye-opening class for our students.  One subject addressed in the course is ethnic tourism and authenticity.  To explore this phenomenon, we spend a few days in home-stays in Hill Tribe villages as part of a community-based tourism project.  When asked to give written feedback about the home-stay, the students from the first trip each wrote, without consulting one another, how surprised they were that people with so few possessions could be so happy.  I thought this realization was the most valuable part of our trip for them.  And I believe that providing experiences like this for our students is a valuable service to the college.

A few items from the third category, activities I have initiated, have been previously touched on, but I will elaborate here.  Again, the goal of the Visiting Artist Series for the Senior Seminar was to give the senior art majors input on their work from fresh perspectives and to introduce them to the working methods of various artists.  I invited six local artists to speak and critique student work during the Senior Seminar.  In addition, with the help of the CVR, the Diversity Center and the Campus Activities Board, I invited photographer Lonnie Graham to give a campus-wide lecture in the Spring of 2005.  Mr. Graham spoke about his work with inner-city youth in Pittsburgh, his photographs of workers in Africa, and his current project “A Conversation With the World.”  He also gave a homily in chapel on the topic of tolerance, attended a dinner with students and faculty, and graciously agreed to critique student work.  Mr. Graham donated two of his artworks to the college.

To supplement the visiting artist series, I applied for a grant from the Johnson Fund to invite two artists, Sue Wrbican and Mary Carothers, to do a semester-long collaborative interdisciplinary project with a group of students from various majors.  Twenty-five students signed on from the Art, Theater, History, Communications Studies and English departments.  The project required students to do historical research and take photographs on location. The artists initially worked with the students from a distance, one living in Kentucky and the other in New York.  They launched an informational website and posted all research and photographs there as a hub of communication.  The theme of the project was the impact of big business on the local landscape and community.  I was the project manager.  I recruited students from outside my classes and department for the project, kept tabs on their involvement, and set up email aliases for each group.   I organized the campus visit of the artists which included a lecture to my Darkroom Photography class, a visit to Patricia English’s Communications Studies class, a photo shoot on location with each of the participating student groups, a brunch with students and faculty, and a campus-wide lecture.  My last task was to put the culminating exhibition together.  This involved having the photographs and signs printed and working with the students to hang the show in the Schaeffer Gallery.  The project encouraged the students to explore the local St. Peter area and discover issues of concern close to home.  The students who were not art majors were especially fascinated by the process of taking information and turning it into a visual representation.

It is this kind of activity, which gives the visual arts a presence on campus and in the larger community, that interests me most and through which I feel my talents are most effectively utilized.