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Sustaining community cohort crisscrosses communal creations

The Sustaining Community Cohort, a new class-club hybrid on campus, stands at the intersection of sustainability, art, and community. It is exposing many high school students to many fun and unique experiences.

“We asked students who are [currently taking] advanced art courses, economics, as well as environmental science to express an interest and apply,” said faculty leader Ben Steele, “and we selected 16 students. Our mission is [to] analyze art and philanthropy and how they intersect. [We focus on] public art, public space, and mass transit and how those subjects contribute to the sense of sustaining your community.”

For its first field trip this year, the group went to Flux, a one-night art exhibition in Atlanta.

“Flux was a great experience,” said junior and Cohort member Jimmy White.  “We took a bus trip to the Castleberry Hill neighborhood near downtown Atlanta and visited a great art festival. We walked around through the festival and experienced installation and performance art.”

Students were able to be active participants during the festival.

“There was one exhibition with a dance floor where they videotaped you dancing,” said White, “and then projected it up on a really big screen on a building.”

Flux was a unique art show for another important reason. It was only a single-night art exhibition.

“Everything is installed, performances happen, and then it’s all just taken down the next day,” said Steele.  “You have to be there then to experience it, which means that everyone who is experiencing the art is experiencing it together.”
Flux certainly gave visitors a taste of unusual and unique public art.

“I’m not an artist,” said White, an economics student, “and so it was great for me to experience something outside of my comfort zone, like Flux, where there are people who I don’t normally get in touch with.”

While Flux was a unique experience, the Cohort’s trip to New Orleans this fall offered a more immersing but similarly unique experience.
“The New Orleans trip was great,” said White. “I ate lots of food, and we toured New Orleans, visiting exhibits from Prospect 2.”
Prospect 2 was the art festival that the group visited in the city.

“New Orleans is all about carnivals and parades, and that’s what Prospect originally was–this art carnival that happened once a year,” said junior Leah Parker. “That was the first Prospect, and we went and saw the second. Dan Cameron curated the show, which was a lot of installation art pieces placed all over New Orleans. He brought in around 70 international artists to New Orleans who all stayed here for six weeks deciding what they wanted to do, where they wanted to put their art, and how they wanted it to interact with the city. Cameron wants New Orleans to grow into the nation’s premier art city.”

The Cohort enjoys and benefits from the unique events they visit.

“I was pleased and maybe a little shocked with how much I felt like [the students] were in touch with the ideas that were deepest and most integral to the project, [Prospect 2],” said Steele, “and I think that it was because the trip as a whole gave people such a strong sense of what was going on and what was happening.”

Looking toward the future, the group plans to visit the Beltline in Atlanta and the High Line in New York this spring.

“We are visiting New York to visit the High Line and its recently built second edition that was opened this past fall,” said Steele. “It is a redesigned public space. They are re-purposing railway that’s elevated into a public park. This was a project that began with a grassroots movement to save the High Line because it was scheduled to be demolished. It [evolved] into this amazing effort where architects from all over the world were the designers. In a pretty small period of time, the cause changed from a small, grassroots movement to a new idea of how to design an urban space.”

Students are looking forward to unique experiences with art and public spaces in New York, both at the High Line and in the city as a whole.

“I really think the High Line is exciting,” said Parker. “I think the concept of changing a railroad into a park is fascinating.”

All in all, the Sustaining Community Cohort has found a place in students’ hearts for the unusual, extraordinary events that combine art, sustainability, and community.

“I think it’s fantastic that Mr. Steele started it and came up with it because it’s going to be an up-and-coming topic in our world,” said Parker.  “I think it’s great that we get to be introduced to it at such a young age, and have such great trips, and experience the topics of sustainability and community firsthand.”

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