Student artists take New Orleans

Beginning with a crack-of-dawn flight on Oct. 25, members of the club Creating Communities spent a weekend in New Orleans getting psychic readings, listening to jazz, and snacking on beignets. However, they visited specifically to see Prospect 3, an international contemporary art showcase that included exhibitions, performances, and parades throughout the city.

        Creating Communities is a club on campus comprised of juniors and seniors with diverse interests that fall across the arts spectrum. The club focuses on national events such as Prospect 3, as well as local examples of the role art plays in enhancing Atlanta.

“The mission of the group is essentially to experience creativity in public spaces and community and think about how those things affect each other and how the group can be a creating community here on campus, across different mediums,” said art teacher Ben Steele, one of the group leaders. “It gives students from the visual arts, performing arts, and other forms of art the ability to interact with the creative community outside Westminster.”

In addition to monthly field trips, members of Creating Communities also take an annual trip to another city, preferably one with a thriving arts scene like New York or New Orleans.

 “This year we went to New Orleans, particularly for an international contemporary art biennial called Prospect 3. They had contemporary art all over the city, all the way from the French quarter and Mississippi River, what people are really used to seeing, to the 9th Ward, the area that was most ecologically and economically hit by Hurricane Katrina,” said English teacher Sabrina Johnson, who leads Creating Communities alongside Steele. “We also explored some odd spaces, like the backyard of a random house and a contemporary art gallery in New Orleans and some more traditional spaces.”

Students who participated in the trip enjoyed both Prospect 3 and the opportunity to experience the city itself.

 “Once we got there we immediately joined this parade and participated in it. After that we just toured seven to eight galleries throughout the course of the trip, ate at jazz bars, got psychic readings, watched street performers, and went through these open air markets,” explained senior Meg Hoffman. “My favorite thing was just seeing the art integrated into the communities, like it was in these old houses, in these really old, untouched galleries, or even just outside.”

Catering to student interests, the trip’s itinerary placed equal emphasis on fine art in the traditional sense and different forms of creativity such as performances, music, and architecture.

 “We went mainly to see those great art museums,” said Johnson, “but also to experience a place like New Orleans that has great public squares and a great budding art movement that goes from high art with people who are trained, classical painters to just everyday people who are making art.”

The overall combination of an international art exhibition such as Prospect 3 and an extremely artistic city such as New Orleans made the trip a memorable experience.

“My favorite thing is that the trip has stayed with me, from the food we ate to the music we heard,” Steele said. “A lot of the students would say that too…New Orleans itself has a way of staying with you that I find fascinating.”

The trip was also unique because it allowed students to link their studies at Westminster to new experiences in the outside world.

“It connected really well with Westminster’s service learning goals. There was a lot of integrating into the community,” said Hoffman. “We talked to people who lived in those spaces, instead of just talking to people from Atlanta. We also got to experience and discuss foreign topics. Like, we had a project where we just heard about the flood and someone did a piece on that, and we visited a museum just for Mardi Gras costumes. There was definitely a big focus on service outreach.”

Other students found connections by comparing the techniques learned in art classes to the work of professional artists in New Orleans.

“In ceramics we’re working on hand-building and throwing on the wheel, and in some of the art galleries we saw they had ceramic pieces, and from taking the class beforehand I could recognize how they created different forms,” explained senior Deja Clay, “I am also in Jazz Band, and in New Orleans, jazz is huge. The trip made me realize how I could do so much more with my own instrument and helped me appreciate the music more, because it was something I was already familiar with and could relate to.”

The faculty leaders of the group stressed the value of connecting knowledge from different subject areas through experiences in New Orleans, a truly global city.

“Our goal is to prepare students for a global world, and as we know here in Atlanta, we kind of get stuck in our bubbles…we want students to apply what they learned about a city like New Orleans’s history while in the city, but then also just to open their minds to explore and experience places they wouldn’t normally go,” explained Johnson. “We hope the trip connects English, History, and Art classes. But essentially it just helps our students expand and become fully actualized human beings when they start moving to the outside world.”

The entire experience was multi-faceted to reflect the multidisciplinary nature of Prospect 3 and of the city itself.

“New Orleans is already such a vibrant city and its culture is already so rich,” said Steele, “that when something like Prospect 3 is layered on top of it, you start experiencing so many amazing things.”