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News . Feature Stories . Environment, Art, and Engaged Practice course brought students outdoors, brought new concepts to light

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February 18, 2015

Environment, Art, and Engaged Practice course brought students outdoors, brought new concepts to light

Elective course met in rustic lodge in a hemlock forest

By Alyssa Brown

It’s often said that the classroom experience at CIA is unlike that at a typical four-year college. For students enrolled in the CIA elective Environment, Art, and Engaged Practice, this was even more true: the outdoors was their classroom.

Sophomores, juniors and seniors of various majors were enrolled in the class, which took place in the rustic Look About Lodge in South Chagrin Reservation, one of the Cleveland Metroparks.

Associate Professor Kevin Kautenburger explained that the setup of the semester-long course was different from most classes. “We wanted a non-traditional studio experience, so the class took place outside, five hours, one day a week,” he explained. “When I met the students I said, ‘If you’re a baby, don’t show up.’ Just like soccer practice.”

Students in Environment, Art, and Engaged Practice were asked to choose between exploring three related problems over the course of the semester, and completing one final, semester-long project. “Like a BFA thesis, students had to provide me with a written proposal, and had to give a presentation,” Kautenburger explained.

The first two weeks of the class involved an orientation into the park with a Metroparks naturalist. “We went out to explore, to investigate, to sample, to collect… so we wanted a relatively deep immersion in a kind of environment that we don’t have here – a truly natural environment,” Kautenburger said.

Kautenburger invited an impressive list of guests to present to the class. They included:

  • Artist Mimi Kato, who spoke about her joint SPACES Gallery/Metroparks project related to invasive plants
  • CIA Professor Emerita Barbara Stanczak, who discussed her stone and wood sculpting, all created through a deep reverence for nature
  • CIA graduate Jamie Hart, a painter and poet who made artwork in the woods and interacted with the students
  • Dr. Joe Hannibal, curator of invertebrate paleontology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, who led students on a hike among the shale and sandstones, discussing the rock sequence unique to the site
  • CIA graduate Abbey Blake, who led a paper making workshop, using invasive plants collected from the park
  • CIA Industrial Design Professor Doug Paige, who lectured on Biomimicry in Design, and led a drawing exercise
  • Stefanie Verish, a Cleveland Metroparks naturalist and artist, who led many informative hikes exploring vernal ponds, various tributaries leading into Chagrin River, mosses, fungi, and salamanders

Verish was impressed that students’ work showed a connection between art and nature as a means of extending into society.

“The artists’ interpretation of nature is an introspective glimpse to the ways our society interacts with our surrounding environment,” Verish said. “Their work is intriguing in content as well as visual design, a connection between the tangible and the ephemeral.”

One student, Changyeob Ok created a count-up clock (above).

“I wanted to make something that people would think about every second they are living in the nature,” Ok explained. “Numbers are fractions. The count-up binary numbers on the LED display represent every second people live. The cut out sandstone on the top of the piece symbolizes an individual and a second. The reason why I chose binary numbers is 1 can represent an individual, zero represents the environment in which people live.”

Ok graduated from Dankook Univeristy in South Korea with a bachelor’s degree in electronics. He took an interest in CIA on a visit to a friend in Cleveland, in part because of the opportunity students have to make art and the environment coexist.

“I enjoyed almost everything in the class. Visiting artists, hiking through the trails, observing animals and plants in nature,” OK said. “It was the time that I could forget about the muzzy noise in the world.”

Kautenburger thinks the whole class benefited from the time spent in nature.

“It can help ground these students. It was partly therapeutic. The students felt great and I think they all loved being there. They were in this different space, they could breathe,” Kautenburger said.

Ok agrees. “I believe that an artist should spend more time to think alone in nature away from the noise people build.”

Kautenburger will teach the elective again in fall 2015.

Environment, Art, and Engaged Practice was one of three new elective courses established as part of CIA’s year-long focus on socially engaged art titled Community Works: Artist as Social Agent. The other two new courses are Socially Engaged Art for Change I: Drawn to Care = Portraiture + Medicine and Socially Engaged Art for Change I: projectFIND = People + Shelter + Food + Mapping. All three courses were designed by faculty to engage students in addressing social and environmental problems and all three offer students opportunities to collaborate with community members and create works of art and design that address those problems.

The programs included in Community Works are examples of Cores + Connections, CIA's academic mission in which core values of faculty mentorship, studio and academic rigor, and state-of-the-art curriculum, all power extensive connections for student engagement in field-based experiential learning, real-world professional projects, and social practices in art and design.

Alyssa Brown is a marketing intern.


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CIA alumna Josette Galiano’s passion lies in exploring behavior and designing immersive experiences. Fittingly, she’s a consumer insights analyst at @NottinghamSpirk​ and a designer at Florette by Josette​. https://t.co/wZXjKV9ECU

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