Re-Introducing Community Arts

Students interested in creating beautiful and unusual works of art, making a lasting and useful impact on the St. Mary’s community and fulfilling their ELAW requirement may be interested in ART269: Community Arts, taught at St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) by Professor of Art Carrie Patterson.

The class focuses on art outreach in the community. Some of their numerous projects including an art exhibit at the St. Mary’s County Fair, a mural in Leonardtown square, and collaborating with seniors at Cedar Lane High School to make Christmas ornaments that were distributed to children during the tree lightning in Leonardtown. Jasper Lopez, ‘22, a student in the class last semester, discussed a class project at the Ridge Volunteer Fire Department. “One of my favorite projects was a mural at a warehouse. It was a lot of fun to work with the class to give the firemen a new space and unify the community like that,” Lopez said.

Professor Patterson has been teaching Community Arts since 2009, but the class has gone through many changes since then. Originally a “Topics” class, it was intended for art majors and students intending to go into art education. There is now a higher and a lower level of the class, with the upper class still designed for seasoned art students. The lower level class, however, is made for people who might have a little prior art experience, but want to learn how to use art to serve the community. The class is now about evenly split between beginner art students and experienced students who are majoring in art. Patterson says her favorite part of teaching the class is “introducing college students to the county, and introducing the college community to the power of art.”

Class consists of planning for projects and deciding how to best serve the people the class is partnering with through visual means. In the past, the class has mostly been off campus and hands-on in St. Mary’s county, but in the future Patterson plans to focus on more  on-campus projects. She gets her leads on what projects are needed just by living in St. Mary’s county and noticing where art could be beneficial, or sometimes even by direct calls to the school, like the fire department mural was. Many of the projects are based on what presents itself as necessary at the time.

One memorable project took place in 2016, when racist, sexist and homophobic slurs were painted on Natty Boh cans placed around campus on the annual “Natty Boh Hunt.” In response, the class took the opportunity to paint words of kindness on the cans and spread them around campus, created a website for their cans, and hoped to help counteract some of the harm done by the original cans.

No matter the medium, the class makes it clear that art is more than simply something to look at. It has the capacity to influence the community for the better and to unify its people.


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