Master of Fine Arts students Darrick Byers and Bryce Robinson have been awarded a Procter & Gamble Social Change Grant by the Gephardt Institute for Social Change at Washington University to fund a project in Kinloch, a once-vibrant community that has turned into one of the most distressed areas in St. Louis County.
Compelled to "put art to work for social benefit," Byers and Robinson began a partnership with the Kinloch Community Development Association in December 2009, to create and implement three after-school programs for at-risk youth at the Kinloch Learning Center (KLC).
The $5,000 Procter & Gamble Social Change Grant will allow Byers and Robinson to take their work one step further, through the development of new curricula for arts-integrated and experiential learning activities for the Kinloch Summer Camp in the summer of 2011.
"We strive to bring an expanded set of skills to a youth population who faces daily economic oppression and who, despite limiting conditions, desire constructive and meaningful activities," Byers and Robinson noted in their grant proposal. "Through historical, arts-integrated, experiential learning, these children will develop a deeper understanding of their civic heritage and hone the invaluable skills of critical-thinking, problem-solving, and planning."
In response to surveys completed by children from last year's camp, Byers and Robinson developed three new programs in the areas of art, farming, and history. Through the experiential learning model, they hope to better engage the students, who range from 5 to 14 years old, with academic content during the summer while increasing their sense of ownership in the program. Each course will culminate in a final event or project, helping maintain students' enthusiasm for their work throughout the 12-week summer camp.
Unlike many similar programs, the Arts Program that Byers and Robinson have proposed will incorporate art history and critical dialogue into the curriculum. Students will learn to constructively talk about their work, and their major project, the development of a group mural centered on significant local history, will facilitate their understanding about visual art's capacity as a communicative tool.
"Placing the students' own work in a social context is a meaningful step in our curricula that isn't always done in curricula for kids," Byers and Robinson noted.
The Farm Program will involve students in all aspects of a community farm, teaching them practical skills grounded in sustainable models of agriculture. The Seed Savers Exchange (SEE) is supporting this portion of the curriculum through the Herman's Garden Seed Grant, which will help develop a community seed bank that supports a beginning gardener workshop. Students will also share produce grown on the farm with the community.
Finally, the History Program will integrate historical information about Kinloch and St. Louis into the KLC program areas, increasing students' engagement with their community and, ultimately, improving the prospects for sustainable development in the area. As part of the class, students will develop plays, artwork, stories, presentation, and a visual timeline of Kinloch's history, and members of the community will be invited to view their work.
"Our curricla closely follow the program philosophy of KLC: to foster individual empowerment and teamwork, to move beyond the comfort zone, and to embrace learning as a lifelong practice," Byers and Robinson explained.
The two MFA students are in the process of developing their own non-profit organization, the Institute for Progressive Humanities (IPH), that espouses an integrated model of community engagement. Their hope is that the Kinloch Summer Camp will pave the way for them to develop and support similar programs across the country.
ABOUT THE GRANT
The Procter & Gamble Social Change Grant is made possible by The Procter & Gamble Fund of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, which supports programs designed to prepare students for professional success through leadership opportunities and learning environments that encourage innovation & creativity.