GVSU students collaborate with Rockford High School students to create 'compassion' exhibition

By Carmen Smith | 2/5/17 9:49pm

GVL/Carmen Smith - The Art Buddies and "Compassion for a Common Future" on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017.
by Carmen Smith and Carmen Smith / The Lanthorn

The Art Buddies, a group of special needs students ages 18-26 from Rockford High School, paired up with a group of Grand Valley State University art education students to explore the topic of compassion and create an array of artwork to feature the exhibition “Compassion for a Common Future.”

The exhibition will be displayed in the Stuart B. and Barbara H. Padnos Art and Design Student Gallery in Calder Art Center on the Allendale Campus from Tuesday, Feb. 21 to Thursday, March 2. All students are invited to attend a reception from 10 a.m. to noon on Tuesday, Feb. 28.

The GVSU student group, led by Professor Katalin Zaszlavik, began working with the Art Buddies at the beginning of the fall semester. Students studied various readings based on the qualities of different special needs students and how to apply the methods they read about in the classroom. The students then brainstormed in group discussion, basing their project off of the main idea of compassion.

The Art Buddies travel from Rockford High School four times per semester, coming in for class at GVSU on Tuesday mornings. Currently, the Art Buddies are doing two different projects based off the idea of compassion–both compassion toward others as well to the self. These acts include simple tasks like taking out the trash, letting the dog out and going to the movies with their family. They are also learning about having compassion for the Earth.

Each Art Buddy began with worksheets pertaining to their act of compassion, to which they then transferred to a painting. During class, the Art Education students discussed compassion with their Art Buddies, then helped them create their ideas and doing a “Show and Share” at the end of the class time, where the Art Buddies showed the class what they had achieved during their time together.

“For our students, being that they’re secondary 18 to 26, it gives them the collegiate experience that they would not have. They love that they’re treated with respect; that’s very important. They don’t feel any different,” said Susan Bibler, Rockford region one transition services paraeducator. “I find it’s not only a benefit for our (students) because they get the social experience of being at college, it’s almost more beneficial for the GVSU students. We feel very fortunate to come here, and we’re very, very thankful to be here.”

The exhibition will house their paintings, along with a group collaboration piece demonstrating compassion toward the Earth. In addition to the pieces for the exhibtion, Zaszlavik’s students created posters with images of their Art Buddies along with pictures of themselves and quotes from their reflections and class times.

“It will really educate the audience about art education and application within this population. It was just amazing what the students put together, and it will cheer up the audience,” Zaszlavik said. “These students have a strong will, they have their own idea of what they want to do; they are just human beings.”

The Art Buddies said they enjoy coming to class because they get to paint with their friends. Also, they’re excited to see not only their work hung up, but their classmates as well.

“I’ve had experience with this before, and it’s happened several times where they’ve come and as they’re walking down to the gallery, they see their work exhibited, they’re amazed and shocked and excited. They go and start to check out each other’s work and the posters that we made,” Zaszlavik said. “The purpose of art education is not to train and create future artists, but to introduce art as a means of understanding the world.”

Art education students at GVSU said working with the Art Buddies is eye-opening and helps them with their confidence and teaching skills. Senior Jacob Galey, said he encourages people who aren’t in the Art Education program to take a class like this because there are many unique opportunities in this class that aren’t offered elsewhere on campus.

“We may have some difficulties communicating with each other or technical abilities, but overcoming that, being able to work with them and seeing how satisfied they are with their work in the end is really the best thing,” said Emily McKenna, GVSU senior. “This isn’t your average show that you’ll see in a gallery. It’s normally other students and faculty that are down exhibited in the gallery, and it’ll be special needs students from Rockford, and this is a new experience for us and them.” 

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