Saturday, January 12, 2008

Building Community Through Art

Thought bubbles made for The Talking Mobile

What's the best way to address fear and share hope? Artists Todd Drake and Wade Billeisen believe it is to talk about it. Their project, The Talking Mobile, attempts to get the fears and hopes of students coming together at a new high school out in the open. Why? They believe that by sharing these thoughts students will find common ground between seeming differences. "We believe that everyone coming to Northern Guilford High School has hopes for a better education and worry whether they will be safe, successful, and accepted." Principal Joe Yeager approved the project and provided funding because he believed it would build community, a central goal of his leadership role at the new school.

After asking every student coming to Northern High School to share their hopes and fears about coming to the new school, Wade and Todd read through the responses and selected 40 questions asked by the students. Their selection seeks to represented the mind set of the students. "A lot of students, on both campus's wrote about concerns over getting along and blending the two communities, others expressed concerns over being accepted whether because of race, looks, or income." says Drake. By putting these concerns out in the open Todd and Wade believe the concerns and hopes of the students will be honored and considered. "Some of their questions, like "Will they hate me?" break your heart, others like "Will I be 'that dude' at the new school?" were humorous, but all were insightful." said Drake. Every single student question will be included in a note book for review by anyone. "This note book of student questions should be read through by every teacher and administrator at Northern." said Drake.

After displaying the "thought bubbles" on both campuses of the soon to be merged school, Todd and Wade will hang all the questions at the new high school to greet students on their arrival. After a month of living and learning together, all the students will be asked to respond to the questions posed in the mobile and the most provocative and insightful answers will be displayed beneath the questions as "speaking bubbles." Some class time will be devoted to discussing these questions and responses.

By giving voice to the students in this unique way Todd and Wade hope this project will make the new Northern High School a stronger, more accepting community. Though all of Drake's art is community based, this project is very personal; "My school did nothing like this when we intergrated back in the 70's. The only fight I got into my life occured as a result. I hope this project helps these students learn to respect each other and see past stereotypes that, along with fear, often blind us to making friends of strangers."

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