What do six seniors, a junior, six freshmen and community arts professionals have in common? The newest art history course, Community Engagement in the Arts seminar class, draws these people together to provide students with hands-on experience and changed perspectives on the arts community and its organizations.
The class meets once a week for discussions with guest speakers from Spartanburg arts organizations, but the core of the course is centered around 40-50 hour practicums, which are similar to internships. In a practicum, students are “working on an individual mission related to the organization’s mission,” says Dr. Karen Goodchild, associate professor of art history.
According to Goodchild, the class focuses on exploring how and why arts organizations are founded, funded, programmed and maintained.
First-year student Michal Busbee says that this course has encouraged her dream of becoming a museum curator.
“The course, while enabling me to see the practical side of art and get hands-on experience in my dream career, is also pushing me to go outside my comfort zone and get involved with the community outside of Wofford,” she says.
Senior Sarah Baldwin finds this class, with its mixture of discussion, guest speakers and hands-on experience, to be her most applicable course taken at Wofford.
“It bridges my educational experience and future career plans,” she says. “I have not just learned the material, I have also acquired experience working independently with an organization on a project that allows me to practice and apply what I have learned in class in a ‘real-world’ setting.”
These individualized practicums range from working with Wofford’s archivist cataloging art pieces to helping Hub City Writer’s Project interview artists for a soon-to-be-published book on regional public art to collecting and transcribing oral histories of Northside residents for the Northside Initiative’s “Porch Stories” project.
Senior art history major Sari Imber has been working with Hub City Press in downtown Spartanburg.
“The experience has been incredibly eye-opening in terms of my career search this year, and I have learned a lot about the many aspects of the art industry…that I otherwise would have never been exposed to in a traditional lecture-based setting.”
While the seniors tend to point to the applicability of the class to the real world, the younger students attest to a new perspective on Sparkle City.
First-year student Julie Woodson, for example, says that before taking this class she had no idea how much there was to do in Spartanburg.
“[The city] really has a lot to offer. There are so many arts organizations in Spartanburg, and they are always hosting gallery openings, art shows or other events (which usually offer free food).”
The long-term benefit is clear to Woodson.
“We have all gained a ton of experience, contacts and skills that will most definitely be beneficial when we graduate. I would love to see more classes and areas of study that encourage students to get involved in Spartanburg,” she says.
This class also has been well received in the community, says Jennifer Evins, CEO and president of The Arts Partnership of Greater Spartanburg.
“One of the greatest benefits came from dialogue with students about how the local arts community could engage college students more. Some very good ideas resulted, and we hope to implement them with their assistance,” she says. “I believe that this new engagement seminar will continue to help develop a closer relationship with the Wofford College community, and it will give students practical experience in arts administration and arts program development.”
“Community Engagement in the Arts has undoubtedly been the most useful, meaningful and challenging class I have had the opportunity to take at Wofford,” says Imber.
Baldwin agrees. “Not only that, but it has allowed me to network and establish myself in a work environment, an experience I would have lacked if I had not been given the opportunity to leave the classroom.”
Image: “The value of the arts on communities is immense,” says former Spartanburg mayor Bill Barnett, one of the many guest speakers.