The arts impact others immensely, and it probably can’t ever be measured in full

6 Aug

By Scott Walker Cunningham
Davidson College Education Scholar


Scott Cunningham

When I came to Davidson College, I arrived as a wrestler. I spent my high school days between three varsity sports, and while I always held creative interests, I never invested much in them. But by the end of my first semester wrestling was no longer an option.

Fast forward to the spring and my best friend began teaching me how to take pictures on his camera. I started uploading my early work onto social media platforms and caught the attention of Aly Dove ’16 who won a grant to run a photography teaching program called YouthMAP in the upcoming fall at the Barium Springs Home for Children. She asked if I would mentor some students in the program and I accepted the offer.

Though a bumpy experience in the piloting process, the program went well and we concluded the semester with a Gala showcasing our participants’ work. One student, Carlos, talked about how he brought some of the pictures on a rare visit home, and when he showed them to his parent they started crying—and then his brother started crying—and his grandma too. I realized that our entire semester, for me, really had nothing to do with photography. It was all about creating that moment for Carlos, providing him with the opportunity to work for something he and his family could connect over.

This inspired me to pursue the Davidson College Education Scholars program and an internship with the Arts & Science Council to learn more about the non-profit sector and arts-based teaching. I split my time between the ASC office and their digital and media literacy camp held at spirit square under the supervision of Dr. Barbara Ann Temple.

In the office I researched best practices for afterschool programs and created a report on the most measured methods of success.

At camp, where the ASC’s Studio 345 program runs during the school year, I saw the human element that researchers could not convey in their work. There are some parts of education that seem to go beyond the data, and cannot be quantified in numbers.

If you took these opportunities away from the students, something would be missing. Morelia’s movie on Abekh’s dance moves, the song Childhood Memories recorded by Da’Quan and others, and the many other instances of cup stacking, Claymation, laughing, and photographing—these happened at camp, and without camp they wouldn’t have happened.

With my internship concluding, I will begin channeling my experiences with afterschool programming back into YouthMAP, which brought me here in the first place. But I continue to ask myself if I think it’s all really worth it, and if photography can actually make a difference for these kids.

Well, I’d like to remind myself and others that, two years ago, my friend Jack taught me how to take pictures in the spring. The simple pleasure that started as a creative outlet opened one opportunity after another and brought me to where I am today.

I’m happy to be living evidence of the impact I hope something as simple as photography can have on someone’s path. I hope we will always remain faithful to those factors in education that are organic, human, and sometimes difficult to measure.

A Systemic Understanding of Injustice

5 Aug

By Scott Cunningham
Davidson College Education Scholar

In a previous blog I discussed experiences teaching a specials course on Writing Rap Lyrics during ASC’s Digital & Media Literacy camp. These past few days since then I have researched many of the different afterschool opportunities in the Charlotte community and something struck me—there are scant few programs based around rap music. This confuses me because rap music holds such a powerful hold over young individuals throughout the Charlotte area, leaving me to wonder why afterschool programs are not focusing on such a fundamental interest of its community.


In this image, the vine represents a community and the barbed wire represents injustice. Sometimes in society, injustice dictates how a community will grow.

Several weeks ago I spent the weekend with some fellow Davidson College students in Washington, D.C., meeting with various individuals about the educational sector on a federal level. One of the most memorable meetings, however, took place in the office of ONE DC, a grassroots activism group focused on fighting gentrification and providing affordable housing.  Initially I wasn’t sure how the group related to education until Ms. Lee shared a few words with us and put things in perspective. Ms. Lee is an elderly black woman and a longtime resident of D.C. When she spoke, her voice conveyed a slight tremble, but one that seemed to come from wisdom acquired over many experiences.

She spoke all about how creating change in a community requires “a systemic understanding of injustice,” a degree of immersion in the culture and the people one wants to serve. Without understanding culture, even the best efforts can dissolve into toxic charities.

Back in Charlotte, I wonder if service organizations truly understand the people in need of assistance. I hope afterschool programs being created to serve students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg are designed with the interests of those students in mind. Understanding the culture of a community is inexplicable to assisting it, and I feel the Charlotte community must always meet this standard if it hopes to help the various citizens of its vibrant and diverse community.

The beginnings of progress towards this state of acceptance are, in my belief, through first remembering the commonality we share as human beings. Students titled at-risk, as one example, carry a heavy burden. This label can appropriate an illusion of innate inefficiency that puts them at a higher risk of failure than other children. The term, however, does not mean these kids are broken and need fixing; they are disadvantaged and need some extra help. They are just kids like all the others.

In the same way, when approaching communities in need of assistance, it will do well to remember that they are not inherently broken and need fixing. A culture that differs and is disadvantaged is not disadvantaged because of its differences. For this reason, having a systemic understanding of the injustices people face is the only way of separating the circumstances from a community’s identity and assisting it towards progress.


In the end, statistics and labels are not the things that matter to a community. Rather, what matters to a community are the commonalities we share as human beings.


Project Scientist one of ASC’s initial 2014-15 investments in cultural community

1 Aug

By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager

A program that encourages young girls to develop their talents in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is being strengthened, thanks to funding from the Arts & Science Council (ASC).

ASC recently announced an initial investment of $6.6 million in the local cultural community to fund 49 neighborhood cultural projects, festivals, programming in all Mecklenburg County municipalities, and support the operations of 22 cultural organizations.

Project Scientist is one of the many programs receiving funding through ASC's initial 2014-15 investments in the local cultural community.

Project Scientist is one of the many programs receiving funding through ASC’s initial 2014-15 investments in the local cultural community. (Photo courtesy Project Scientist.)

“Providing access to cultural experiences that are personally empowering and transformative is fundamental to the continued growth of our community,” said ASC President Robert Bush. “ASC invests in an array of arts, science, history/heritage and community-based projects that are not only educational, entertaining and enriching, but also keep our region fun and fascinating.”

Among those investments is Project Scientist, which started three years ago with summer programs conducted in the guest home of founder Sandy Marshall before finding a home at Queens University and expanding this year to a second site at Trinity Episcopal School in Charlotte.

Marshall had decided to do something about the disadvantages girls and women have in STEM majors and careers.

Project Scientist “stemmed from my desire to provide better opportunities for my two young daughters and other girls in the community,” she said. “By looking at the factors that affect a girl’s perception of ‘who is a scientist’ and ‘what does a scientist do,’ we developed a pipeline for girls that nurture their growth over the course of their educational experience.”

Project Scientist will receive a $5,000 ASC Cultural Project Grant to develop and implement a quality method and curriculum that integrates STEM and the arts in its summer programming for girls ages 4 to 12.

“Ours is the only program to start girls as young as four years old, even though the research says that for girls and minorities, you need to get them interested in science at 4, 5 and 6 years old in order to prevent gender and cultural biases from setting in,” Marshall said.

After relying on community artists to volunteer their time to work with girls in the summer program last year,

Project Scientist encourages young girls to develop their talents in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Project Scientist encourages young girls to develop their talents in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). (Photo courtesy Project Scientist)

the grant will allow Project Scientists to pay teaching artists this year. It makes a real difference, Marshall said.

“If we didn’t have funding from ASC, we would be relying on interns to do the arts component of our camp,” she said. “This grant allows us to get the best of Charlotte in here to inspire the girls.”

On one recent afternoon, several elementary-aged girls created poems about explosions, bones and other concepts they’d been learning about. Another day, they worked on life cycle quilts, altering the color of the cloth by boiling down objects from nature and basing their work on stages of the life cycle.

“It’s exposing the girls to things they normally might not be exposed to,” said teaching artist Amy St. Aubin, “and by utilizing the arts, you’re integrating art forms with science, so it’s cross-cultural learning and holistic learning.”

To view ASC’s first round of investments, click here.

Q&A with New ASC Public Art VP Constance White

31 Jul

By David Fowler
Communication Intern

Constance Y. WhiteLast month, the Arts & Science Council hired Constance Y. White as its new Vice President of Public Art to lead the Charlotte-Mecklenburg public art program. White will bring to ASC 17 years of experience facilitating creative projects from inception to completion. She began her career as an arts administrator at the Office of Cultural Affairs in the city of Dallas, Texas, before moving to San Diego, where she served as Art Program Manager for the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority. ASC is excited for White to begin her new role in Charlotte-Mecklenburg on Sept. 2. She recently answered a few questions about her experiences, how Greek antiquities sparked her love of public art and what she expects in her new role.

Q:  What attracts you to public art and the cultural sector in general?

CYW:  I focused on Greek antiquities while earning my undergrad. That strongly influenced my appreciation of and cultivated my passion for art in public places and a desire to engage communities through art and culture.  Our human desire to create, present and preserve our art and culture is what makes us civilized. This is what I love.

Q:  Is there a project that you have worked on that you think is particularly important to you or to a community in which you’ve lived? 

CYW:  I think the Green Build as a project is particularly important to the region of San Diego.  It is the largest collection of contemporary art accessible to the public in San Diego.  Over 18 million passengers yearly experience these site specific artworks – some monumental – some very quiet and human scaled. When I arrived to San Diego eight years ago, I was told by most that San Diego is a military town, a beach community and most importantly, “we do not want to be L.A.”  Without offending the majority of those folks, we were able to curate a collection of commissioned artwork that has raised the expectations of what the public will accept for the community of San Diego as a region.  Transforming that mindset has been particularly important to me.

Q:  What are you most excited about in your new role as Vice President of Public Art?

CYW: I’m most excited about getting to know the region and understanding the dynamics of the various communities both collectively and individually.

Q:  Nothing worthwhile is easy. What do you think your biggest challenge will be?

CYW:  I think my biggest challenge will be to pace myself and take one day at a time.

Q:  What do you ultimately hope to accomplish in your new role at ASC?

CYW:  I want to become fully acclimated as an active member of the community.  I think everything else will come naturally.

More than just a trip to Yellowstone

31 Jul

By David Fowler
Communication Intern

A group of students from Studio 345 went to Yellowstone National Park in July on a once-in-a-lifetime camping trip.

But their experience runs deeper than just a trip to Wyoming, thanks to Park Journeys, Inc., a youth development organization which seeks to educate, energize, and empower urban and rural youth through exploration, wellness and civic engagement.

By partnering with Park Journeys, students active in Studio 345 – the Arts & Science Council’s out-of-school youth development program for high school students – have been able to participate in a unique 16-week program focused on community service and stewardship, nature and outdoor experiences, and civic involvement.

pj1During the first phase of the program, which revolved around mental and physical commitment to self and community (with a heavy emphasis on community service), students worked closely with The Relatives, a youth shelter and support system in Charlotte focused on keeping kids safe and families together.

“We’ve hung out with the kids, helped repaint their kitchen, and planted flowers in their garden. It feels good to help people out, and it built up our teamwork before we went on our trip to Yellowstone,” said Jordan Jeffries, a student at Studio 345 participating in Park Journeys. “It forced us to work together like we (had) to do out in the wild.”

The second phase emphasized wildlife, ecosystems and geology. Before their trip to Wyoming, participants prepared for what they would encounter in Yellowstone by going on smaller camping trips locally. Those experiences exposed them to new things and empowered them to be both self-sufficient and a part of larger team while camping in the national park.

“It’s given me an opportunity to get out of Charlotte and do something I’ve never done before,” said participant Daquan Barnette. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to do and see new things.”

The final phase will happen this fall and will focus on participation in and ownership of the democratic process. One local Park Journeys participant will be selected to join Park Journey delegates from across the country in Washington, D.C., to meet with national policy makers, showing students that they have a voice in the democratic process.

“It’s been really great just to work with these kids in the community and in nature,” said Emily Pfahl, one of the trip leaders. “It’s rewarding to give them an experience that they will remember forever and to see them grow as a group in the process. I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.”

‘Spiral Bound’ shows importance of arts education

31 Jul

By David Fowler
Communication Intern

A harsh reality in the public school system is that while many children thrive and complete their education, not every child has the same opportunity. Some students struggle to keep up. Others drop out altogether.

This issue is addressed and explored in Spiral Bound, Living and Learning Through the Arts, a new documentary that takes an honest look at the current state of our education system and follows a passionate mixed group of high school students from the Arts & Science Council’s Studio 345 – an out-of-school youth development program for high school students – and education scholars from nearby Davidson College as they stand up, speak out, and try to change our education system and their futures for the better.

spiral bound image 1The film will premiere Tuesday, Sept. 9 at McGlohon Theatre at Spirit Square (345 N. College St., Charlotte). A second premiere event will take place Thursday, Sept. 11 at the Davidson College Duke Family Performance Hall (207 Faculty Drive, Davidson). You can watch the trailer here.

“It was important to us that we premiere in Charlotte because we get our support from the community and this is where the students in the film are. It was important to us that we celebrate the premiere in the McGlohon Theatre, the same space Studio 345 students celebrate and showcase their accomplishments” said Barbara Ann Temple, ASC vice president of education and co-writer of Spiral Bound. “And it was equally important to include a Davidson premiere because of the partnership between Studio 345 and the Davidson Education Scholars.”

The documentary asks why our education system fails to reach some of the most at-risk children in our education system and offers arts education as a solution for helping those children find success personally and in the classroom. Arts education provides opportunities for students to find their passion and strive for improvement and growth. It helps develop creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. And it is disappearing from our public schools.

Dustyn Brigham, one of the students featured in the film, said that before he got to Studio 345 he’d never touched a camera. He discovered his love of film and photography on his first trip to the studio, but without Studio 345 he said he never would have found it.

“Studio 345 has definitely made me more confident,” Brigham said. “Something about having a passion makes everything else in life more enjoyable. I think that finding something your passionate about is healthy for your life and I found film at Studio 345.”

Arts education is too important to let it fade away. With the guidance of Bill Strickland of the Manchester Bidwell Group, Studio 345 created Spiral Bound to illustrate how crucial the arts are can be and how the defunding of art programs has had, and will continue to have, a negative impact.

For tickets to the McGlohon Theatre premiere on Sept. 9, CLICK HERE. For ticket to the Davidson College premiere on Sept. 11, CLICK HERE.

Promoting student accountability by teaching less

30 Jul

By Scott Cunningham
Davidson College Education Scholar

“I see no changes. Wake up in the morning and I ask myself,
“Is life worth living? Should I blast myself?
“I’m tired of bein’ poor and even worse I’m black.
My stomach hurts, so I’m lookin’ for a purse to snatch.”

Digital & Medial Literacy Camp students working hard on a project.

Digital & Medial Literacy Camp students working hard on a project.

These lyrics come from one of the six songs my students and I listened to during my specials course at Studio 345’s second session of Digital and Media Literacy Camp. Specials are hour-long, student-selected classes that range from movie making to cup stacking. Mine focused on Writing Rap Lyrics. In eight days, the group was expected to create a rap song, cover art, and a brief analysis of what their work meant.

We began each class listening to snippets of songs by artists such as Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls, and Eminem.

After listening to the song, I led a discussion on how the lyrics related to the theme of identity. On the last day of class, however, I decided to conduct a small experiment. I wanted to see if the kids actually learned something. I was curious if anything we worked on the last few days had stuck.

“Alright we’ll listen to this song, and then you all can decide what you want to do.”

To my surprise, the kids launched into a discussion about what they had just listened to, asking each other what parts they underlined, how it related to the song, and what it all meant. One seventh grader in particular, Shahim, continued raising his hand to contribute, despite being silent for the majority of the discussions. The experience enlightened me on how teaching less might actually help kids learn a little bit more.

After each discussion, I very intentionally framed the purpose of the project and how I hoped everyone would draw from the discussions while making their music. After those introductions, however, I stepped back and told them they were responsible for the use of their time. I decided I would not touch any of the content, even if the students found themselves in a dead end.

At every other point, however, I was amazed by how much the kids were able to accomplish on their own as I watched. Once I set the parameters for the group, they were free to explore all avenues within that context, make their own discoveries, and facilitate their own learning.

Educators are taking this approach towards student accountability more often than ever before. Monument Mountain Regional High School used a student-driven method of teaching by giving students the freedom to select their own projects, course content, and timelines. The program naturally encountered difficulties, but also found success that went far beyond what some thought possible.

“There were so many moments where you could see students being inspired[....]And they learned that with that much control comes a great deal of responsibility, to manage time and be accountable,” says Mike Powell, the main advisor of the pilot project.

My decision to let my students manage their own work felt undeniably risky. I could not know if they would meet their deadline, or if our class would be left without anything to present on the last day of camp. To my surprise, however, they turned in all of the required materials by the final day. In my opinion, that experience of pure accountability will benefit them immensely in the future.

“The idea was that it was for students who could manage their time well, were looking for something more than the traditional program, and had a passion for learning,” said Powell.

I think many students have that passion for learning, so long as we allow them to pursue their passions while still guiding them gently along.



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