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Local middle-schoolers interpret art through hip-hop

Stephanie Motter

June 30, 2017

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If you visited the Georgia Museum of Art at the University of Georgia on a Tuesday afternoon this June, you might have heard someone rapping about women's empowerment. The museum's lobby can be quiet during the summer when UGA's enrollment is much lower than during the spring and fall semesters, but the middle-schoolers from Camp DIVE have been doing their best to fill it with life and noise.

Camp DIVE—which stands for discover, inquire, voice, and explore—provides local, underserved youth in Athens with a month-long free learning experience. This partnership among the Clarke County School District, the University of Georgia College of Education and the Athens-Clarke County community is meant to combat summer slide, or the tendency for students to lose progress made during the previous school year. Camp DIVE not only serves Athens youth but also allows UGA students to engage with the community and gain hands-on experience working with children.

The museum's partnership with Camp DIVE has focused on art and poetry, with about two dozen middle-school students enrolled in the camp visiting the museum every Tuesday to make connections between visual art and creating their own literature. Associate professor Ruth Harman and assistant professor Kevin Burke, both in the UGA College of Education's department of language and literacy education, have been working with museum educators and local poets to create an enriching experience for their young students. Burke's graduate students in language and literacy have been working directly with the campers.

As the students and their instructors arrive at the museum, the lobby fills with happy voices. Half of them head to the galleries to draw inspiration from the works of art on display there, while the others work on their projects. One group of students created a rap about women and empowerment; another student painted her own version of Everett Shinn's early-20th-century painting of a ballerina.

"We hope that the middle school students are inspired by the works of art and make connections to their lives through art making and poetry," said Carissa DiCindio, the museum's curator of education. "We want them to feel at home in the museum."

Mariah Parker, a graduate student in UGA's linguistics program—who both studies and performs hip hop under the name Lingua Franca—also emphasized how important the program is with making students comfortable in the museum, saying, "This is a casual introduction to a space that can be very intimidating."

The program is supported by the Aralee Strange Fund for Art and Poetry endowment created by Kathy Prescott and Grady Thrasher, longtime residents of Athens who are both actively involved in their community. Most recently, they helped make the documentary film "Athens in Our Lifetimes," which covers the city's evolution over six decades. To honor their friend Aralee Strange, they provided the endowment to fund the Art and Poetry project to cultivate an appreciation for the arts in Athens youth.

Aralee Strange was no stranger to the arts. She was a poet, filmmaker and playwright who moved to Athens in 2007 after developing her career in New York and Cincinnati. Strange founded the monthly open poetry forum Word of Mouth, which welcomed local Athenians and strangers alike to participate in a night of poetic prose. Strange died in 2013 at age 69.

The idea behind the project is that its students will create poetry, performance and visual art that reflects their community and investigates connections among these art forms. It also serves as an experiential learning initiative for UGA students, connecting them with the Athens community and letting them see how art fosters literary development and civic engagement in youth.

The campers presented their work on June 29 at the museum as part of a public reception.