City Arts program helps students change their world

by Rebecca Teale

Aaron Connor struggled to gain acceptance as an artist throughout high school. His paintings and writings were often misunderstood and criticized by his peers.
Connor, now a College of Liberal Arts sophomore, was constantly looking for sources of education outside of the classroom. Next month, he will finally get his chance.
City Arts, an arts and social change internship program at the University, will start its 10th year in February. The program provides students with an opportunity to explore the power of the arts on social issues such as racial and sexual inequality and bringing about changes in social values on these issue.
Program participants will take part in an integrated, four-part curriculum including reading seminars, field seminars, art internship experiences and internship seminars. They will read novels, see concerts, go to plays, visit galleries, observe artists at work and discuss theory on art as a forum for social change.
City Arts is open to sophomores, juniors and seniors of all majors. Participants receive 24 credits for their involvement in the 14-week program. Most students do not take any other classes because of the 20 hour-per-week work commitment.
Connor said he is excited about the opportunity to participate in a learning experience outside the classroom. “Here I am, 19 years old, and I will already be starting the actual process of making social change,” he said. “I’ve never appreciated the traditional college experience the way I appreciate my experiences with art.”
Connor is working on an individualized degree major called “Arts and Social Change.”
“For major social change to take place, people have to express themselves,” he said. “By using art, their eyes will be opened to things they wouldn’t see otherwise.”
City Arts is sponsored by the Office of Special Learning Opportunities and the Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs.
Phil Sandro, program director of City Arts, said the arts are an important tool for making social change.
“Art and popular culture strongly influence how we think about the world and our sense of who we are in the world,” Sandro said. “Art constructs meaning systems that hold the world together.”
Special learning opportunities coordinator Theresa Thomas Carroll said there are significant benefits for students involved in City Arts. It gives them internship experience, community interaction and multicultural appreciation.
“It provides a better sense of who they are as an artist or as someone who appreciates the arts,” Carroll said. “Perhaps most importantly, it gives them the tools to get the most of their education.”