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The Art of Poverty: Discovery Public Art on Display April 27

By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
April 22, 2009

Talking about poverty is a whole lot different than seeing it.

And seeing it—the impact of seeing it—comes in more ways than through still photos or news clips on television. It also comes through art.

Next week, students of associate professor Jennifer Moses and assistant professor Ben Cariens, both of the of art and art history department, will create the public art display  “A Seat at the Table” as part of this year’s University Dialogue “The Growing Divide/Poverty and Opportunity.”

Students are from the Sophomore Seminar, which Moses teaches, and Cariens’ Senior Seminar. They also worked with Randy Jewart of Austin Green Art (AGA), a nonprofit organization that uses creative arts to promote awareness about issues relating to conservation, sustainability and the environment.

Jewart and Cariens met in college as undergraduates.

“My primary role was to bring Randy and the art department and the Discovery Program together,” Cariens says. “Jennifer Moses really did all the heavy lifting.”

Moses saw getting involved with Discovery as a chance to incorporate the program into her curriculum.
“I decided to seize the opportunity for my students to be able to experience working on a public art project from inception to completion and my task was to make it work within the larger curriculum of the Sophomore Seminar course.” Moses says.

There were discussion about artists, and public art, and poverty. The art students read essays on poverty published through the Discovery program and then were asked to conceptualize the information into a visual piece.

“We came up with the metaphor of a seat at the table,” Moses says. “If you think of hunger as a part of poverty—of who gets a seat at the table and who doesn’t--the metaphor is a good one.”

So, how does that translate into art? Two pieces will be installed in Murkland Courtyard  Monday, April 27. “Starving at the Table of Plenty” involves a series of carved tables whose tops will bear hollowed out figures. Sort of a poetic meditation, says Moses.

The second work, “The Weight of Wealth,” addresses class inequity, another component of hunger and poverty. This piece incorporates the figure into the table form (the sculpting and carving is being done this weekend) with one crushing the other.

Moses and Cariens worked to let the project be as student-generated as possible. They provided support and supervision and set parameters to create a common thread.

“The learning process for me was the students came up with a whole set of ideas and the artist in me wanted to say ‘no, this is a broader more conceptual way,’” Cariens says. “The students approach was very much based on their own experiences.”

Says Moses, “I was glad for the chance to work with the Discovery Program because I’m very interested in working with other departments across the university.”

Cariens agrees and says he is committed to continue collaborating with Discovery on a regular basis.

“One of the real powers of visual art is the ability to make digestible fairly complex situations,” he says. “To visually see poverty can have an impact. It gives structure to ideas that seem so conceptual; so fragmented.”

For more information on the Discovery Program go to http://www.unh.edu/academic-affairs/discovery/.  


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