Art for Change

Posted by on Jun 21, 2018

An effervescent crackle of energy follow the trio through the lobby. Three filmmakers, Darren Cole and his interns Darby and Stephanie, filled the room with their presence. From the Massachusetts College for Art and Design, the group stayed at The Pfister Hotel for the Milwaukee leg of their Midwestern travels. Recently arrived from their work documenting the Juneteenth Day celebrations for Chicago-based neighborhood collaborative project, Sweet Water Foundation, the group then filmed a video for a Milwaukee rapper on the local Uni-Fi Records label. Before leaving for their next project, the group spent a little time resting in the hotel.

An artist and arts educator, Cole has family in the city and his ties to the community remain strong. He chose to stay at The Pfister in part because of its commitment to the arts. The UW-Milwaukee alumnus was eager to show his East Coast guests the extensive collection of Victorian era paintings in the hotel and noted the Artist in Residence Program and the Sculpture Milwaukee installations as examples of the community support for the arts in Milwaukee.

These artists share a passion for using art as a vehicle for social change. They believe that the arts have the power to transform communities and they want to share their time and talent as a tool for social justice. All three find their art is driven by community engagement.

Very concerned about access to the tools and training to create art, particularly the expensive, technology-based equipment used in filmmaking, the group is working to create bridges that will make their medium accessible. Cole recalls becoming interested in filmmaking as a high school student, in part because he had a friend who owned video equipment and he was able to use his friend’s equipment and through that experimentation discovered his excitement for the medium. He wants his community work to act in the same way that borrowed camera did years ago, hoping his efforts provide exposure to the tools which may ultimately spark undiscovered skills in a young artist.

Stephanie Houten indicated that by going on the road to share her skills, and teaching others to develop the skills she honed in art school, she helps budding artists bypass the barriers of time and money that are often presented by advanced education. The trio have all been inspired by the collaborative culture that exists in music and like how artists working together in cohorts help expand the skills of all involved.

The artists are on their way to the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College where they will put their values into action by teaching a group of students from the school how to use video and other technical equipment so they can create their own public service announcements on safe and sober driving. Beyond their boundless enthusiasm, they bring to the campus a variety of technical equipment that is likely new to the student auteurs, including a variety of virtual reality tools. The group has planned a project that will allow students to create a collaborative mural inside the virtual world. To make this innovative project possible, the team is using VR headsets made primarily of cardboard. This affordable tool, coupled with the training on how to use equipment, ensures students at any income level have the ability to create art in this medium.

The group hopes that the work they do this summer will inspire students and instructors at their school, Massachusetts College for Art and Design, enough that the organization will be compelled to create an Innovation Lab that would allow other artists to be involved in the same kind of community outreach in which they are immersed. What they ultimately hope is that the influence of their work grows and what blooms is a collective, collaborative arts community that provides access to and resources for all to engage in the arts.

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