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Arts Course Brings Wes Student Entrepreneurs to Community

One Wesleyan class' final projects involved students interacting and planning in the Middletown community.

This week, Wesleyan University students begin final exams on campus. Despite the slew of final projects, papers and studying necessary to succeed, the campus has remained spirited with activity in the closing moments of this school year.

One class, a new freshman seminar, “Middletown Arts: Social Justice,” has centered its final projects on community arts endeavors in Middletown.  The class, led by Vice President of Institutional Partnerships and Chief Diversity Officer Sonia Majnon, introduces Wesleyan underclassmen to the interworkings of various community organizations in the city like Oddfellows Playhouse, the North End Action Team and Green Street Art Center. 

The final assignment is for the students to take from what they have observed, read and learned and apply it to a community arts project to better the Middletown community.  Students presented their final projects April 29 at the Buttonwood Tree to community leaders, peers and Professor Manjon.

Manon Lefevre ’14 developed her community project around the theme of Earth Week. Lefevre led classes on the environment and agro-ecology at the Green Street Art Center, emphasizing the importance of wildlife conservation and sustainability.  She culminated the lessons by planting three trays of 72 seed starters for the children to plant next month.

“The children were fully engaged for the full duration of the time, and had fun learning about how they can grow their own food together. It was a learning experience for everyone, and it brought us together. Wednesday, we finished up planting and spoke about why being aware of the Earth is important,” Lefevre said.  She and other Wes students also contributed to the community gardening planting of North End Pride Day on April 30.

Noah Rauschkolb applied his passion for clowning to his community arts project.  Encouraged by his beliefs in the empowering nature of clowning, Rauschkolb led his comprehensive workshop at the Green Street Arts Center, funneled into the activity after Green Street’s community music Saturday workshops on April 30.   He guided Middletown children, through various theater games and activities, as they created loud, expressive and humorous clown alter egos.

Part of the workshop included the children representing various moods in interactions walking around the room. Acting in moods such as bossy, happy, sad or tired, Rauschkolb instructed his students to notice how different things affected them in their different moods. He also had them greet each other, leading to very silly interactions and smiling faces.

Another final project of this course aimed to attract creative Middletown teenagers.  Leo Liu ’14, Emily Weitzman ’14 and Solomon Billinkoff ’14 combined to create two poetry slam workshops also held at Green Street. The leaders believe in the power of poetry to “identify common experiences; give voices to those unheard; empower youth and people to speak,” among other benefits. 

Working closely with Middletown teens, the three Wes organizers showed taped performances of champion slam poets, and then gave the teens writing prompts.

Overall, Billinkoff was thrilled with the community interest in slam poetry. “When we go to compete in New York, we are surrounded by wlam poetry, but coming to Middletown, it isn’t as big apart from on campus … it was great to see people interested in the community from our point of view.”

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