Campus News

May 4, 2011

Course spotlight

Students collaborate on garden of visual delights

The Edible Garden of Sammye E. Coan Middle School

The Edible Garden of Sammye E. Coan Middle School (Photo by Kathy Ly-Nguyen)

By Hal Jacobs

What happens when you bring an Emory ceramics class together with students from an Atlanta middle school in the Edgewood community to organize, design and create artwork for the school's one-year-old edible garden? 

Answer: A collaboration that benefits students across the spectrum of age, academics and economics, and leaves a mark on the community – and perhaps on the participants themselves.

The Edible Garden of Sammye E. Coan Middle School now features a showcase of visual delights: an archway embedded with student artwork and pieces of glass; stepping stones with more of the artwork prepared and fired in the Emory studio; a tall panther-scarecrow the panther being the school mascot) overlooking rows of corn and tomatoes; seats shaped like tree trunks; ceramic pots and a bird bath.

It wasn't the first time that artist Diane Kempler, a senior lecturer in Emory's Visual Arts Department ceramics program, has contributed public art to the Atlanta community.

But it was her first time orchestrating the work of college and middle-school students together. The work was supported by a Georgia Learn and Serve grant with the assistance of Emory's Office of University-Community Partnerships).

The Edible Garden of Sammye E. Coan Middle School

The Edible Garden of Sammye E. Coan Middle School. (Photo by Kathy Ly-Nguyen)

Her initial hopes for the class materialized when she saw how much both groups of students benefited from the experience.

"The Coan students received exposure to questions of creativity, to working within a group effort, to owning their own space, to interacting with adults, to becoming aware of decision-making practices," says Kempler.

"For my students, taking the ceramic learning experience out of the classroom into the real world grounded the artistic practice—it also allowed them to experience what it's like to serve and interact with an unfamiliar community."

Shin-he Yu '11C, a political science major, says the most fulfilling part of the project for her was a chance to "combine the personal aesthetic with public benefit."

"I enjoyed stepping off of Emory's campus to really understand and relate with the world outside," she adds.

Throughout the spring semester, students from both schools shared sketches, shaped clay, painted artwork, snacked on pizza, poured cement and dug holes.

"I loved seeing how engaged everybody was in the process and how much they enjoyed working with each other," says Kempler.

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