Twenty-first century ‘wisdom’ 

A collaborative exhibition at University of Dayton’s ArtStreet

By Erin Callahan

Photo: University of Dayton junior Gillian Taylor discusses her installation piece for the WISDOM: Who Are You? exhibition at UD ArtStreet

Who are you? What road will you take? What virtues do you embrace? What choices will you make?

Are these questions interconnected? Are they a result of the twenty-first century world we live in?

While no one may have all the answers, two sectors of the Dayton community have come together to address these questions. The University of Dayton’s ArtStreet student residents and detained youth from the Clark County Detention Center have explored the human journey from birth to death through a series of educational and creative sessions. The culmination is their premiere installation, WISDOM: Who Are You? created in collaboration with curating artist Ben Riddlebarger.

The installation is on display in ArtStreet’s White Box Gallery at the University of Dayton in conjunction with the annual Brother Joseph W. Stander Symposium.

The symposium recognizes and celebrates academic excellence in undergraduate and graduate education and provides the opportunity to learn in a campus-wide community setting.

“I really think this exhibition is what the future of multidisciplinary learning is meant to be,” ArtStreet director Brian LaDuca says. “This installation really pushes the boundaries of both self-inquiry and experiential learning in a way that I don’t think the university thinks about doing, or has the guts to do.”

The idea for collaboration came from two directions, first from the Institute for Arts Nexus II course, a requirement for ArtStreet residents so they may “develop and demonstrate an understanding of communal living, experiential learning and collaboration between peers and mentors while executing original, radically creative works of art,” and second through a desire to expose youth at the Clark County Detention Center to higher education.

At the Clark County Juvenile Detention Center, students can participate in Project Jericho, a collaborative program of the Clark County Department of Job and Family Services and Clark State Community College that offers arts programming to at-risk youth and their families. Brandon Sipes, a former specialist with Project Jericho and a collaborator on the project, said he hopes to “get [kids] to explore the idea that higher education is a possibility for them, even if they haven’t felt like it was, particularly through the arts.”

LaDuca has guided residents of the 11 ArtStreet houses to address different questions under one theme of applied creativity in the collaborative community.

The 58 residents meet every Tuesday night to engage in a session taught by their peers, and each week is focused on one core question, one virtue and a stage of life. Some examples include pre-birth with the concept of fate, 0 to 2 years with the concept of hope, 2 to 4 years with the concept of will and death with the concept of wisdom.

“Is it okay to be me?” – that’s the question Elisha Evanko, a senior music therapy major, and her five roommates addressed in considering the idea of will within the 2 to 4 year stage.

The group approached the question through a psychological perspective with the Freudian theory. The will is the ego that faces the internal struggle of the ID, the innate desires, and the superego, the angel of morality on your shoulder.

The group sought to address how will is constantly challenged during the ages of 2 to 4 by leading the group through a meditation, complete with the smell of fresh baked cookies and seats on soft blankets. During the meditation, Evanko and her group members acted out the roles of the id, the ego and the superego through a script.

“In order to transport these students into the role of a 2- to 4-year-old, we needed to appeal to all of the five senses,” Evanko explains. “And the script leads the listener as if they are the ones experiencing that [challenge]. We asked how it felt to be powerless, to listen to the script, the internal struggle. We then asked how they could relate to that conflict as a college student – how is our will challenged?”

Once a question has been addressed at ArtStreet, Sipes and his group begin the creative process.

“The kids can have a hard time seeing very far outside their current realities, so almost every question you ask them is very self-referential even if it’s not intended to be,” he says. “So instead of asking the question directly, I ask them what it’s like to be eight years old, and they can express that it an artistic way.”

Some of the imagery produced, Sipes said, is anthropological and resembles human figures. Other art pieces, like the large swinging question mark with a stationary dot that Evanko’s group constructed with Project Jericho, are more abstract.

The two groups have come together as citizens of a twenty-first century world, a generation defining itself. LaDuca sees hope, a passion for voice, a response to media, pressure and economy, and an opportunity for progress. In his group, Sipes sees “creation of self identity at every moment – not so much a focus on defining the twenty-first century, but ensuring they are not simply an outcast in their generation.”

“It’s a layering effect to experiences from before you were born to after you die and beyond – a holistic, 360 degree perspective of a twenty-first century young adult,” LaDuca says. “I think this process is very telling about where the future could potentially go in terms of these future leaders and citizens and community members.”

WISDOM: Who Are You? is on display through April 30 at the ArtStreet White Box Gallery at the University of Dayton, on the 300 block of Kiefaber St. The exhibit is free and open to the public. For more information, please visit udayton.edu/artstreet or call 937.229.5101.

Reach DCP freelance writer Erin Callahan at ErinCallahan@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Reach DCP freelance writer Erin Callahan at ErinCallahan@DaytonCityPaper.com

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