Dr. Nicholas Longo Director of Global Studies Associate Professor of Public and Community Service
I’ve always had an interest in the role art can play in building community, and even used photography in a few urban leadership courses I taught for inner city high school students in St. Paul, Minnesota while I was a graduate student. I’ve never had any artistic background—or talent—so I’m pretty limited in my ability to teach a course like this. My wife, Aleida, is the community-based art educator in our family. But when Professor Eric Sung and I started at Providence College in 2008, we had a lot of chances to talk about our mutual interests and desire to teach a service-learning course together. He’s such a committed teacher and unbelievably talented photographer that I jumped at the chance to teach with him. So we decided to pilot the course last year with Chandelle Wilson, a young community leader, as our community partner, and that was really a transformational teaching experience for me, so I was excited to build on what we did last year. We decided to incorporate an international component into the course to make it more global, but struggled to find the right international partner until we talked with Professor Jeff Pugh, a new faculty member who specializes in conflict resolution in Latin America and actually founded the non-profit we partnered with in Ecuador, CEMPROC. He was interested in connecting PC students with his work in Ecuador so we decided to connect our two courses around the theme of Visualizing Peace and Justice with a spring break trip to Ecuador.
I’ve learned that art isn’t just something you go passively look at hanging on the walls of a museum; it is also something we can all be part of creating. As a result, I’m most interested in the way art and photography are not only part of a community, but also helps to build community. Things like community murals or community photography projects, for instance, bring diverse people together to create something that is sustainable and has real, public value. That, to me, is how art is connected to service, and it needs to be the fabric of just about every vibrant community and this project can play a small part in making that happen in South Providence, in Ecuador, and at Providence College.
Peace and justice are ideals that we all strive to promote, but art and service (especially when they are connected) give us a way to put our beliefs in these ideals in practice. The visual process—the taking, editing, and exhibiting of photographs in our class—also adds a unique dimension to our understanding of peace and justice as images convey powerful meanings that often cannot be expressed with words. Finally, and this is really important to me, the act of collaborating with youth in Providence and in Ecuador in the making of art is in itself a peacemaking process. We are using photography to cross boundaries in peaceful ways, making new connections, and becoming (hopefully) an embodiment of the peace and justice we hope to see in the world.
Dr. Jeffrey Pugh Assistant Professor of Political Science Executive Director of Center for Mediation, Peace, and Resolution of Conflict (CEMPROC)
I value interdisciplinary scholarship and teaching for its potential to push students to think creatively and confront questions in new ways. Since I have run study abroad programs in Ecuador for five years and led a nonprofit organization there for nine years, I was already planning to integrate an international experience in Ecuador into my PC teaching. Last year, I started talking with Professors Nick Longo and Eric Sung, and discovered that they were also interested in developing a course-based program that would include a Latin America/Ecuador component. It made sense to coordinate our efforts to form a joint course-embedded international education program, which we entitled ‘Visualizing Peace and Justice in Ecuador.’ I see this program as an important step forward as we develop innovative models of international education at PC, expanding the ways in which students can become global citizens.
I have had a chance to learn a lot about and to think more deeply about how photography connects with peace, justice, and service to community (including a much larger global community). For me, one of the primary ways that photography and art can help to foster peace and community and to promote social change is their power to express emotions, ideas, and tap into common experiences to move people in ways that words alone are incapable of doing. In other words, art as a product or outcome has consequences on social relations among those who view it. A second way in which art, peace, and community are linked is in the actual process of creating the art. In many cases, people and groups who have been in conflict or who do not trust each other may be empowered by sharing together in the construction of something beautiful. This gives a public voice or message to their emotions, recognizes and validates their personal experiences, and creates a space to imagine (together) a different and hopefully better community. Art can overcome differences in ethnic or ideological groups, language, and age, and in our trip to Ecuador, I saw art become a catalyst for greater cross-cultural interaction and understanding, and an expansion of our conception of community.
In Ecuador, we explored how art, in its many forms, can express universal messages of solidarity, love, understanding, community, and nonviolence in ways that transcend the limitations of language and words. From dance being used as a tool to empower women who have been the victims of abuse and allow them a safe space to support each other and express their vision, to street art as a more constructive alternative to violent youth gangs for claiming public spaces and demanding a voice, to improv theater together with 10-year-old peace promoters, the Ecuador program allowed students to experience directly the power of art as a medium for change. Photography served as a visual product to document the process of the many activities during the week, as well as being integral to the process of sharing experiences with youth, community members in the indigenous village where we lived, and with many other community partners that we met during the week. Through the course-embedded components in Providence, students engaged in service-learning at CityArts, local schools, and other local community partners, where they also explored the ways in which photography and other arts can foster a sense of community and build peace.
Professor Eric Sung Assistant Professor of Photography
As an artist, I like making art that deals with broader ideas than the art making itself. Especially for a photographer, since we often depend so heavily on seeing and reacting to what we see, I attempt to introduce opportunities for our students to ‘see’ their surroundings beyond the studio space so they ‘react’ by taking a picture and then analyzing the image. Prior to arriving at PC, I worked with a rehabilitation facility in Hammond, LA. I brought eight students and we taught residents from the facility to photograph so they could show us their world instead of telling us about it. This was such a powerful and positive project for all of us involved. Soon after arriving to PC, I offered a service-learning course with Professor Cemal Ekin. For this course, we partnered with the ‘Gloria Gemma Foundation for Breast Cancer’ to create greater awareness for breast cancer by creating a photography exhibition. As I was learning more about teaching service-learning, I was fortunate to meet Professor Nick Longo. Soon after having a conversation with him, we started to design our first team-taught course ‘Community Lens.’ Teaching a course with Nick and our community partner, Chandelle Wilson, was such an eye-opening experience for me. I was so impressed to see the power and the long-lasting impact of a successful interdisciplinary course. Nick and I both decided to offer this course again with an international component added. In the process of working with many moving parts to design the ‘Global Community Lens’ course, Professor Jeffery Pugh joined us. Jeff’s scholarly and personal experience with Ecuador and his interest in integrating an international experience in his teaching brought all of us together. It has been such an empowering experience for me to witness Nick, Jeff, and Chandelle’s teaching and to be a member of the teaching team for this course.
Photography has been a favorite medium by many artists who make art with political and social concerns. The possibility of mass reproduction and the ease of conveying messages are two of many reasons why it has been favored over other media. However, art, including photography can give a voice to the people who cannot be heard otherwise. This visual voice can reach the greater public beyond the physical limitations more than ever before thanks to the internet. Photography enables us to communicate, share, and possibly understand one another. Art is a product of an idea. Through making, viewing, and sharing art that discusses an idea such as ‘peace and justice,’ this fragile idea gains a firm shape. It is not a single photograph that can show the concept of peace and justice; it happens when there are multiple images that show multiple and complex dimensions of it. Also, as we make images and share them among us, we naturally create a dialogue with the concept of peace and justice embedded in the action of making and sharing images.