I taught for several years at Tulane University in New Orleans, and at Baton Rouge Community College. These institutions attracted diverse student bodies, though from different ends of the economic opportunity spectrum. The students at Tulane were from cultures around the world, but most came from elite backgrounds. BRCC was a majority minority student population, many were international students, and some had disparate language barriers or learning disabilities. Some of these varied experiences and abilities came with added pedagogical challenges which made progress even more rewarding. Every day teaching simultaneously at these two institutions was a perspective shifting privilege. Subsequent positions at state universities around the country have provided experiences with communities that have enhanced my practice, including projects that ask students to step outside their experience to learn about their classmates, and by extension the diversity of people and perspectives around them.
Camaraderie and mutual understanding among seemingly very different people can germinate organically in the classroom when students are made to work side by side. In a healthy, happy studio students recognize that diversity sows creativity. The stories that arise naturally in the shop, or through the narratives explored in their work help grow the community. Printmaking provides opportunities to discuss the heady power language and history—and indeed, art and pop culture—has on social artifices. Candor encourages a culture of trust in the studio so that students can continue to share about their experiences, their families, and themselves through their work. Being open and present is not always natural for some, so I approach all students with a healthy respect and sincere curiosity to make them comfortable sharing if and when they’re ready. Classmates naturally follow suit. On the rare occasions that trust is compromised due to a rash assumption in critique or an inappropriate reference, it is dealt with quickly but delicately. When a line is crossed, it is often the students who first point out the error or insensitivity and call for amends, evidence that my approach is effective.
Art can provide a forum to celebrate one’s cultural heritage and unique identity. It can foster cultural appreciation and understanding—and students are shown examples of work from sundry cultures around the world—but it should be experienced rather than reproduced. This philosophy produced its most fruitful examples while teaching at BGSU. While an instructor at BG I arranged a portfolio exchange with students at American University in Dubai, UAE to promote cultural exchange. I also encouraged an Arab American student in a creative rut to embrace a turn toward the non-objective and use that shift to investigate the pattern-based graphic tradition of Islamic art as a metaphor for her own spiritual journey. This same student confided in me about her anxieties surrounding her family’s acceptance as she chose to remove the hijab. Her work still investigates her connection to her faith and her family’s homeland and she’s now a successful printmaker and book artist, currently teaching design in Portland, OR. I also worked closely with a student whose subsequent work embraced the landscape and Native American cultures of the Rockies. I arranged for her to do a residency at University of Colorado, Boulder with Diné artist, and my mentor, Melanie Yazzie. She has continued her commitment to the traditions and rights of indigenous peoples, including traveling to the Standing Rock reservation to stand in solidarity at the pipeline protests. These examples illustrate how a classroom provides a safe space for thoughtful exploration of oneself and other cultures and perspectives.
For too long, my privilege as a middle class, white man has allowed me to focus on what I saw as the BIG picture, thinking that preserving a habitable planet would inevitably produce a more just society. Recent political machinations have made it clear that we are in fact becoming more isolated, less civil, and less open to experiences that challenge our own. To combat this devolution, I have embraced the global print community as a way to engage society at large. This includes a recent exhibition featuring a roster of international print and book artists who share their perspectives of humanity’s unintended impact. I also worked as part of the Ad-hoc Committee for Community Exchange for the SGCI conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico. We organized a successful crowd-funding initiative that brought a new lithography press to a university program in need and prints and other materials to other institutions on the island who are still recovering from recent natural disasters and an ongoing economic crisis exacerbated by the unjust rules applied to unincorporated territories. The pandemic unfortunately put the conference on hold, but we’re excited to return to continue initiatives designed to celebrate a rich cultural tradition overlooked by the majority of Americans on the mainland. These include university print teams giving public demonstrations and workshops at studios and schools around San Juan. I am also the web curator for SGCI, a position I’m evolving to become more of a facilitator, recruiting academics, and eventually students—who identify demographically with groups historically underrepresented in the organization and the field generally—to curate virtual exhibitions of contemporary prints and employing the organization’s archives to highlight voices and perspectives that may have been forgotten. Locally I have collaborated with local and student groups like the regional and campus PRIDE groups, the Black Student Union, and the Association of Black Journalists to promote voices that often go unheard, contributions that go unrecognized in our region. I have produced many matrices for live public printing events that promote and support these groups in the community at large. In this way, I use my expertise to act as an artistic conduit so that others may share their truths. Printmaking is the original social media, one relatively free of trolls, so these collaborations provide a safe space for sharing and growing together.