Social and Political Exploration and Expression through Art

Today’s blog features students’ journey and experience in the Art and Social Practice course with Professor Michel Droge, Visiting Assistant Professor of Art and Visual Culture at Bates. A socially-engaged art production course, Art and Social Practice invites students to engage in scholarly inquiry and research on historical and contemporary social and political art, focusing on issues of equity, inclusion, and accessibility.

In a recent email exchange with Professor Droge about the course and its impact on students, they shared, “My course combines intellectual inquiry with practical studio experience and collaborative engagement with the Lewiston/Auburn community. Students work with different community partners throughout the course on vital social and environmental justice work in the L/A area.” Students also explore socially and politically engaged art, examining historical artifacts such as political propaganda posters from the WPA (Works Progress Administration) era in the U.S., as well as Chinese and Russian political propaganda designs.

“One of the distinctive aspects of this course is the community-engaged learning component,” Professor Droge explained. “Students meet with community partners to understand their particular mission and learn to collaborate with them to support their community endeavors.”

As it happened, students’ work and experiences in the course extended beyond the L/A community. In the aftermath of the tragic mass shooting in Lewiston in October, Professor Droge decided it would be fitting to work with the Maine Gun Safety Coalition as a community partner: “The community is still grieving and processing the tragic event. Throughout our class, we engaged in thoughtful discussions regarding the incident.”

With support from the Harward Center, the class collaborated with the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, an organization dedicated to ending gun violence in Maine by advocating for safe and responsible gun use. Reflecting on the student’s engagement with the organization, Professor Droge expresses, “Taking action was a cathartic process for the students in my class. The testimony hearings in Augusta were inspiring and an excellent opportunity for the class to learn how the process works, write a testimony, and deliver it in person. That experience was huge for them!”

In addition to collaborating with the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, students delved into extensive reading, exploring various books and essays that tackled topics like gun legislation, mass shootings, and gun violence. Their work extended beyond scholarly readings and advocacy for gun safety as they also learned hands-on skills, like creating hand-made, multi-layered lino-cut prints. With support from a Community Engaged Learning grant from the Harward Center, the class created over 300 posters for display. Describing the students’ work, Professor Droge notes, “Their creativity was impressive. The students were surprised by the impact of the entire design and the fact that the work felt small individually but was impactful as a whole.”

In closing, Professor Droge extends gratitude to all partners who contributed to the course’s success and invites the Bates community to witness the student designs outside of Ladd Library. If you are interested in taking Art and Social Practice in the fall, you can register for the course on Garnet Gateway.