The University Record, June 21, 1999

Arts of Citizenship stretches U-M boundaries

By Rebecca A. Doyle

Students from Mary VanAlstine’s Bach Elementary School first- and second-grade class with a diorama of old Ann Arbor. Photo courtesy of Arts of Citizenship
Poetry, parks and the past all come together under the Arts of Citizenship (AoC) umbrella, a program that reaches out from the campus into the surrounding community.

Funded as an incubator unit by the Office of the Vice President for Research, the program has just finished its first year. David Scobey, visiting professor of law and director of the Arts of Citizenship program, says it was designed to “foster the role of the arts, humanities and design in public culture.” It is an outgrowth of the Year of the Humanities and Arts (YoHA), which in 1997 brought to the University such speakers as Hillary Rodham Clinton and Ken Burns. The program also funds faculty grants designed to encourage both public and community-based scholarly work in the arts and humanities.

During its first year, AoC stretched the boundaries of campus to involve Bach Elementary School and Community High School in Ann Arbor in several classroom and community projects on local history, poetry, writing, urban planning and landscape architecture. Participants from the U-M included students in the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP); Robert Grese, associate professor of natural resources, and his landscape architecture students; Karen Jania, assistant archivist at the Bentley Historical Library; Julie Ellison, professor of English and associate vice president for research; AoC program coordinators Carol Mull and Michelle Craig; and Scobey.

Scobey notes that the program provides funds for speakers, grants to faculty and co-sponsorship of symposiums and concerts, as well as the more visible Students on Site projects.

And it is the Students on Site portion that encouraged first- and second-grade students at Bach elementary to envision their own play areas in parks, brought out the poet in Community High School students and taught community history by having children build dioramas based on maps of the Ann Arbor area in three different eras.

If This Were My Park

Bach Elementary teacher Mary VanAlstine and 23 of her first- and second-graders worked with Grese, 12 landscape architecture students and UROP students to put down on paper what they most valued in park lands. The children wrote in journals and drew pictures, then built a group model of what they would like to see. Grese’s landscape architecture students listened and watched, then returned to Bach Elementary in December to present their final design.

Writing the Community’s Past

The Bentley Historical Library was the foundation for research that resulted in quality final papers for Community High School students in Judith DeWoskin’s historical fiction workshop. Several of the final papers are on file at the Arts of Citizenship office.

Our Story: A Community History Curriculum

Bach Elementary students in kindergarten and first and second grade toured the Exhibit Museum, then created a timeline, used large maps and visited a Web site to build historically accurate dioramas of Ann Arbor in the 1850s, 1910 and 1999. Scobey visited Bach to help teach the young historians about timelines with such landmarks as their teacher’s birth year.

Bridge Designers of the Future

Bach art teacher Jim Schulz asked first- and second-graders to create some unique designs for the new Broadway Bridges.

Poetry and Place: Imagining Broadway Park (Spring 1999)

Chris Reeves’ fourth-grade class at Bach worked with Ellison to produce poems and art about the bridge area, and their work was displayed in the Ann Arbor Public Library last week.

U-M History Collaboration

Building on the success of the Our Story program, Scobey announced at last week’s Ann Arbor Public School Board meeting that the University would fund a reinstatement of local history field trips that had been dropped from the third-grade curriculum due to budget restraints. In addition, this project will design a Web site that features an online version of the tour.

The $10,000 gift will fund the physical tour for two years. One-half of the gift is in the form of an Arts of Citizenship grant and the balance is funded by the Office of the Vice President for Government Relations.

In addition to those ongoing projects, Scobey says the group is looking at beginning an intergenerational project involving older people from the Turner Geriatric Clinic, an environmental education curriculum with help from the Ecology Center and a project that would explore the historical homes in Washtenaw County that were part of the Underground Railroad.