The Civic Studio

a project Grant Proposal

to the

Center for Philanthropy

Grand Valley State University


Paul Wittenbraker

Assistant Professor

Department of Art and Design

1117 Calder Art Center





Research and Service Learning
Section I: Summary and Rationale
    Describe in 1-2 paragraphs the nature of the basic or applied research or service learning project to be undertaken: what is to be done, why does it need to be done, and how does it relate to the theory, tradition, understanding or practice of philanthropy or voluntarism?


This project proposes the addition of an experiential and community learning component to an existing course. The course is Art 401 Senior Seminar:The Practice of Art. It is a course in which the student learn the technical, strategic, organization, and artistic skills to practice as artists. A major portion of the course involves the students envisioning the specific ways in which they as artists can interface with the community and practically function in the world.

This project will involve holding regular class meetings in a studio/gallery facility outside the University. The facility is a vacant storefront building at 617 Lyon Street in Grand Rapids. The owner has agreed to rent the building for a 3 month period. (Short term insurance coverage would need to be arranged) The students will engage with and get to know the immediate community and neighborhood. The students will design and implement the functional and visual improvements to the space to make it appropriate for gallery exhibition. The students will collaborate on an artistic studio project in response to their experience. The focus of this collaborative project being the area around the studio (people, practices, physical-visual environment, historical, social, environmental, political, functional, economic. . . .). The Civic Studio will be an investigative studio (or a study of) what it is to practice art in public. A likely result of this studio effort would be a public exhibition of the work(s). In this case the students would design and install the exhibition, design and mail the postcard, compile an database of names for the mailing, and host a reception. If not an exhibition, then a document assessing the experience will be produced by the students including an analysis of the project and documentation of their reflections on their experience with the project.

The project will facilitate the requisite objectives of the existing course, but in a way that is real and of consequence, but still with the support of the University. The intent is to embed the technical in the real, and stimulate ambition, inspiration, and imagination for sustained and realistic practice in the future.

Section II: Participants
    Identify in 1-2 paragraphs the participants of the project: Principal investigator(s), students, nonprofit organizations, community representatives, university personnel, outside consultants and the like.
  The Students: Art 401 is taken by Fine Arts majors who are within a year and a half of graduating. The student have progressed through the majority of the studio curriculum and are ready to embark on the studio work for their Senior Exhibition and Review. The Community: Most of the people around Lyon street are people who live in a mixture of rental and owner occupied housing. There are a few businesses and stores as well as churches and schools. It is 2.5 blocks to the public school campus that includes Central High, Fountain Elementary, and City High. The building is in a block-long row of storefronts (mostly inactive) and apartments. It is approximately 1 mile from the center of town on the eastern border of the Heritage Hill district of Older renovated homes. From casual observation the population seems representative of economic and social diversity of the city. The Faculty: Paul Wittenbraker is the project developer and teacher. He brings over 10 years experience curating exhibitions, coordinating community projects, and non-profit management. He is currently a GVSU Presidential Service Learning Scholar.
Section III: Timeframe
    Outline in 1-2 paragraphs the proposed schedule for the project: start date, activities, completion date.
  The class would meet in the facility from September 15 through the end of the semester.
Section IV: Objectives and Outcomes
    Identify in 1-2 paragraphs (bullets preferred) the key objectives of the project primary objectives, secondary objectives, other?
  • A major outcome will be the documentation of the project - student project, student assessment, and faculty assessment. This will include a visual documentation of the project. This will be a useful document in the development of further Art and Community Learning projects.
  • Begin an investigation in the rich crossover between service learning, artistic practice, and public life. Internationally, public and community art is a current and important area in the realm of art practice. Service Learning projects in art are not as prevalent as other disciplines. This project is a step towards discovering and developing through practice, the hybridization of these two areas.
  • The creation of new knowledge in public art.
Section I: Description and Rationale
    Describe in 1-2 paragraphs the intended course revision or new course: What is the unit or course title? Why is it important that this revision or new course be undertaken? How does it relate to voluntarism, philanthropy, service learning or nonprofit leadership?

This project is proposed as part of the Senior Seminar Course. This experience will serve as investigation into the challenges and feasibility of the development of a regular Civic Studio course.

Section II: Teaching Method(s)
    Identify in 1-2 paragraphs the teaching methodology(ies), instructional approaches or pedagogies that are expected to be employed.

The course is organized to have the students experientially doing many things they will be called upon to do in professional practice. This is done through the technical aspects of the course involving documentation and presentation of art, writing about art, leading and participating on committees, organizing events and projects and writing grants.

The course also emphasizes the students gaining experience in the presentation of their ideas, images, and objects in public. This is done through the web page project, the individual artist statement, writing to the publicly accessible web-based discussion page, and meeting innumerable artists and art professionals. With the Civic Studio Project, this will also include direct contact as artists with the public.

The course activities include learning technical processes, reading and discussion, having experiences and reflecting on them, and projects. The technical aspects of photographing art, writing about art, and the use of computers are demonstrated and experienced in class and are supported with the help of the Learning Committees in each of these areas.

Each student leads a discussion on a reading. These readings as well as experiences such as visits to studios, galleries, and art institutions are followed up by reflective entries on the web-based course discussion page. This writing gives consequence to the process of reflection and engages the students with regular writing about art in a public forum.

The course is organized so that the students participate in the management of the course. To reflect the way that much work is done in the world the course is organized into learning committees (see text box this page). This year, with the addition of the Civic Studio project, two new committees will be added to the roster; The Facility Committee and the Studio Project Committee. The final exhibition/documentation will be implemented by a committee of the whole class. Students are evaluated on their committee contribution.

The enrollment in the course this semester is 8 students. This enables the Instructor to have a very individualized and responsive teaching-learning relationship with each student.

Section III: Learning Objectives
    Identify in 1-2 paragraphs the objectives of the revision or new course: What should students think, feel or be able to do as a result of the experience?

In each of the last 3 years that the general format of the course has been participatory and experiential, the students have responded to the course by making the point that doing a ³real² project would greatly enhance the learning. Doing the Civic Studio project will be a positive response to this suggestion.

The students will learn how to do additional things because of the Civic Studio project; how to actually set up a gallery space, how to publicize a show, and how to be responsible for a space. More importantly though is how they would think and feel differently. It is expected that their sense of themselves as practicing artists in public will be greatly enhanced. As a result of this project students will approach the practice of art in public with more confidence, thought, and experience.

Section IV: Timeframe
    Indicate the semester and year in which the revision or new course will be offered.
  This project is proposed for the Fall of 1999. It is an adjustment and revision of an existing course.
Section V: Tentative Course Outline (syllabus)
    Attach a general outline (syllabus) of the revision or new course.

Course of Study
Art 401 Senior Seminar: The Practice of Art

This course will address issues involving the practice of Art:
Structures, Experiencing, Sustaining

Structure of Practice

      • Education - History and Philosophies of Art Training and Education
      • The organization of art practice in Institutions
      • Organizing art practices in the Community
      • Where art practice overlaps other practice
      • Projections for future art practice
      • Individual practice

      Experience and Practice

      • Studio environment
      • Gallery environment
      • Critical Community
      • Continuing Studio Development
      • Art and Life

      Sustaining Practice

      • Money issues
      • The Long View
      • Business and Culture


    • Civic Studio/Gallery Project
    • MCACA Individual Artist Application
    • Slides, Resume, Letters
    • Database for mailing list and slide labels
    • Mailing list and postcard design
    • Individual Web page (images and text)
    • Chicago Trip
    • Learning Practice Committees
    • Writing Artist Statements
    • The presentation and curation of Artwork
    • Documenting and presenting Artwork and Exhibitions in Slide form
    • Documenting and presenting Artwork and Exhibitions in HTML
Expected Expenses  
  Faculty Release Time 0
  Graduate Assistant 0
  Student Employee 0
  Other 0
  Facility materials 400
  Project materials 400
  Postage- for postcard 200
  Printing- for postcard 500
  Equipment 0
  Travel 0
  3 mos. rent/util 617 Lyon 750
  Resources/Videos 100
  Computer Hardware/Software 0
Total Expenses 2,350