Reflections on an Artist Collaboration by Jill Odegaard, Cedar Crest College
With funding from an LVEHC semester-long Artist Collaborations grant, Cedar Crest College professor Jill Odegaard partnered with artist Rachel Sherk to engage students from Cedar Crest College and the Newcomer Academy, Allentown PA in a puppetry and storytelling workshop. The project provided a creative opportunity for both groups to form a collaborative effort to explore narration through the use of puppetry.
The project was realized over the course of two semesters. Fall semester Rachel joined the Cedar Crest College ART 204 C.R.E.A.T.E. class to introduce ideas related to puppetry as a tool for community engagement. Throughout the 7-week Fall session, students learned about puppetry artists and techniques as they learned how to make a puppet and participated in exercises for engaging storylines and narration. During Spring semester, students from Cedar Crest went into the community with Rachel to join with middle school and high school aged children at the Newcomer Academy in Allentown PA. The Newcomer Academy provides programming to support students who have recently arrived to the United States and who have minimal English language skills. The Storytelling through Object Making: Techniques for Visual Narrative project became part of the after-school programming for the Newcomer students.
The community engagement project at the Newcomer Academy spanned over 5 weekly sessions and served a range of 16-22 Newcomer students depending on the attendance each week. Newcomer students from the Dominican Republic, Columbia, Costa Rica and Vietnam attended the afterschool program. During the 5 week session students were guided through the process of a making a hand-puppet with a paper mache head and sewn fabric body, making puppet theater stages and props as well as creating a narrative for the puppets to perform at the final showcase during the last session.
Cedar Crest College students reflected on the project throughout the process. Their greatest reservation was the anticipation of language barriers. Three Cedar Crest College students were fluent Spanish speakers and served as great facilitators of the project. The leadership opportunity this provided for the students had a strong impact on their personal growth and the implementation of the project.