Ruth Burke believes community engagement and service learning are important facets of being an ethically minded artist. In the special topics course taught this fall, she provided to her students real-world, hands-on experiences that simultaneously helped community nonprofit organizations.
When the Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) reached out the first week of August with a request to create a video for Sunnyside Community Garden, Burke, assistant professor of video in the Wonsook Kim School of Art, was happy to help.
Burke is a new faculty member at Illinois State, so she was thrilled that this project would allow for her students to immediately connect with the existing community.
“When CCE reached out to see if anyone would be interested in helping Sunnyside out, I knew I had to jump on the opportunity. I think that the work Sunnyside is doing is absolutely incredible and it was awesome to hear about the evolution of the garden,” said Burke. “A big part in helping the community is—instead of asserting what you think they need—asking them what they could use help with, when it comes to a socially engaged art project like this one. Since we had the resources to help them spread their message, I thought it would be valuable for the community.”
Burke’s research falls into a “socially engaged art practice” a term that refers to a type of collaborative and participatory art. Socially engaged art requires the involvement of people and communities to shed light on specific issues that a certain community may be facing.
Inherent in socially engaged art practices are questions of ethics, community engagement, and authorship. The 15-minute documentary created by the Special Topics in Video students is a form of socially engaged art.
The students worked for two-and-a-half months to create a short documentary to spread the overall message of Sunnyside Community Garden in West Bloomington. The video debuted during a virtual gala for the garden in mid-October.
CCE will host a free screening of the students’ film at 6 p.m. November 15 at the Normal Theater in Uptown. The documentary project is around 15 minutes, and it will be followed by a question-and-answer session.
Sunnyside Garden was established in May 2016 by Col Connelly and Jan Turner. Sunnyside’s mission is to provide fresh, organic produce to low-income families in the West Bloomington area.
They also offer great learning opportunities for children and adults through activities involving harvesting and gardening in sustainable ways. Sunnyside grows over 1,000 pounds of produce each year, helping many community partners and local residents.
Farm Manager Caleb Phillips reached out to CCE in August in hopes of finding someone to help him with this important video project.
“We don’t have the budget for a video of this quality, and I think for the last year or more, CCE has been really generous about connecting us with students and faculty who could lend us a helping hand. So, we had this idea that we wanted some sort of small video made to help us spread the garden’s message. We reached out and really lucked out with the students and staff we were able to work with,” said Phillips.
This project allowed several undergrad and graduate students at Illinois State, who took Video 1 and 2 during the pandemic, to work on a hands-on project with a real client. Burke used the opportunity to walk students through all components of working with an outside client, including timelines, contracts, and even simulated invoices.
“It was such a wonderful opportunity to work alongside Sunnyside and to gain experience working with clients on a big project such as this,” said Regan Stewart, a senior in photography. “I appreciate getting the chance to make something that will help this non-profit for years to come.”
A notable achievement on behalf of the students is that, due to the pandemic, this was the student’s first time using professional quality camera equipment. The only filming done for their Video 1 and Video 2 classes last year was done entirely on cell phones using the app Filmic Pro.
The students each took on a different role to help make the video possible. “My fellow students and I each took on a different role to help make the video possible,” said Lyndsie Schlink ’04, a graduate student and the senior photographer at Illinois State. “The project was a great opportunity for students from a variety of artistic and technical backgrounds to come together, collaborate, and create a beautiful work of art to help fight food insecurity, and raise money to help provide jobs for teens in our community.”
The students were also able to learn more about and bring light to the issues regarding food insecurity in the Bloomington-Normal area.
“This project is important to me simply because the mission of Sunnyside, to provide food to the community, is one that I wholeheartedly believe in,” said Maddie Kimber, a senior graphic design student. “I think Caleb, Jan, and everybody who helps make Sunnyside possible are paving the way towards a positive future, not just for those who benefit from the garden directly, but for those who get to witness the impact of it as well.”