Project Cities acts as mutually beneficial partnership that engages arts students

Project Cities acts as mutually beneficial partnership that engages arts studentsWorking for the benefit of our community is central to the mission of Arizona State University, but it’s actually a pretty radical idea, according to a professor who teaches students how to do it. One of ASU’s eight design aspirations is “social embeddedness,” defined as: ASU connects with communities through mutually beneficial partnerships. In the past few decades, the concept of “community engagement” has moved into academia and arts, said Michael Rohd, an Institute Professor at the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. “The common use of that idea was, ‘OK, so this museum, this theater, this dance company, this gallery or this university arts and design school will engage with people so they show up more at our space.’ We tried to expand their experience of our art,” said Rohd, co-leader of the Center for Performance and Civic Practice, a New York-based nonprofit organization. “It was very infrequently that the term was about exchange or dialogue or justice.” But the concept of seeing engagement as give and take — the “mutually beneficial” partnership — is new, said Rohd, who spoke at a panel discussion Monday night called “Ethics at Twilight: Ethical Community Engagement.” The event was a collaboration between the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics to help expose students to the kinds of ethical issues they will face in their careers. Historically, universities viewed themselves as the holders of knowledge, which they occasionally bestowed on their surrounding communities, according to Lindsey Beagley, the director of social embeddedness for the Office of University Initiatives at ASU. “Fifteen years ago, when ASU said ‘mutually beneficial partnerships,’ that fundamentally shifts the power dynamic,” Beagley said. “It implies the community has value. Not only do they benefit by interacting with the university, but the university benefits from interacting with the community.” Stephani Etheridge Woodson, a professor in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre, said that ASU Project Cities, in the School of Sustainability, is a good example of a mutually beneficial engagement. Municipalities identify projects they would like done, and faculty create coursework for students to study the problem and create a solution. Last spring, a landscape design class designed a dog park for the city of Apache Junction, and students in Etheridge Woodson’s community theater class created a theater experience based on the city’s history. Read the full story on ASU Now.