UF Art Education

Cultivating Growth in Cultural Understanding: UF Students and Faculty Visit Guatemala

Art educators are constantly discovering new passions and avenues of creativity that inspire them to research further and incorporate into their teaching philosophies. For University of Florida Art Education students, these ideas can be sparked in the classroom, the studio, or across the globe.
UF Art Education Cultural Exchange
This Spring, UF graduate and undergraduate students joined M.A. in Art Education professor Dr. Heidi Powell and Center for Arts in Medicine lecturer Jeffrey Pufahl on a cultural exchange trip to Guatemala to learn about how the arts can impact cultural continuity and identity. As part of a community art making experience, the UF students created two alfombras—a type of elaborate, colorful carpet—that were installed in the Museo De las Tradiciones De La Semana Santa history museum for two weeks and a community alfombra in the cobblestone streets near the Casa Herrera Campus for the Procession of Santa Ana.

The UF students and professors also visited Hospitalito Atitlán where artist Angelika Bauer creates illustrations to visually engage health and wellness for community education; San Antonio Aguascalientes, a women’s community based education project where entrepreneurship and the arts are working hand-in-hand for local education; and Flor Ixcaco Women’s Weaving Cooperative, where women have the opportunity to create income through weaving and teaching weaving.

We recently talked with Dr. Powell and Online M.A. in Art Education student Kimberly Thomas to get their perspectives on the Guatemala experience.

UF Guatemala Cultural Exchange – Interview With Dr. Heidi Powell

You’ve spent a lot of your professional life traveling. What are some particularly meaningful experiences you’ve had in your exploration of art and culture in so many different regions?

I love being part of our students’ journeys, helping them discover things they didn’t know before, and helping them develop ways of inquiring into the world through art education. Being a good professor or mentor requires navigating the everyday with your students and being a part of their team while giving critical and valuable feedback. Creativity happens much the same way, whether in teaching or making: You see or are inspired by a person, thought, or idea and you navigate through its variations on a path to see what is possible, to see what voice it has along the way, to see transformation. Teaching and being creative is a constant process of becoming. Even when we think something is finished, we may bring something new to it. It’s a way of understanding art education as transformative practice: transforming ourselves, others, and those we connect with.

What is it like to travel on trips like this with students when compared to when you travel on your own?

I think travelling individually and travelling with a group is like comparing apples to oranges—they have different flavors and textures. Individual research fosters investigation, discovery, and knowledge that is shared extrinsically from local to international. With students, it’s about their discovery—a plethora of awe, dialogic interaction, and wonder as they see, learn, and uncover things in new ways. It’s a collaborative dynamic and exciting experience, because they are learning and becoming researchers.

What do you hope students will gain by immersing themselves in the arts and culture of Guatemala?

Guatemala is such a unique culture, having been colonized by Spain and having a vibrant indigenous community. I hope students cultivate growth in cultural understanding and art practice that focuses on equality, dignity, and self-determination with a respect for themselves and the communities they are immersed in. These then become centerpieces to meaningful learning experiences.

What were some of the most memorable aspects of this trip?

I think there were many moments: Making the alfombra installation in the museum, traveling to Hospitalito Atitlán and working with artist Angelika Bauer, going to the women’s weaving cooperative in San Juan de la Laguna, and the culminating project of making an alfombra for the procession of Santa Ana as part of the community in collaboration with Casa Herrera.

What advice would you give to students considering taking a cultural exchange trip like this?

My advice is simply: Do it! It will forever change who you are.

UF Guatemala Cultural Exchange – Interview With MAAE Student Kimberly Thomas

Kimberly Thomas has a background in studio art and has been teaching art for the last four years. She joined the online M.A. in Art Education to expand her knowledge of curriculum development and theory to better serve her students. After graduation, she plans to pursue a Ph.D. in art education to continue exploring the effects of race in teacher-student relationships in the art classroom.

What was the most memorable aspect of the experience?

The most memorable part of this trip for me was learning about becoming a researcher and an artist/activist. I learned what direct research looks like. Participating in conversations and dissecting a day’s work with my peers was a vital part of that growth. I have seen how these lessons have worked their way into my research upon return. I widened my window of understanding.

What was it like making alfombras for the museum? How does it feel to know your work was on display in an international museum?

It’s kind of surreal. I have always wanted to have a piece on display at a museum and I never imagined it would be at a museum in another country. It was an absolutely wonderful experience, particularly working together as a group. It’s a lesson I will use with my students.

What advice would you give to students considering taking a cultural exchange trip like this?

I had doubts about going, but the experience brought me so much growth. In hindsight, I never would have questioned whether or not I should go on the trip! I learned more in ten days under Dr. Powell’s guidance than I did in most of my undergraduate education. I actually have my subsequent trip planned and some funding in place to continue the research I started.

How did this experience impact you or change your perspective? What were some specific moments or people who had the biggest impact?

This experience changed my perspective because it was really my first experience in direct research. Dr. Powell really took time to talk with us. She posed questions to reflect on our time each day and showed us examples of her writing and work while there. She helped us make long term connections so we could continue research if we wanted to come back. She helped us reflect and think about ourselves and our perspectives and find our strengths.

My favorite experience was riding in a boat across Lake Atitlan with volcanos surrounding us. The water was splashing and the boat was rocking and I genuinely understood at that moment that I was in a very different place in the world. It was one of the most magical experiences of my life.

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