Special to Marinscope
Jiramanee Apiwansri, 22, and Hannah Woolfenden, 23, came to Dominican University of California to study in two very different and very demanding programs.
Jiramanee is preparing to be a nurse, a profession she began to admire while her father was battling cancer. It’s a career that fits with her strong commitment to helping others.
Hannah is enrolled in the Dominican/Alonzo King LINES Ballet BFA, an intensive program known for blending creative expression and rigorous technical training. She’s been dancing since she was three years old, and in high school developed a program with Mendocino Ballet to increase access to dance for local children.
This fall, the two honors students stepped outside their busy majors in the School of Health and Natural Sciences and the School of Liberal Arts and Education to make an impact on the greater community, working together and with local middle school students to produce a work of art focused on social justice.
Each year, Professor Lynn Sondag’s Service-Learning Honors Community-Engaged Art course partners with a Marin County organization to co-create public art with a message. This fall, the partner was Next Generation Scholars (NGS), an organization with a compelling mission: To level the playing field by providing dedicated underserved students with all the advantages available to those of privilege.
The Dominican students were paired with seventh grade students in the NGS Academic Enrichment Program for middle school students. Working in teams in a virtual environment, the Dominican and NGS students developed art that soon will be installed in shop fronts along Fourth Street in San Rafael. Each piece will deliver a message that resonates with the artists and their shared experiences.
For Hannah, who graduated from Anderson High School in Boonville, the course was a chance to experience the visual artistic process at the same time she was experiencing a movement choreographic process through her work in the BFA.
“I have always been a strong believer in the power of art and this class allowed me to explore that,” she says. “When it became clear that everything would go online this semester, I was a little concerned at first, but it turned out to be an incredibly rich and unique experience.
Professor Lynn Sondag took a stressful situation and used the power of art to make a positive change in the community.”
Jiramanee, who attended Lowell High School in San Francisco was seeking some balance between her nursing classes, her clinical rotations, and her work as a peer mentor. Studying for minors in both psychology and leadership, she also wanted to continue to advocate for social justice. In spring 2020, Jiramanee had worked with NGS to learn about and address social injustices Latinx students encounter in Marin, including opportunity gaps and educational inequity.
“With the bond I was able to create with these students, it opened my eyes to the barriers they face,” she says.
Jiramanee and Hannah discuss their work, its impact, and the challenges (and opportunities) of creative collaboration via Zoom.
How did you break the ice with your seventh grade partners?
Hannah: I was particularly fortunate to be on a team with incredible seventh grade scholars. They reminded me of who I used to be in junior high and helped me rediscover some artistic aspects of myself that have been stagnant for a long time. They helped me rediscover a sense of play within my artwork and reminded me of the infinite possibility art can allow for. I feel that much of the richness of our creation came from the diversity of ages and personalities in our group of five. Each of us in our team has parts of our own stories represented in the artwork.
Jiramanee: Lynn introduced us and did a little demonstration using Concept Board. We were sent off with a task to choose a word related to community and create an image which represented that word. As a team, we contributed by drawing various parts of a waterfall as well as two ends of a bridge united through a text box with the word “connection.” Through this task, Hannah and I were able to break the ice with the students as well as understand their different personalities, perspectives, and their work flow in a group setting while having fun doodling and creating our first art piece together.
Describe the process of collaborating to create a powerful message.
Hannah: We started with the theme of dual personalities, meaning the feeling of needing to be two different people based on one’s setting. This came from The Hate U Give, a novel we were all reading in response to the NGS student curriculum. From there each of us picked an image that we felt represented that theme — I chose a pair of lungs — then each created three drawings based on the images. Professor Sondag uploaded these hand-drawn motifs to our team Concept Board. We then combined our individual doodles into new motifs and created a pattern, which we put behind the digital painting of Maria Hinojosa. Maria Hinojosa is a journalist and activist who strives to tell the truth through her writings. One of the NGS students found the quote (“what I love most is becoming more fearless”) and we all instantly resonated with it.
Jiramanee: As we were brainstorming on how we could come up with a background, Hannah and I seemed to be on the same page, which was to create a pattern using everyone’s pieces. All of the pieces seemed to flow and come together in a way that allowed each piece to stand out and create a story. The interesting part of creating this piece was that once I started with the idea of the tree, my teammates also created something very similar, which seemed to be our overall design for our background piece — a tree which symbolizes the growth and flourishing of a person as they begin to develop themselves and become more and more fearless. With all four patterns, we came up with the idea of putting them into a straight line so that we are able to create a mirrored image similar to the concept of my base motif of a girl looking at herself in the mirror, seeing her reflection dressed in a professional suit.
What insight did you gain as a result of your work?
Jiramanee: Being eager to work with other people is important, especially in this project because it is a team project with members who may come from different backgrounds and hold various ideas and are working together to come up with a single piece of art which encompasses bits and pieces of everyone’s idea. I felt that everyone shared their ideas, their ideas were heard, and they had an impact on deciding how we were going to assemble this piece together so that there was a piece of us in each step.
Hannah: It had never occurred to me that visual art could be created this way. Like a choreographic movement piece, Professor Lynn Sondag, our director or choreographer, created an outline for us, the co-choreographers and creators. We then took the outline and created something that resembled Professor Lynn Sondag’s original plan and yet was completely our own. This happens a lot in contemporary dance choreography in the sense that it is incredibly collaborative. The dance choreographer creates the outline that we get to explore to create a piece that represents everyone who is part of the process. I was able to experience this visual artistic process at the same time as experiencing a movement choreographic process in my other courses. The parallels were uncanny and yet the outcomes were completely different. I can say without a doubt that this artistic experience through this course will stay with me as I continue to create art throughout the rest of my life.
How did this work enrich you personally?
Jiramenee: Within three months, we were able to create a tight knit community with the NGS partner toward creating an art piece which speaks volumes, not only bringing together the San Rafael community, but also awareness of the barriers we students face in our day-to-day lives. With these pieces being created virtually, it really has impressed me now advanced and technologically forward our generation is.
Hannah: My personal interpretation of our artistic message is resilience and the idea of reconnecting pieces of ourselves that have been separate for a long time. Our team taught me so much and I am so thankful I got to create with them. Each team member is such an incredible artist and I can’t wait to see what they create in the future. Jiramanee, thank you for being such a perfect model of how to be a part of a team through Zoom. I am so thankful I was partnered with such an incredible artist, student, and human.
You were working alongside seventh grade students, what would you tell your seventh grade self?
Hannah: I would remind her that fear and shyness are not productive. My best adventures occurred when I decided to push myself out of my comfort zone. I would also let her know that, though I hated group work then, being a part of a team is one of the most rewarding ways to learn. Additionally, I would recommend she continue to cultivate her curiosity and creativity.
Jiramenee: I would tell myself that it is completely fine and normal to not have everything planned out for my future, as it will work out in the end. What turned out to be the biggest curveball in my life was that my father was diagnosed with colon cancer, but that sparked my interest in nursing and that turned out to be the pathway I chose for my career. Ever since I was a kid, I dreamed of becoming a doctor, but through caring for my father, I learned that the healthcare system and hospitals would not run without nurses.