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Students paint mural for Sarah's... An Oasis for Women


St. Kate’s students reached out to women in transition through art during the Fall Semester, when they painted a mural for “Sarah’s… an Oasis for Women,” a ministry of the Sisters of St. Joseph Carondelet in St. Paul, Minn.

Transfer students in Adjunct Lecturer Nicole Montana’s course of The Reflective Women (TRW) designed, transferred and painted a mural in the laundry room of Sarah's...an Oasis for Women over the course of several months. They completed the mural in December 2011, just as the Fall Semester was coming to a close.

Through an artistic lens

“In the past when I’ve taught TRW, I’ve always done some sort of service component or community work,” said Montana. “For the 2000-level courses here, my focus is really on how art — not just art, but media, print, books, news, radio, performance, exhibits, any kind of artistic or social or written word — how all of that functions in relation to the course material of The Reflective Woman.”

Montana said she wanted to challenge her students to think about the ideas in the course reader and whether those ideas were reflected in the world around them.

In the course, students are asked to examine their own identity and then to examine the concept of truth and what is right or wrong, from philosophical, scientific, theological, and aesthetic points of view.

With a TRW course focused on art and media, Montana asked her students if the messages they found in society reinforced course concepts around community and social justice, or if those messages were contributing to societal problems.

During each session of the course, students were asked to bring in some form of media or art that they had found in the last week that related to the course material. They watched documentaries, listened to news clips and took in a variety of media to evaluate the world around them. On top of their coursework, they were required to complete a service learning project, volunteering time outside of class to contribute meaningful art to the community. 

Building on a partnership

Montana sought out an arts-based service learning project to fit the specific goals of the course. She learned from staff in the University's Community Work and Learning office that Sarah’s… An Oasis for Women was looking to partner with St. Kate’s, and the 17 students in her TRW course took on the task of designing a mural for the home for women.

Hilary Otey, Associate Director at Sarah’s, said the organization was excited for the opportunity to work with St. Kate’s. While the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet have an ongoing partnership with St. Kate’s, the partnership with students to design and paint a mural for Sarah’s was large in scope and it would be one of the largest contributions of students to the women’s home.  

“We really wanted to do something around beauty, art and expression,” said Otey. “The design of the class really fit with the mission, vision and values of Sarah’s.”

To get the project underway, Montana divided her class up into four teams: a design team, a team to transfer the design to the wall, and two teams to paint the mural once the transfer was finished. Students volunteered time for the project outside of class and worked in shifts from October through December.

Montana worked closely with Otey to come up with ideas for the design. Then she gave those ideas to the design team, who then came up with a concept and drafted the design on paper.

Empowering women by design

The design concept grew around a tree standing in autumn winds as the leaves gradually separated from the branches and blew off into the distance.

“The idea is that every woman that’s lived in the house will have her own leaf and her name will be on it,” said Montana. “So it shows that the women that have lived there kind of put their mark on the place, but that they have been able to heal, or recover, or do whatever they need to do, so that they can transition out of Sarah’s in the end. It’s meant to also be reaffirming and hopeful, and to instill that hope that it is possible to progress.”

Laura Croteau ’14, who worked on the concept for the design, said the students decided to use the tree as a metaphor for life at Sarah’s.

“We wanted the leaves to change colors as they left the tree to show how the women changed from when they started at Sarah’s to when they left,” said Croteau. “Those women are going to be represented at Sarah’s even after they leave.”

She also said the class incorporated the mantras of Sarah’s into the design, because the mantras are an important part of life at Sarah’s.

Each mantra was written into the mural, with messages sweeping across the laundry room wall, in addition to components of the mission and vision statements at Sarah’s.

“We really keep these values at the forefront of our minds when we work with the women,” Otey said.

The mural was finally completed in December, just as students were studying for their final exams.

“It’s a really worthwhile service learning project,” said Montana, who said her students were asked to reflect on their experience upon the conclusion of the course. “What we’re spending so much time in class on is looking at how art and media and the written word and visual art — every form — affects the community, what it does to the community, how it builds or harms a community.”

Jan. 31, 2012 by Melissa Kaelin

See also: Arts, Catholic Identity, Leadership, Liberal Arts, Social Justice