Promoting Intercultural Exchange: Artwork, Videos and Ideas

By Stokrocki, Mary | School Arts, May 1991 | Go to article overview

Promoting Intercultural Exchange: Artwork, Videos and Ideas


Stokrocki, Mary, School Arts


In order to promote international understanding, art educators in different countries exchange student artworks for exhibition through organizations like INSEA, The International Society of Education through Art. However, students often do not get the opportunity to fully understand another country's way of life and its heritage. Furthermore, lessons exploring the art forms or art history of another country may be limited and artificial.

Perhaps an intercultural education approach can be taken. Intercultural education is a strategy used to encourage students of different cultural backgrounds to share their life styles and roots. To understand a culture is to comprehend the beliefs, conceptions, aesthetic values, standards and practices of others through the eyes of that culture. Because this is a developing strategy and new to art education, it may be worthwhile for art teachers to make use of some of the tools of an ethnographer or participant observer. The following is a synopsis of my participant observation study in the Netherlands and my efforts to promote an exchange of school life and artworks between the cosmopolitan cities of Rotterdam, Holland and Cleveland, Ohio.

Participants

Multicultural secondary students in a vocational high school for business and commerce near Rotterdam were asked by their art teacher, Harry Berk, to portray and interpret their roots through collage. Most of the students originated from former colonies of the Netherlands, such as Indonesia, Surinam and the Dutch Antilles. A six week research project on the Netherlands provided the students with plenty of information and many photographs. The students described their collages in writing, describing what they pictured, what the collage meant through a title, how they arranged it, and if they felt their collages were successful. Students were usually pleased with their results.

Upon returning to America, I arranged to show the artwork and a videotape of the Dutch students to high school art classes: one at the Cleveland Magnet School of the Arts under the direction of Carole Phillips and the other at John Adams High School in Cleveland under the direction of Dale Lintala. Students were attentive and asked many questions about multicultural schooling in Holland, such as how long the classes were, what art courses students took, and why all the students rode bicycles to school. They also noticed that Dutch classes were run in a similar manner to those in America--the teacher did a lot of talking.

Cleveland students were asked to guess from what country the Dutch student originated by looking at the clues in the artwork. Students reacted to the painted buses of Holland in eluded in one Indonesian student's collage. They noticed that Rotterdam is a port city full of bridges, heavy industry and sports, quite similar to Cleveland. They particularly liked one of the collages made by a Surinamese girl, portraying a symmetrical skyscraper with attractive blue coloring. I also asked the Cleveland students to discuss the arrangements and color harmony in the Dutch students' works.

Next, Cleveland students chose to make their own collages based on the theme "Where am I from?" The artworks were photocopied in color and sent to the same school in the Netherlands so that Dutch students could learn about and appreciate the Cleveland-American world view. Cleveland students also explained their collages by describing, analyzing, interpreting and judging their collages. One class did so in writing; the other preferred to be videotaped.

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