Scholars reach out through art

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By Zhai Yun Tan, The Daily Tar Heel

Students interested in merging the worlds of arts and public service can now do so through the Arts in Public Service Fellows program.

Offered by the Carolina Center for Public Service (CCPS) and Carolina Performing Arts (CPA), this program aims to support students who want to direct social change through the arts. It will welcome the first batch of students in spring 2014.

The program, a product of a discussion between Emil Kang, CPA’s executive director for the arts, and Lynn Blanchard, the director of CCPS, was made possible by funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for the CPA Arts@theCore program.

“We’re trying to support students who are trying to make connections between their public service work and art — we want to affirm the place that arts have within the sphere of public service and social justice work,” said Ryan Nilsen, a student services specialist at CCPS.

Katie Weinel, the former senior co-president for the student-run organization Musical Empowerment, was heavily involved in planning the Arts in Public Service Fellows program. Musical Empowerment pairs UNC students with underprivileged children to offer free music lessons. Weinel is now a first-year medical student at UNC.

“We came up with this separate track for people like me to get recognized for doing service in the arts,” Weinel said.

“I think in general, music and arts are a huge part of people’s lives, so I think this is a good way to keep being involved in the arts.”

Kang also said Weinel was an integral factor in planning the program.

“(This program) speaks to this larger mission that we have that looks at how the arts can relate to every student’s life, doesn’t matter what their major is,” Kang said.

“I’m also the faculty adviser for Musical Empowerment and the person who was the president last year, she was the one who wanted this to happen — but you see, she’s not a music major. She’s, to me, the embodiment of the potential of all Carolina students to have … very wide-ranging interests, to be able to stitch together an education that has meaning beyond the subject area.”

Students involved in the Arts in Public Service Fellows program will have to take a service-learning course in the spring semester and complete 30 hours of service within the semester. As this program is under the CCPS Buckley Public Service Scholars, students who meet the other program requirements will graduate as Buckley Public Service Scholars with another distinction offered by CPA.

Aaron Shackelford, CPA’s Mellon postdoctoral fellow, will be teaching the service-learning course. The class will examine the role of arts in social movements throughout the history of the United States.

He will also help students search for service opportunities, although students are encouraged to develop their own partnerships.

“I made contact with several different agencies both around the campus and around the Triangle community to give students some ideas about the organizations that are eager and willing to work with students for their community service,” Shackelford said. “But the students themselves are going to have the freedom to identify.”

The deadline for applications is Nov. 15. Those who are interested can apply online through the CCPS website.

“Students who care about being involved with communities off campus and want to be involved in public service groups with an emphasis on arts (should apply), particularly the ones who don’t know how to bring those worlds together,” Nilsen said.

Kang hopes that the future Arts in Public Service fellows will represent the significance of arts in invoking social change.

“It’s not really what I hope to see in scholars — it’s more on what I hope others will see in them, because they already know they can change people’s lives through the arts and public service,” Kang said.

“My hope is that the rest of the campus will understand and acknowledge how art can actually be a great vehicle for this kind of engagement of change.”