Students Create Gun-Violence Awareness Exhibit for Rutgers–Camden Art Program

One classroom at Camden’s Dr. Charles E. Brimm Medical Arts High School will soon house artistic pieces (in the form of desks and chairs) spreading messages of gun-violence awareness.

Students will use the backs, arms and legs of old desks and chairs as canvases to express their messages as part of the “No More Empty Desks” project – the brainchild of Robin Cogan, a school nurse and part-time lecturer at Rutgers University-Camden. Cogan thought of the idea after her family was touched by two mass shootings nearly 70 years apart.

One of the decorated chairs of the “No More Empty Desks” project.

Brimm art teacher Lisa Wallenburg helped bring Cogan’s idea to life with students who are participating in the Rutgers-Camden Center for the Arts’ Museum Mentorship program. The program, funded by a grant from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, supports more than 200 Camden school children in grades 3 to 11 as they explore the world of art.

The 3-year program provides in-school, hands-on artist workshops, teacher professional development sessions and visits to the Stedman Gallery at Rutgers-Camden for 4 Camden schools: Brimm High School, Thomas H. Dudley Family School, Holy Name School and U.S. Wiggins College Preparatory Lab Family School.

The activities are preparing students for the programs’ final project, where students will curate, design and install their own exhibitions in the Stedman-Camden Fireworks galleries in May 2021.

“The idea is for students to not only gain an appreciation for the arts and art museums, but to become well versed in different techniques of art-making and the career roles common to museums,” says Miranda Powell, arts education and community arts program assistant for the Rutgers-Camden Center for the Arts.

In addition to the desks, Wallenburg will lead a series of projects at Brimm focusing on how gun violence is affecting students in their school. Her classes also include discussions about social justice and how to articulate a political idea through visuals and writing.

At Holy Name School, teachers Sister Rosemary Golden, Abby Koetting and Kara Chase are leading fifth to seventh graders in a project focusing on ancient art, with plans in the works to create a cave painting for their installation.

Students at U.S. Wiggins Elementary School are working on a project using methods of mapping, which coincides with their fifth-grade curriculum, under the guidance of teachers Edith Bobb, Tammy Mellon, Ruth Colon and Brian Gannon.

At Dudley Family School, teachers Raeshell Carter, Brunilda Nieves, and Alisa Ratliff are leading third graders, including a bilingual class, on a project focusing on art that is representative of students’ personal cultures and identities.

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