Emory students transform art into action to help area nonprofits

By Kimber Williams | Emory Report | April 21, 2017

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This photo is part of the exhibit "Reframing Refugees," created by Emory students who worked with Atlanta photographer Ross Oscar Knight to highlight the work of Global Growers, which connects refugees and immigrants who were farmers in their home counties to local agriculture opportunities.

Last fall, as rising political rhetoric fueled fear and mistrust about international refugees, a team of Emory students strove to challenge those stereotypes.

Working with Atlanta photographer Ross Oscar Knight, the students met with local families involved with Global Growers, an Atlanta-based nonprofit that connects refugees and immigrants who were farmers in their home counties to local agriculture opportunities.

With cameras in hand, students documented the stories of women working with Global Growers, visually reframing the perception of the refugee farmers by creating images that the organization will use for education and promotion moving forward.

The resulting photographic exhibit, “Reframing Refugees,” was among three final projects recently unveiled as a part of “Art and Social Engagement,” a course offered through Emory’s Center for Ethics with support from Southwest Airlines.

The goal is to unite Emory students, Atlanta artists and nonprofits to develop socially engaged artwork, says Carlton Mackey, assistant director of the Ethics and Servant Leadership (EASL) program and director of the Ethics and the Arts program at Emory’s Center for Ethics, who co-teaches the course with EASL Director Edward Queen.

In the process of learning more about the work of community-based organizations, students are challenged to examine the role of art in social change and to create artwork that can influence pressing social issues. Organizations were selected that had compelling stories to tell, says Mackey, who works within Emory’s Film and Media Studies Department.

On an academic level, Queen says students “leave with a deeper connection to and awareness of the work done by these organizations, as well as their importance to the community.”

This year’s projects focused on film and photography in connection with the following Atlanta-area nonprofits:

Global Growers

Students worked with photographer Knight and Robin Chanin, executive director of Global Growers, to create a photographic series of local immigrant and refugee women farmers.

“What I love about Global Growers is it brings people from across the world together and they share a space to grow not only plants, but also a community,” says student Gabriel Andrle, who worked on the project.

“I find beauty in the simplicity of this concept and the incredible stories that lie beneath the surface of every individual," Andrle explains. "I hope that our images capture the uniqueness of the individuals, cultures and families."

Student Sarah Loftus observes that “art is a beautiful and important piece of social change — it is a declaration of expression that impacts people’s minds and ways of thinking, and in the least exposes people to issues that are otherwise ignored.”

“Mere exposure can be an important factor in the art of persuasion and activism is no different,” she says.

In addition to Andrle and Loftus, Global Growers team members included Tsion Horra, Sougbin Yim, Elaine Feng, Claire Richardson, Rebecca Upton and Killian Glenn.

The Alliance Theatre

Students collaborated with filmmaker Laura Asherman 10OX 12C, and Celise Kalke, director of new projects at the Alliance Theatre, to create “The Temple Bombing,” a short documentary that tells the story of the bombing of the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation, the oldest Jewish congregation in Atlanta and Georgia’s largest synagogue.

In the early morning hours of Oct. 12, 1958, an explosion rocked a recessed entrance at the congregation. Though no one was injured, it was later discovered that the 50 sticks of dynamite had done extensive damage — blowing out a wall, destroying offices and a stairway, and littering the grounds with shards of stained glass.

Founded in 1867, the Temple was being led at the time by Rabbi Jacob Rothschild, an outspoken civil rights advocate who frequently spoke out against racial segregation. As the Temple prepares to celebrate its 150th anniversary, the documentary about the bombing will be shared with the public.

The film was also shown in connection with the world premiere of “The Temple Bombing,” a theatrical version of the award-winning book of the same name by Melissa Fay Greene, at the Alliance Theatre earlier this year.

“I hope that both through our process and the content of our film, students come away from this with a deeper grasp of the power of media to effect social change and the skills necessary to embark on their own documentary projects,” Asherman says.

Students who were a part of the project include Maya Bornstein, Samantha Franco, Sarah Hale, Klamath Henry, Molly Tucker and Baily Putnam.

Urban Health Initiative

Students worked with filmmaker William Feagins, Carolyn Aidman, associate director of the Urban Health Initiative (UHI), and William Sexson, senior advisor of UHI and neonatology professor at Emory University School of Medicine, to create a video.

Working with the Community Teaching Garden, their goal was to increase education surrounding nutrition and provide access to fresh produce in low socio-economic neighborhoods of Atlanta.

“The Urban Health Initiative’s goal is to connect communities with academia, to provide an opportunity for learners, both in a school setting and in the community, to gain more knowledge about social determinants of health, to apply that knowledge, and to work together with community students to make a positive change,” says Charles Moore, associate professor of otolaryngology at Emory University School of Medicine and co-director of UHI.

Through teaching gardens, parents can counteract the impact of urban food deserts and learn about the importance of good nutrition as a way to avoid obesity-related diseases, notes Sexson.

“From the beginning, I was extremely impressed by the array and variety of UHI’s initiatives," says student Samantha Goodman. “They are tackling so many different urban health problems just here in Atlanta.”

“It was an important reminder that we do not necessarily have to travel far to make a difference, as there is so much to do right beyond the Emory gates,” she says. “I hope that our work with Will Feagins sheds even a little bit of light on the awesome work UHI does.”

Project team members also included Hagar Elsayed, Bria Goeller, Jordan Hesslein, Hannah Higgins, Justin Lee, Hangyul Song and Leila Yavari.