The twelve students in Visiting Professor of Art Suzanne Hagood’s Special Topics Course learned about more than art spring semester as they worked jointly with residents of Russell County to create nine art projects that reflected the culture of the county’s communities and some of the interests and concerns of its people.
After their project proposals and budgets were approved, the students traveled to Russell County to begin building relationships with its citizens and to gain acceptance for the kind of community-based art they wanted to introduce. The students discovered not only that laying this kind of groundwork was more complex than they had anticipated but also that it would be the most time-consuming part of the work they did for the course.
Russell County, in Alabama’s Black Belt, is made up mostly of small communities. By the end of the semester, the students had developed successful collaborations with some of its senior citizens, church groups and school children as well as Hurtsboro’s business district in the creation of projects that both expressed and strengthened community identity.
The projects ranged from a collection of small abstract clay sculptures, each with a handprint of a Russell County resident, to a ceramic mural installed on the exterior of the Hurtsboro Library. A group of children created “window paintings.” The lives of senior citizens were recorded in “interview portraits.” Two projects made creative use of photography to identify what was important to some of the county’s high school students. As part of a fund-raising event for Hurtsboro’s volunteer fire department, a laser event provided an opportunity for the public to draw “grafitti” on the sides of buildings with projected light. Hurtsboro citizens provided input about what best represented their community and the result was their own town logo. A stained glass window that was designed by citizens will be installed in a church that was damaged by arson.
The projects were funded by Auburn University’s Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art through a grant by a private donor from Russell County.
Russell County collaborators for these projects include the Woodland Baptist Church, Phenix City, Russell County High School, Russell County Elementary School, Russell County Extension office and 4-H group, Blessed John XXIII Center, the Hurtsboro Arts Association, Hurtsboro Volunteer Fire Department, Hurtsboro Business District, Hurtsboro Community Prayer Group, Hurtsboro Seniors’ Center, Hurtsboro Library and Cheryl Mann-Harding.
Hagood received her MFA from Texas Tech University in 2003 and began teaching at Auburn as a Visiting Professor of Art in the fall of 2006.