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Cindy Maguire, PhD, associate professor of communications and art and design education at Adelphi University, and Ann Holt, PhD, visiting assistant professor of art and design education at Pratt Institute and adjunct professor in the Adelphi University Department of Art and Art History, each had early-career experiences that illuminated the profound impact art can have on people in challenging circumstances.

Dr. Maguire, who was recently named to the Global Advisory Board of Teachers Without Borders, says her time as an art educator in the Los Angeles city schools not only showed her how structural racism can impact communities, but also how a community-centered, empowering arts curriculum can be a game-changer.

Dr. Holt’s art teaching career began at an urban community center in San Francisco, after which her time as a graduate student and art educator in Canada revealed to her the benefit of a national social emphasis on the well-being of the collective.

They both saw firsthand how the arts can be a powerful tool for change. Through their work together at Adelphi University, the two professors discovered a shared mission to improve lives through art and culture. The latest result of their partnership is the new book Arts and Culture in Global Development Practice: Expression, Identity and Empowerment, which has been published by Routledge and will be released in March 2022.

A Shared Mission

Both professors are engaged with ArtsAction Group—an international community-based collective, which Dr. Maguire founded and for which Dr. Holt serves on the advisory council. Participants include arts educators, art therapists, artist-teachers and educators who facilitate arts and education initiatives with young people in conflict-affected environments. Their passion for this work led the pair to embark on an edited volume for Routledge’s Rethinking Development series that would highlight the role arts and culture can play in supporting global international development.

“This book provides multiple and nuanced expressions of the work of development—emphasizing its relationality (ethics and responsibility towards each other) and impact (self-cultivation and responsibility together) outside traditional frameworks of development understandings and practices,” said Dr. Maguire. “Our focus on practice and underpinning values opens opportunities for others to look to the work for inspiration and perhaps solidarity in their own arts-based development.”

With a goal of bringing fuller understanding and complexity to the study of the arts in global development, the pair invited artist workers, teachers, scholars and activists to submit chapters across practice-based perspectives. “We sought examples that are practice-based, collective, community-focused, sustainability-minded and centered on capacity-building,” said Dr. Holt. “We wanted to bring forth practices and conversations that are otherwise siloed and need to be heard.”

Highlighting Meaningful Projects

Arts and Culture in Global Development Practice‘s transdisciplinary emphasis spans anthropology, education, sociology, visual and performing arts and humanities, women’s studies, political science, and cultural studies, but intentionally dissolves these boundaries to reveal complexities in the world and highlight tools grounded in creativity that don’t necessarily situate in any one discipline.

International in scope, chapters highlight diverse yet interrelated efforts that use art to support and empower communities—from culturally responsive art education for girls in Malawi to a community-based mural in Belize to the use of community archiving to cultivate Black diasporic memories in Montreal, Canada. Each chapter is followed by related discussion questions to prompt dialogue and creativity.

Dr. Maguire and Dr. Holt highlight a chapter authored by artist Mohamed Sulaiman Labat, who argues that art and creative practices can and should be a part of daily life for all people, including those in refugee camps.

“Sulaiman Labat was born and raised in the Smara Western Saharawi refugee camp in Algeria,” said Dr. Maguire. “The chapter he contributed shares his journey and the development of the MOTIF Art Studio inside the camp, which provides refugees in the camps with important opportunities in sustainable creative practices, arts education, and preserving and sharing oral traditions.”

She adds, “This work helps the community envision an empowered Saharawi future.”

In addition to authoring this chapter, Sulaiman Labat served as translator for Dr. Maguire and Adelphi University students and alumni who traveled to the Western Saharawi refugee camps in 2013 and 2014 for the annual ARTifariti festival and to create the film, When the Sun Came for Them: The Story of the Saharawi Told by the Saharawi, directed by Terrence Ross, professor of communications at Adelphi.

Teaching Connections

The book is a natural extension of the professors’ teaching at Adelphi University—Dr. Maguire and Dr. Holt say they ground their teaching and learning in social justice and contemporary and socially engaged arts practices.

“We teach future teachers how to design curriculum around big ideas that pertain to their own lives and the lives of humankind,” said Dr. Holt. “Each of us teaches or has taught Freshman Year Seminars in which we design our courses around ideas that we are deeply engaged in—the ideas, themes, and practices are very much reflected in this book.”

In addition to study abroad experiences like one Dr. Maguire and Dr. Holt have led in Kosovo, they point to Adelphi courses like Arts and Activism, which examines ArtsAction’s various partnerships and connects students with partners virtually to engage in art-making and dialogue.

“We are proud to have the opportunity, through our work and this book, to amplify the voices that are so often missing in development literature,” said Dr. Maguire. “While the world needs larger organizations to address systemic challenges such as conflict and climate change, great impact can also be made through collective, community-focused, sustainability-minded projects.”

The professors point to Article 27 of the United Nation’s Declaration of Human Rights—which cites the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community—as a foundation for the importance of the vibrant and impactful work featured in their book. Work that is driven by the belief that all individuals deserve the opportunity to participate and to engage in building lives of personal value and dignity.

As they share in their book, “We need each other in this mutual endeavor. It takes purposeful action with others to inspire, connect, and share knowledge and experience around this work.”

Todd Wilson
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