Gun control, texting while driving and pay inequality may not seem like typical topics in an Art Appreciation class.
But Atlantic Cape Community College professor Richard Monteleone wanted his students to understand that art can be political. So he divided his students into three groups and asked them to pick a topic and develop a performance art presentation to take out on campus.
On Tuesday the groups brought their messages to the student body on the Mays Landing campus.
The gun control group got the most attention, possibly because they had a prime location outside the bookstore, but also because their topic seemed to be the one most likely to generate strong opposing views. The group’s poster had some data and political cartoons representing both sides of the issue. It was also an audience-participation project, with viewers invited to cast a vote for either more gun control or maintaining current laws.
“We came up with our topic right away,” said Carol Garrett, 21, of Linwood, a member of the gun control project group. “It was interesting to watch people, because it became very clear who was picking yes or no even before they voted.”
Jose Maltez, 21, of Egg Harbor Township, said it seemed older male students were more against gun control, and the female students were more for it.
At the end of the formal demonstration, the vote tally was 20 votes for more gun control and 13 against. Students kept coming up to talk about it, so Garrett asked Monteleone if they could leave up their presentation for a few more hours.
The other two topics had less opposition. Stephanie Ford, 21, came dressed in a Mercedes Benz SUV made out of a cardboard box to help sell their message about the dangers of texting and driving. She and team members Nichole Scales, 22, of Galloway Township, and Erin Coulter, 22, of Somers Point, simulated an accident.
“This is a very common issue right now, more than drinking and driving,” said Jalil Brown, 19 of Egg Harbor Township.
Their poster with facts about the dangers of texting and driving was set up to look like a series of text messages on a iPhone.
The third group picked pay inequality in the workplace because members said getting jobs and building careers are important issues for every student.
The did research and found upper level executive pay rates for different genders and minority groups, then made small signs they held up representing those groups: a white male executive earned an average $750,000, while a Hispanic female would only be making $405,000.
“We’re a diverse group, and we wanted to pick something we could all feel strongly about,” said Jamillah Powell, 19, of Ocean City.
Ali Steele, 20, of Egg Harbor Township, was surprised that Hispanics were making so much less.
“Society has come a long way,” said Emmanuel Mejia, 33, of Galloway Township. “But it’s still not equal.”
Monteleone said he includes two hands-on projects in the class because he wants to include different types of learning and show different formats for art. He said last year’s inaugural performance art project seemed to have an impact, so he included it again this year.
“Art during the French Revolution showed the poverty of the people,” he said. “Art can address social awareness and have a political message.”
Brown admits he thought the class would be mostly reading and looking at art, but he was game for the project.
“I wouldn’t normally think of this as art,” said Scales. “But it is public art in a different form.”
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