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Joel Parsons ′07

I’m a studio art major, and the art that I make is about relationships—between myself, my environment, and the people in it.  Rhodes is the perfect place for me to cultivate these relationships. The community that I have found within the art department is unparalleled, and the connections that I have made outside the gates, invaluable. More and more, my work in the community flows in and out of the classroom, and my work in the classroom relies on my involvement in the community.

In my sophomore year, another student and I were approached by a local church about starting a program that engages the homeless in a creative way. With the help of community members, faculty, and staff at Rhodes, we developed an artists′ collaborative that uses art as a way for the homed and the homeless to share their perspectives. The group’s art has been shown at Rhodes, in a local gallery, and at a downtown advertising firm.

In my junior year, I received a scholarship from Rhodes to study the relationship between art and social change in the Czech Republic. I returned with a greater understanding of the role that art can play in society and a greater understanding of my own work in relation to the global contemporary art world.

Last August Professor Hamlett Dobbins, who runs a local gallery, gave me the opportunity to organize a show of the work of one of my friends from the collaborative. On opening night I was overwhelmed by the turnout. Not only did my fellow students come, but professors, administrators, other artists, and members of the Memphis community were there as well. Standing in the gallery, surrounded by my peers and mentors, I was overwhelmed by the way my academic career, my work as an artist, and my personal life had become so seamlessly integrated into one community—a community of people I live with, learn from, and work alongside.

Editor′s Note: Joel, who has been named a prestigious Watson Fellow, will visit Italy, Turkey, India, South Africa and Peru while studying the topic, “It Will Not Avert Its Eyes: Toward a New Activist Aesthetic.”

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