In My Own Words: Art Education Student Dana Helwick on Teaching in Kosovo

In March, Ana Fernandez, Emma Exley, and I travelled to Suhareka, a small town in Kosovo, to participate in an arts-based community development project.

We spent a week teaching at the Fallbach-Haus, a community cultural center that provides a variety of educational activities and classes for children and youth in the local area. Fellbach-Haus programs focus on peace and reconciliation in response to the former war in the Balkans. During that war in the late 1990s, 90% of the houses were damaged or destroyed in Suhareka and a significant portion of the population lost family members and loved ones. More than ten years later there are still plenty of reminders of the war in Suhareka. It was interesting to visit a community that is still in the process of redefining their collective identity in the wake of such a tragic event.

Teaching at Fellbach-Haus was a unique and exciting experience because the community is committed to the arts and culture as an economic focus for the region. Throughout the week we implemented a variety of workshops to engage children and youth in exercises in animation. We were particularly interested in exploring the possibilities of cultural and community development through the arts by introducing art and design skills that students could potentially use for personal growth as well as future economic benefit. We also aimed to balance play and proficiency by providing students with opportunities to approach familiar media, such as drawing and painting, in new and different ways. In this sense, we also hoped to encourage critical as well as creative thinking.

During our week at Fellbach-Haus we taught three separate classes – one more advanced group with students ages 15-19, one youth group with students ages 14-16, and one group of younger students ages 7-12.

With the younger students we used popular Claymation cartoon Wallace and Gromit to engage them in a series of playful and imaginative stop-motion animation projects. With the older students we used the work of South African artist William Kentridge as a source of inspiration. Kentridge uses animation and drawing as a tool for exploring the resilience of memory in the face of destruction.  (Like post-apartheid South Africa, Suhareka is still in the process of recovering cultural memories that were suppressed by military and political powers.) In just a few short, days, the older students created individual narratives, completed a series of drawings, and then photographed and edited their own animation videos. At the end of the week Fellbach-Haus premiered Suhareka’s first animation film festival.

Robert McCallum (PhD ’07) , a faculty member in Steinhardt’s art education program and Cindy Maguire (PhD ’08) of Adelphi University’s art education program, originally invited us to participate in the programs at Fellbach-Haus. Maguire and McCallum began this work in 2010, organizing annual workshops via collaborative curriculum design with Refki Gollopeni, artist and resident arts educator, and Mejtim Bytyqi and Ismet Suka, Directors at the Fellbach-Haus.

Refki Gollopeni says that this year’s workshop will be the inspiration for a larger project he will work on with students to tell the story of Suhareka through drawing and animation. Several of this year’s animations have also been submitted to Rotoball, a collaborative global animation project for secondary school students. Additionally, we hope to submit some of the animations to the Sharjah Children Biennial, an international celebration of children’s art hosted in the UAE.

Ana, Emma and I certainly hope to return to Suhareka next year with Maguire and McCallum to continue this project and develop new relationships with the cultural center.

Dana Helwick, Ana Fernandez, and Emma Exley are graduate students in Steinhardt’s Department of Art and Arts Professions program in art education.

(Photos:  Ana Fernandez working with our advanced group of students.  Teachers and students (left to right): Gresa Berisha, Diellza Elshani,  Dana Helwick, Mirela Hoxha, Anita Ramshaj and Emma Exley)