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Artist of the Month - November 2003

For information about any of my classes or community art projects:

Sydney Francis, MFA
259-3989

Sydney Francis: The Art of Building Community
by Sydney Francis


Aspens
 

Delicate Arch mural under Main Street overpass
along Mill Creek Parkway
 

German volunteers working on mural on 400 East
 
 

In past articles, you have read my commentary and conclusions from interviews with local artists. But this month, I have the opportunity to tell you about myself and my artwork. I am Sydney Francis and I hold a Master’s of Fine Art in Inter-disciplinary Art. My specialization is in using art to build community, communication, and communion. My primary medium is painting, but I am interested in any art or craft which allows one to use his/her hands as a means of creativity and expression.

I am fortunate to have grown up in a family of artists, in which art was encouraged. My mother is a designer of fine jewelry and glass sculpture. My father was a watercolor painter. And unlike many artists, I was actually encouraged to excel in and pursue my passion in life.

My artistic practice currently has several interconnected layers: my personal artistic practice, teaching the visual arts, and facilitating community based art projects. My heart lies in working with people in a collaborative setting to create art where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

I have been very lucky this year to have been able to teach a variety of classes at the Moab Arts and Recreation Center, the College of Eastern Utah, and at my own private studio. The classes include Beginning Drawing, Figure Drawing, Plein Air painting, Color Theory, and the Introduction to Visual Arts (art appreciation). I love teaching, as it is great fun to work with diverse creative minds and learn from student’s questions, comments and insights into art.I think teaching art classes is a collaborative effort, and therefore, very much a part of my interest in building community, communication and communion through art.
In my personal artistic practice I have been working in watercolor. One of my most current paintings is “Sunflowers”. This painting is a combined result of techniques encouraged by Lola Krummenacher’s watercolor class at the MARC, ideas inspired by my Color Theory class, and a love for sunflowers which are abundant in my yard. My personal artistic practice allows me to experiment with new media, rejuvenate myself through art, and hone my creative and technical skills.

My main focus of this last year, however, has been to work with teenagers and adults to do community based art, making art that is by, for, and part of the local community. I have worked with Robynn Parker of Youth Corrections since last December designing a rehabilitative art program, which would give back to the community. But our vision has been postponed due to a lack of funding for this kind of work. In June, David Olsen, the Planning and Zoning Director of the City of Moab asked me to consider painting some murals at the new City offices on Center Street. For this project, Olsen agreed to let me coordinate a group of local students and teenagers to paint murals on the various exterior walls of the building. Although the project was to begin in September, we have been delayed by a variety of logistical concerns, such as the weather and the new cement courtyard (an artwork in and of itself). But he and I have agreed to keep the project open for Spring of 2004.

Having had access to some Grand County students for the City mural project but no mural to paint, a community art opportunity opened at the Canyonlands Community Recycling Center, last month. We were asked to repaint the CCRC sign, and in return we would get access to free recycled materials in which to make a recycled sculpture. This group and I had a limited time frame in which to work on our art project, approximately 12 hours total, after school. The goal of this project at the Recycling Center was to foster teamwork, communication, art and environmental education, and creativity among teen peers.

My interest in this kind community based artwork has been sustained by a series of murals that I have done in the last year with German volunteers. I was asked by International Adventure Tours to facilitate a group of German, University students, ranging from 21-25 years of age, to paint murals on the blank walls of the Mill Creek Parkway (as agreed to by the City of Moab). For the first group, I did not know what to expect in terms of their interests in art and their abilities in painting. So ultimately if worse came to worse, I would design and outline the mural and delegate simple painting jobs to complete the project.

However, my fears were put to rest by this first group who had an abundance of art experience, creative insight, and initiative among them. It was this group that collaborated to visualize and complete the design of Delicate Arch that now proudly stands under the Main Street overpass on the Mill Creek Parkway.

In the above example, I really feel that my goal to facilitate a product where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts comes into practice. The resulting art product is a team effort, where each person’s unique contribution adds to the success of the whole. My contribution as facilitator is to encourage ideas and creativity, provide technical support, manage the group dynamic, and facilitate the completion of the mural. However, my role as facilitator is no more or less important than the roles played by each of the contributing participants, and this is where I feel my vision for community building is played out on a small scale. In other words, all of the parts and participants are integral to the resulting whole. And within this whole, building community (and communication teamwork) is the ultimate collaborative art.

 

For information about classes taught at the MARC, contact Debbie at 259-6272. I will be starting an after school visual arts class for Middle School aged students in November. For information about any of my classes or community art projects, please call me, Sydney Francis, MFA at 259-3989.

 
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