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KU design students collaborate on Belfast reconciliation project

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

LAWRENCE — This past summer four recent graduates from the University of Kansas Department of Design worked with the Genesis+Art Studio to use art to promote social justice and reconciliation within the East Belfast community in Northern Ireland.

Chuck Hoffman and his wife, Peg Carlson-Hoffman, founded the Kansas City, Mo., studio.

"Each spring semester, we send visual communication design seniors out to work with area design professionals, firms and nonprofit organizations," said Jeremy Shellhorn, associate professor of design.

"We were aware Chuck and Peg were working in Belfast. We knew they would probably cook up something for our seniors that would be amazing and would communicate positive social change," Shellhorn said.

"We visited Belfast years ago and fell in love with the people," said Hoffman. "However, at the time of our visit there was a great division within the Northern Ireland community. We wondered how art could change that."

Since then the Hoffmans have made 12 visits to Belfast and built relationships with different community organizations there.

At Shellhorn's invitation, last fall Hoffman wrote a brief overview for a mural project that would use the power of art and design to stimulate social change. Initially a project for study, it turned into a real project.

"We spent the spring semester working on mural designs and learning about the East Belfast community, its conflict and divisions. The students were amazing. They all had a world view and were eager to get into social justice," Hoffman said.

In the summer Hoffman and the students, Jared Bergeron, Lenexa, Amanda Kilwin, St. Peters, Mo., Lauren Maibach, Arlington, Texas, and Samantha Fine, Chicago, worked with volunteers from the Ballymac Community Group and the East Belfast Partnership to create the mural. It is located in a pedestrian tunnel that connects East Belfast to the Titanic Quarter Rail stop.

A blog about the project can be seen at kumuralproject.wordpress.com.

Hoffman points to community engagement and artistic participation as a means to building relationships and positive social change. In creating together as a community, there is a respect for the mural as evidence that art works for restoration and reconciliation.

"After being in place for several months, the mural is still untouched by graffiti, and the community is still excited by it," he said.

Shellhorn is pleased with the outcome. "We have been really proud of how this experience provides an interim step for students. They can apply their visual communication design skills in a professional context before graduating," he said.

For more information about Gensis+Art Studio and the Titanic Quarter Mural Project, visit the studio website.

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