Blog Post

Platform for Public Scholars: Home Grown; University of Iowa Public Artists and Scholars

This evening's session, "Home Grown: University of Iowa Public Artists and Scholars," includes presentations by Linda Bolton (Department of English), Carolyn Colvin (Language, Literacy and Culture Program, Department of Education), Ed Folsom (Department of English), Marshall Poe (Department of History), and Rachel Williams (School of Art and Art History/Art Education).


Linda Bolton has been a collaborative partner in the installation of three public art pieces, including a Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Garden in Columbia, Missouri.  She began work on the MLK memorial in 1992, and she worked to emphasize the role of language in MLK's legacy.  Linda talks about a model of justice that's based on collaboration, and that's evolutionary and participatory.  This was the kind of justice that Linda and artist Barbara Grygutis aimed to represent in the MLK memorial project. 


MLK was assassinated when Linda was 13 years old.  Linda was a classmate of Yolanda, MLK's daughter who was the same age.  Yolanda was the "public" Linda imagined when she went to work on the project.  Linda shares some excerpts from MLKs speeches and writings that made it into the memorial: "I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies... Nonviolence is ultimately a way of life... We must work unceasingly to lift this nation that we love to a higher destiny... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word... We will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood... We've got some difficult days ahead.  But it doesn't matter with me now.  Because I've been to the mountaintop and I've seen the promised land.


The monument itself includes a series of pillars at the top of an amphitheater and a spiral path of 39 1/3 blocks.  The community and the schools use the space for reflection, talks, events--even inspirational speeches for the local basketball team.  It's a place of inspiration, a place of beauty, a place of peace. 


Carolyn Colvin presented on the topic of Literacy and Citizenship for Immigrant Adults in Rural Iowa, a project in West Liberty, Iowa--a community of 2,500 with a predominantly Spanish-speaking populace that used to be the most diverse community between Chicago and Denver.  Mexican-origin families have lived in West Liberty since the early 1900s.  The town has a complex ethnic history, largely based on US Immigration policies re: unskilled labor; there is a meat packing plant in the community that employs many immigrant workers today. 


Carolyn's project employs culturally responsive pedagogy to tutor adults and children in the West Liberty community in language and literacy.  Carolyn asks her language tutors to challenge their assumptions with the following list of challenges: 1) Take stock of what adult students know related to language and learning; 2) Build all instruction from a place of respect.  Adults set their own learning goals; 3) Recognize that literacy instruction must have a purpose in the student's lives rather than reflect school-like learning; 4) Develop awareness for culturally based ways of learning and knowing; 5) Constantly attend to our own privilege (class, gender, race/ethnicity and language); and 6) Teach elbow to elbow, rather than teaching from above. 


Carolyn poses this question to her tutors: What do we expect of immigrants in Iowa?  Do we expect them to accept their place in society?  Or, can we imagine something better?


Ed Folsom is the co-founder of The Walt Whitman Archive (  Whitman never trusted academics, Ed begins by saying.  He wanted to make poetry that was accessible to and actually read by working people in America, from farmers to ferry workers.  He had his poetry printed in pocket-size volumes to be carried around to work.  Despite Whitman's wish, the literary folks and professors are ultimately the ones who anthologized Whitman; his history is largely an academic one.  But his work has always had a life and a vitality outside of academic circles, Ed reminds us.  This history includes, among other things, a recent Levis ad campaign in which Whitman becomes the spokesman for the tough, American, pioneer clothing. 


As a result of things like the Levi campaign--that led to a spike in hits--The Whitman Archive has evolved over time from a scholarly resource to an open-access public archive.  The archive, which began with Ed, Kenneth M. Price, and one tech-savvy grad student, now has over 30 scholars in 4 countries contributing to it. 


The database of users, too, has grown; the archive has 25,000 users a day.  The usership has become increasingly international--as a result, translations have begun to be included in the database.  The growing public, Ed says, have become our collaborators.  Ed suggests that Whitman might (however grudgingly) approve of scholars who make his work newly accessible to the audience he always wanted.


Marshall Poe hosts New Books in History, a podcast you can find at  Marshall begins by talking about how the monograph can be made publicly accessible through technology like podcasts.  We're statistically unlikely to meet people share the same weird and wacky interests we have, Marshall explains, but the Internet allows us to find one another, to create a community out of whatever your obscure interest you might have.  Since academics are willing to give free interviews on their obscure topic of choice, and since so many software programs are now available at no cost, its pretty easy to assemble a series of highbrow discussions on history for free.  Here's his lesson: if you see something on the web that you want to do, you can do it. 


Concluding tonight's session, Rachel Williams spoke about public scholarship in arts education, which she describes as interdisciplinary, nontraditional, generative, collaborative, meandering, and giving voice to the invisible.  Rachel talks about living like a two headed snake: she both writes graphic historiography novels and leads an initiative to bring art to women's prisons.  Rachel told us about a series of projects: the Blankets of Love project, in which incarcerated women made blankets for girls in juvenile homes; the What Girls Know project, in which these same girls in juvenile homes presented an original theater production on their experiences; and the CHANGE project, an initiative housed by the Women's Resource and Action Center in which trained providers will work collaboratively with community stakeholders to provide meaningful instruction in the arts and humanities. 


One remark on the Q&A: Ed Folsom talked about how digital resources level the playing field--students today have access to materials that used to be seen only by seasoned experts.  How does this change shape both scholarship and pedagogy?



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