Benedictine College does art as service

Students in art programs at Benedictine College have the opportunity to serve their community while learning their craft. Through the Center for Service-Learning, students in the art department go out into the community to provide art education, paint beautiful murals and perform other services to those in their area. In the Benedictine tradition of ora et labora (“prayer and work”), the students are called to prayerfully utilize their gifts at the service of the larger community in whatever capacity they can.

Benedictine College was founded in 1971, when St. Benedict’s College (for men) and Mount St. Scholastica College (for women) merged. Located in Atchison, Kansas, the school has a profound Catholic identity, associated with two Benedictine monasteries — one a community of men, the other a community of women — and offers Mass three times a day in different locations on the campus.

Learning in action

Christa Kagin has been chair of the art department since 2013. She recognizes and emphasizes the importance of service learning for the art students.

“We remind the students that art is important to life — a fact they know well, personally,” Kagin said. “But beyond that, the gift of learning and creating is not theirs alone, and if they experience blessings from art, others will, too. They therefore have a responsibility to give back some of what they have been given.”

She feels that it is not enough for students to learn about art and how to create it themselves. “They need to put their learning into action, in their art, but also in their lives. Service learning is one way we ask students to do this.”

“We want our students to be engaged with their communities. We want them to see how art can be shared with others. We also want them to see how they have something to offer and something to gain.”

Outside of courses, the art department has created city murals, served at the local family art day for the Atchison Art Association and provided art to a rural elementary school that does not have an art teacher, according to Kagin.

“We have been called by God to share the gifts we have with those in need. Service learning allows students to see that giving need not be monetary, nor just mission-based; giving is sharing your own passion in a generous way with others,” Kagin said.

Lasting impact

The effect that service learning has had on the community, as well as the students themselves, is unquestionable. Many students have found that it influences them for the rest of their lives, even having an impact on their career choices.

Marie Orsinger, a 2016 graduate of Benedictine College, helped teach art to the students at an elementary school in Effingham, Kansas, which had taken art out of the curriculum; another year, she did the same thing for high schoolers.

“This was a chance to bring art to students who do not normally get to create, but actually could use it the most,” she said.

In her senior year, Orsinger got some field experience in art therapy, working with a 10-year-old boy in Atchison. After observing him and writing out goals, they began meeting once a week for about eight weeks.

“By the end of the eight weeks,” Orsinger said, “he had made progress toward all the goals I set for our sessions. He saw himself as being good. He controlled his anger. He wanted to try in class.”

This experience helped shape Orsinger’s goals for herself and her career.

“The biggest blessing I have received from these opportunities has been seeing how art can heal, grow and change people,” she said.

Kelsey Marchand, an art education major going into her senior year at Benedictine, spent three weeks team-teaching at a high school in Atchison, Kansas.

The school does not have an art program, so she and others from Benedictine planned lessons to “share the basic foundations of art, while also encouraging personal and group creativity and growth,” she said.

While at first she thought the students would do the bulk of the learning, she found herself getting more from the experience than she ever imagined.

“The unique personalities of the students, as well as the raw talent and creativity they possessed, regularly inspired, energized and motivated me,” Marchand said. “I found myself giving, but also receiving abundantly.”

The service-learning experience helped Marchand realize that she wants to be a teacher of the arts, seeking “to use art to teach about the importance of presence, service to others and human dignity.”

Rachel Francis, a 2015 graduate of Benedictine College, is pursuing a master’s of science in art therapy at Florida State University.

While at Benedictine, Francis enjoyed working with nearby schools to lead art experientials, including the home-school community and the art association.

“What I fell in love with was watching each child’s mind come to life in the artwork,” she said. “It’s honestly the most incredible thing.”

Living out service

This experience has helped lead Francis into a life of dedicated service. After graduating, she spent 15 months at Camp Courageous in Iowa working with people with disabilities; she then went on to graduate school.

The service-learning component of her time at Benedictine helped guide Francis toward the art-therapy career she is pursuing.

“The truth is that I have faith not in myself, but in God. I have faith that I was led to Benedictine College, to the art department and ultimately to Christa Kagin, who introduced me to art therapy,” she said.

“In the end, it’s not about me. It’s not about me now, and it will never be about me when I’m the art therapist in the room,” Francis said.

“It will always be about truth; the truth about God, his creation, the natural design of creativity in the human brain. It will be about the client, their story, their needs and their goals,” Francis said. “It will be about that mysterious act of creating art where the metaphysical meets the physical, where neuroscience meets spirituality, where the things we feel but can’t articulate become things we can see.”

Paul Senz writes from Oregon.

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