Civic Studio Project founder honored

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The efforts of Paul Wittenbraker as a tireless advocate for creating connections between the academic community and the larger community were recently recognized with a Michigan Campus Compact Award.

Michigan Campus Compact is a coalition of college and university presidents, with 41-member campuses and a goal of building civic engagement into campus and academic life. The Faculty/Staff Community Service-Learning Award is given to one person from each campus who engages or influences students to be involved in community service or service-learning through modeling, influence or instruction.

Wittenbraker, a faculty member in the Department of Art and Design at Grand Valley State University, started the Civic Studio Project in 1999, as a course in public art. Each semester, his students establish a temporary studio in the community and make art that is locally relevant. Studio participants also contribute volunteer service to existing agencies and programs in the vicinity of the project site.

"Through these projects the students learn about the communities they are living and working in," said Wittenbraker. "It changes their view of public service, public space, audience and the possibilities for community engagement and for a larger educational connection for art."

The current semester students are at work on the Civic Studio Wealthy Project, which focuses on public space along the full length of Wealthy Street, from the former Butterworth Dump, near John Ball Zoo, to Reeds Lake, in East Grand Rapids. Each studio member is researching one of 15 sections to discover its history, current status and theorize what could be. They will report their findings on Viget, a wiki for the City of Grand Rapids, started in March 2007, by Wittenbraker, Michael Greene and George Wietor. Viget is a collaborative project of Civic Studio and G-RAD.org.

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