This excerpt of an article that recently appeared on the AIGA website is reprinted by permission from its author, KT Meaney, a visiting professor at the NC State College of Design.
Hip Hop Haven in the Triangle (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, NC) is a nonprofit that reaches out to inner-city youth, providing a home away from home. They use hip-hop as a vehicle to address social problems. Adolescents meet there to take classes or get help with homework. The Haven just opened and they just happened to be our neighbor—a big bang, we found clientele.
The goal of the exhibition in Fall, 2009, was two-fold: to raise awareness for Hip Hop Haven and give my students exhibition design experience. In doing so, we learned about hip-hop. “Rapper’s Delight” stair graphics made you hip-hop up the stairs. A “B-boying” video told why it’s not the same as “break dancing.” A timeline hung on a clothesline. Graffiti styles—throw-ups, tags and wild-style—were classified on spray-paint cans floating in midair. We also exhibited collateral material—gifts for the Haven that included stationery, brochures and posters, supplemented by a website.
Portraits of the Hip Hop Haven kids, taken by their peers, were suspended from the ceiling (photo: Nick Schlax).
But the heart of the show was in the heart of the room: larger-than-life photographs of the Hip Hop Haven kids that were mounted from the rafters. All of those portraits were taken by the Haven kids themselves, who had little or no prior experience with photography. Of their own accord, the NCSU students—spearheaded by Nick Schlax, Helen Shaffer and Dan Marino—taught the Hip Hop Haven students about lighting and framing. After presenting the basic functions of the camera, my students set up a photo shoot. The hip-hop kids brought in objects that expressed themselves. Lights, camera, action, we have amateurs shooting like professionals. Setting up real situations to work in, you get real results in which everyone learns something.
Pictured above (clockwise): Anthony Smith (by Jermal Hooker); Kevin
Barber (by Demarcus McNeil); Kevin Barber and Briana Robinson (by
Demarcus McNeil); and Charles McPhail (by Shahndle Smith).
I discovered in the process that to be a better teacher I need to prepare my students not for real world experiences but for better world experiences. Not only did my class design a real exhibition; they proposed an exhibition that would not have happened otherwise, which brought hundreds of visitors to a place that deserved recognition.