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February 21, 2011 / pcatcityartsri

Nick’s Bio

1. Name: Nicholas V. Longo

2. Title: Director of Global Studies and Associate Professor, Public and Community Service Studies

3. Hometown: Yonkers, NY

4. How long have you been involved in the Providence College Community? I actually graduated from Providence College in 1996, so I was a student in the very early days of the Feinstein Institute I then came back as a faculty member in Public and Community Service Studies and to direct the Global Studies program in 2008.

5. Do you have any previous connection to South Providence community? We lived in South Providence right near CityArts for a few years and Aleida Benitez, my wife, works at CityArts, so we are very invested in this community.

6. What is your favorite part of the Providence (Providence College) Community? I love the students at Providence College and the way they put their passion and idealism into action through courses like this.

7. What community organizations have you and do you work with in Providence? Almost all of the courses I teach have a community engagement component of some kind, so I partner with a lot of community organizations in Providence. But I’ve only taught a few courses like this one in which the entire class partners with a specific community partner, like CityArts, which I find to be a much more powerful model for reciprocal and meaningful learning.

8. What is the place of art in a community? I’ve learned that art isn’t just something you go passively look at hanging on the walls of a museum; it is also something we can all create. Thus, I’m most interested in the way community-based art—or the art of everyday life—is not only part of a community, but also helps to create community. Things like community murals or community photography projects, for instance, bring diverse people together to create something that is sustainable and has real, public value. And this idea of art is at the fabric of just about every vibrant community—along with this course.

9. What is the place of art, specifically in your own community? My wife, Aleida, works at CityArts, has a masters in art education, and wrote her thesis about “treasures in our community” examining how art makes your house a home. She found that art evokes memory, creates comfort, and is often passed down from generation to generation. She tells a story about the famous Mexican artist, Diego Rivera, and how when he was a young child he loved to draw on the walls of his house. Most parents would yell at their child, but Diego’s parents encouraged him by putting canvasses all around the house. He went on to become the most famous muralist of our time.

That’s the way we all should think about encouraging the artistic talents of youth. And we should be trying to build communities with this kind of ethos. We try to do this with our kids, Maya and Noah, and I think it’s really the essence of why an organization like CityArts plays such a vital role in the Southside community. It creates space for youth to be and do artist, while being recognized by their families and the broader community. By cultivating the artistic talents of young people (talents they often don’t even know they have), CityArts is doing for kids in the community what Diego Rivera’s parents did for him.

10. What motivated you to create and instruct this course? I’ve always had an interest in the role art can play in rebuilding and sustaining community and even used photography in a few urban leadership courses I taught for inner city high school students in St. Paul, Minnesota while I was a graduate student. But I’ve never had any artistic background—or talent—so I’m pretty limited in my ability to teach a course like this. My wife, Aleida, is the community-based art educator in our family.

But then when Eric Sung and I started at Providence College the same year [in 2008] we had a lot of chances to talk about our mutual interests and desire to teach a service-learning course together. He’s such a committed teacher and unbelievably talented photographer that I jumped at the chance to teach with him. So we decided to pilot the course this year. At first we were planning to do a course together around community photography internationally, but we decided to try teaching it locally first—before adding the international component in the future.

Eric and I then had a series of conversations with the staff at CityArts and they were really excited to partner with us. We knew that CityArts is one of the cutting edge-arts organizations in Providence working with youth and they saw some of the resources our students could bring to their young artists.

So, we had the partnership developed, but we weren’t really sure how much interest there would be in the course among PC students given the tremendous amount of commitment the course would require (including spending each Friday afternoon teaching at CityArts), but it filled during pre-registration (and is even overenrolled) and we also had some public service alumni, including Adj Marshall, offer to participate and help with the course.

Because we wanted to really do this course well this first time (we didn’t want to be experimenting with a new course at the expense of our community partner), we also wanted to find a community faculty member to teach the course with us. We were lucky that Chandelle Wilson, a young community leader who studied photography at RISD—and AS220 before that—was willing to co-teach the course as a community instructor and her contribution has been invaluable.

We were also committed to having this course be led by the students, so we tried to develop each aspect of the course in a collaborative manner that sees our students as colleagues and co-creators. Thus, much like the content we are studying, the development and teaching of this course is about community practice.

11. What are your plans for the future for this course? Our hope is to continue the partnership with CityArts, but also develop an international component to the course. The next time we teach the course, we’d like to have students teach a photography workshop over spring break in Latin America, as well. But we also want to remain open to learning from this first experiment: being able to see what the community lens teaches all of us and letting that guide what the future of this idea should become.

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