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Bringing Communities Together Through Art

As long as she’s teaching art in some fashion or another, Virginia “Ginnie” Driggers says she’ll be extremely satisfied with wherever her career takes her.

“But my dream — at the moment — is to build an art exchange that starts out with like three communities,” said the 21-year old Driggers, who’s majoring in Art Education. “And once that goes well, bringing in a fourth and a fifth community. My idea is using art as connections — connections between cultures — and basically trying to make an actual impact with art.”

That idea is a continuation of the art exchange model Driggers built for her summer research project for VCU's Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, in which she used the model to build a connection between a local art center in Richmond and an elementary school in the rural highlands of Guatemala.

“An art exchange works like a pen pal,” Driggers said. “It works especially well for two cultures that cannot speak the same language. And so the idea with an art exchange is that you’re connecting people through the process, the theme. … They can immediately begin to understand a little bit more about the person who had just given them their work because they went through the same experiences. … So it’s the nonverbal pen pal.”


However, while international pen pals are a time-honored tradition in elementary schools, Driggers found that many teachers balk at the idea of an art exchange.

“The issue is when we ask teachers if they want to do an exchange, all of them say, ‘I don’t even know where to start, I don’t have the time,’ things like that,” Driggers explained. “So my idea was making a model — almost like an equation — in which they plug in the values. So if you want to do this lesson, you have to think about this and this and this. A very simple, easy-to-read and easy-to-understand way of making a successful art exchange. And as long as you follow these certain steps, you will have success.”

Driggers split the majority of last summer between Richmond and Guatemala researching, interviewing and getting feedback on her program. Her final report, “Discovering Multicultural Connections in the Classroom,” comprises her research results, which back up her formula for a successful art exchange. The model was so successful that she’s donating it to the Art Education department at VCU and a local nonprofit. She’ll present her results at the Third Annual Poster Symposium for Undergraduate Research and Creativity.

The project was instrumental in teaching Driggers — a self-described project starter — how to rein in her ideas, while simultaneously promoting her creativity, said Driggers’ faculty mentor, Jan Johnston.

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“Programs such as this encourage and support rigorous planning, self-direction and mentoring,” Johnston said. “In Ginnie's case it has encouraged her to explore and develop her research over several semesters, expanding her knowledge in a progressively more ambitious and complex manner. … She has gained a much deeper appreciation for and understanding of the field of education. She has also chosen an area of research that connects her love of children and interest in other cultures with service and curriculum planning.”

Having a faculty mentor was invaluable to the process, Driggers said.

“(Johnston) was very good at questioning what I was doing and why it was important. … It was criticism that I really needed,” Driggers said. “My projects are actually a lot stronger, so I think it’s important to have that kind of devil’s advocate — not making you self-doubt, but making you question your steps to make sure they’re the right ones. “

Johnston, too, learned much from the experience.

Driggers’ “research has paralleled, and in many cases, overlapped mine and we have both benefited from the exchange of resources and feedback,” Johnston said.

For Driggers, the fellowship has given her more than just a workable model to put on her resume.

“This fellowship has given me the opportunity to do a project which I could not afford or budget the time to do otherwise,” she said. “It gave me the confidence to develop a program that could benefit many different types of people. The fellowship marked a pivotal point in my education when I went from doing what was assigned and living up to others’ expectations to having to live up to my own expectations. I can say without a doubt that the involvement with that program has led me to be the student I am today who builds connections between communities at home and abroad.”

Virginia
Virginia "Ginnie" Driggers