While walking through the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood one day, Robert Tom, professor of sculpture and ceramics, detected an invisible wall between Augsburg and the rest of the community. When expressing his concern to another professor, he was asked, “Well, what are you going to do about it?”
After much thought, Tom came up with a solution. He applied for and received a grant from Forecast Public Arts and the Minnesota State Arts Board, and thus the Augsburg College-Cedar Riverside Pottery Cooperative was born.
Every Tuesday, fifth- through eighth-graders from Cedar-Riverside Community School spend part of their school day in Augsburg’s ceramics studio. The nearby charter school serves a population overwhelmingly drawn from immigrant families — many of its students are challenged by language barriers, culture shock, separation from family members, poverty, and trauma caused by war. The pottery cooperative has offered these young students a reprieve, an opportunity to connect with college students, and art education. Furthermore, it has offered Augsburg students one more way to make an impact on the community.
Together, the students are creating a ceramic bas-relief mural. Participants from both communities bring objects that have significant meaning to them, whether representing their faith tradition, thoughts, values, concerns, or even just a favorite toy, and reproduce them in press molds. Once completed, the mural will be a rich display of symbols and icons of cross-cultural perspectives.
Tom expects that the mural will keep growing and evolving for many years, so that graduates of both Augsburg and the charter school will be able to return to campus and see their work as part of a legacy.
“Giving ownership to both Augsburg College and the Cedar-Riverside community through a collaborative effort will promote a deeper level of understanding and commitment as integral parts of a whole,” says tom. “By acknowledging our commonalities, we can then concentrate on understanding our differences. Now, more than ever, there is a need to provide a focus for thought as life unfolds.”