Each semester, painting and drawing classes typically occur in what originally was an Augsburg College chapel. Old Main 100 is an inspiring place with 25-foot ceilings and soaring windows. On-campus studios offer focused spaces for students to learn about visual art media, methods, and creative expression. For 25 years, Associate Professor and Art Department Co‑Chair Tara Sweeney has taught foundational drawing principles in Old Main with what she calls “as few spectators and distractions as possible,” and in recent years she also has led short-term international travel courses in which students develop the same skills without the support of a traditional studio.
This spring, Sweeney and her Minneapolis-based students traveled close to home as they stepped beyond the boundaries of the campus studio, choosing to forgo a controlled setting to embrace learning opportunities present in public areas that are as complex and challenging as they are diverse.
“Instead of creating a still life with the same old props, I utilized the city as subject matter and classroom,” Sweeney said. “Students were as actively engaged in creative placemaking as they were in making drawings — effectively shaping the physical and social character of whatever neighborhood, museum, coffee shop, or landmark we chose as a drawing site.”
A core challenge
In the article “The Power of Experiential Education,” nationally recognized education scholar and professor Janet Eyler noted that a central challenge for liberal arts educators like Sweeney—and indeed the entire Augsburg College faculty—is to “design learning environments and instruction so that students will be able to use what they learn in appropriate new contexts.” That is, to successfully “bridge classroom study and life in the world and to transform inert knowledge into knowledge-in-use.”
In a drawing course, for instance, students develop technical skills while exploring individual subject matter and creative expression. It is perhaps the latter of these elements that came into clearer focus when Sweeney took her students out in the community.
The artists “made connections with strangers and learned things about themselves in the process,” Sweeney said. They become comfortable creating art in the midst of daily life and finished the course with “real skills and the right tools to continue drawing wherever they find themselves and wherever inspiration finds them.”
Just a glimpse
At Augsburg, students across disciplines and degree programs benefit from faculty instruction that integrates experiential learning opportunities with traditional instructional methods, thereby linking course concepts with real-world applications. The pages that follow offer a glimpse at a small sample of the faculty and students who use Minneapolis as their classroom.
HON 230: Arts and the Cities
Students in Augsburg College’s Honors Program join Minnesota Orchestra performers onstage following a symphony event at Orchestra Hall. As an interdisciplinary course, “Arts and the Cities” unites film, music, theater, and visual art — offering students the chance to peruse Picassos, soak in Shakespeare, and mingle with musicians. Together, students and teachers explore the role of the arts in a culturally dynamic urban setting.
“Students enjoy the experiential nature of this course,” said Associate Professor of Music Merilee Klemp ’75. “They often comment that it presents them with opportunities that they would not have on their own and deepens their understanding of the role of the arts in their lives long after the course is over.”
ENV 120: Environmental Science
Students clad in safety gear and earplugs to dampen the deafening noise weave their way through a Eureka Recycling processing plant. Environmental Science focuses on understanding and resolving problems humans have created in the natural world. The course includes hands-on learning opportunities that make complex scientific concepts more approachable and applicable for students.
“The city is the perfect place for these types of experiences to happen—it’s all right at our fingertips: a wastewater treatment plant, power plant, recycling center, and public transit,” said Assistant Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies Emily Schilling. “We can observe the detrimental effects humans are having on the environment, and we also can see some of the ways we are trying to mitigate that impact.”
MIS 375: E-Commerce
Students speak with Abdirahman Mukhtar, a youth program manager at Pillsbury United Communities’ Brian Coyle Center. Mukhtar oversees the Sisterhood Boutique, a secondhand clothing store that serves as a training ground for young women to learn about entrepreneurship, business, community partnerships, and sustainable fashion. Through their discussions with Mukhtar, the Auggies began to apply some of their fundamental course concepts in a real-world setting.
[Top Image]: Johanna Goggins ’16 works on a sketch in the solarium at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis.