Art class gives creativity a cause

Featured photo courtesy Flickr user 仁仔 何

Billie Grace Lynn, an associate professor in the University of Miami Department of Art and Art History, wants to make the world a better place through art. She is inspired by socially engaged art projects like Project Row Houses, in which a team of artists and volunteers restored derelict houses for low-income African-American families in the Third Ward area of Houston, Texas.

“Through my research, I discovered some amazing projects that artists are doing in communities all over the world,” Lynn said. “I decided I wanted to be a part of that.”

In order to realize her dream, Lynn created Socially Engaged Art, a class where students use art to help local communities. She got her idea approved by the Office of Community Engagement in 2013, and the first section of Socially Engaged Art was offered in spring 2014.

Last spring, 12 students led by Lynn welded steel bars into bike racks for children in Opa-Locka, Fla.

According to Victoria Diaz, a senior majoring in fine arts with a concentration in painting, the class visited a community center in Opa-Locka last Thursday, where they worked on art projects with children from nearby elementary schools.

As soon as they arrived, Diaz and her classmates began making kites with the children and asked them to draw designs for bike racks.

“After the children submitted their designs, our class had to get together and synthesize about 200 drawings into six designs,” Diaz said. The class then built models of those designs and asked the children to vote on their three favorite models.

Diaz and her classmates spent the last three weeks of the class building the three bike racks that the children selected. Though the class did not have much experience in welding, they managed to finish a few days before finals ended.

“When we started, no one in the class knew how to work with metal,” Diaz said. “By the end, we made professional-grade bike racks.”

This year, Lynn and her students will partner with the Gibson-Bethel Community Center in South Miami to aid children in their after-school program and senior citizens who live in the area.

They will also work with Alex’s Place, a treatment center for children with cancer and blood diseases in the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at UM’s Miller School of Medicine.

Senior Natasha Mijares, double majoring in creative writing and art, has enrolled in the class. She is excited about helping local communities through art.

“I chose this course because I was inspired by the students in the previous year’s class,” Mijares said. “Right now we are reading and discussing the idea of socially engaged art to discover the possibilities that are available to us.”

For more information on the Socially Engaged Art course, input ART 315 on the UM course search engine or email Professor Lynn at

Featured photo courtesy Flickr user 仁仔 何