Creating Art in an Inclusive Classroom Environment
by Marianna Sharp, CFT Communications Intern
There’s a new piece of art hanging in the Center for Teaching: a quilt made by Nila Huddleston, a Next Steps student who took Alex Sargent’s costume design course last semester. While the quilting portion was a collaborative effort among the whole class, Nila did all of the design work and drew the animals.
A senior lecturer of theatre, Sargent took the CFT’s Course Design Institute, a three-day institute focused on the idea of “Students as Producers,” last summer. She said that one element from the course design workshops that really stuck with her was the notion of developing projects for an outside audience.
“I’m a theatre designer,” Sargent said, “so my students have always worked on designs for our shows, but I think the Course Design Institute so beautifully tied together the whole idea of creating the main learning objective…which is [for my class] basically for students to think and act like designers and to use design skills to have a positive effect and to have an effect on outside audiences…It’s allowed me to make the idea of students as producers more integral in the whole way I think about teaching my class.”
Sargent had already planned for the class to create two copies of Schiaparelli dresses for display in the Cohen Art Gallery’ exhibition, The Dada Effect. (Elsa Schiaparelli was an Italian fashion designer whose work was heavily influenced by surrealism, especially Dalí.) When Sargent heard from Next Steps that Nila wanted to take the class, they worked together on developing a parallel project for her to work on.
“We made Nila’s project a sort of focus in the class,” said Sargent. “The students were working on the Schiaparelli copies and we were working on the quilt and then we highlighted what everybody was learning from Nila through the quilt project…We flipped the idea of Nila being in Next Steps and learning from other people to focus on what Nila as the Next Steps student was offering all of us as an opportunity to work with her.”
Nila already had some experience working on designs with the theatre department. “I did an internship last year with Alex and Hannah [Lazarz, Nila’s Next Steps Ambassador] at the theatre department and I loved it,” she said. Hannah took the Costume Design course as well, and Nila said she was excited to be able to work alongside her again on the quilt project.
Hannah expressed her excitement about the project as well, in a quote featured in the book the class made to commemorate the semester working with Nila to create the quilt, and to demonstrate the importance of inclusivity at Vanderbilt:
“Nila’s quilt is a perfect example of a creative process through which I got to collaborate with someone I admire as an individual who is confident and bold in her artistic choices. Even when I was dealing with the frustration of the quilting machine, I couldn’t help but be joyful because of the joy and love that Nila has put into this product.”