Artist Steve Prince and students create art that asks how we want to live together.

By Robyn Rime

Poverty. War. Greed. 

Love. Beauty. Music. 

A community art project in Geneseo’s Kinetic Gallery last winter tackled powerful 21st-century problems and proposed solutions in a collaborative piece that brought together students to create art and generate meaningful discussions. 

Titled “Urban Garden,” the artwork was part of the innovative interdisciplinary course exploring The Art of Steve Prince, offered during the spring semester by Distinguished Teaching Professor of English Beth McCoy through the Center for Integrative Learning. Taught in collaboration with faculty from eight academic and administrative departments, the course featured a week-long residency by Prince, culminating in the completed art. 

“My artistic process is focused on community engagement,” Prince has said. “I have consistently made work that endeavors to venture beyond social commentary and offers solutions to our communal problems.”

Prince conducted classes in the gallery, and students in the course contributed to the growing mural throughout the week. McCoy also issued an open call to all Geneseo students and community members to participate. The piece developed organically, as each person contributed images according to their viewpoints and beliefs. 

Prince feels such collaborative pieces are ideal for exploring problems and solutions. “We see what’s important to other people, see what our neighbor thinks,” he said. “What do they deem to be problematic? What do they deem to be beautiful and sustaining for us all?”

If we use art to confront those hurts, he believes, there’s triumph to be found on the other side.

The resulting artwork was as big as its topic: two sheets of paper, 4-feet-tall by 25-feet-long covered the gallery walls, one each for the troubling and positive aspects of community the art explored. Like much of Prince’s work, “Urban Garden” featured themes of growth and renewal, “metaphorically looking at America as a giant garden,” he said. One wall portrayed a woman digging up a weed to depict prison reform; another image showed chemical-laden rain poisoning crops and livestock. The facing wall bloomed with lush images of music, literature and plants nourished by a glowing sun and moon. 

“Everyone has a particular lens on how they look at the world and how they perceive it,” said Prince. “Hopefully, it will go beyond just us making these elements on the wall and move into drawing a deeper sensitivity for each other and also spur us all into action.” 

Sabrina Bramwell ’19 contributed a singing mouth with musical notes that morphed into the roots of a flower to represent the value of music in her life. She especially appreciated how the project blended unity and the differences among people it seemed to promote. 

“It reflected our thoughts and emotions, passions and fears,” she said, “but the difference in how these emotions were conveyed was breathtaking.” 

Mural of black and white images of good things in the community

The wholesome mural.

Mural with drawings of problems in a community

The problematic mural.