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Sarah Fagerman: Changing My Course

April 15, 2015

Sarah Fagerman is a senior majoring in the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities and also pursuing a BFA in studio art in the College of Arts and Letters. She recently took part in the unveiling of a mosaic of artwork at Peckham Inc. that was the result of collaboration between Peckham client artists, MSU students and community artists.

My Peckham journey began in 2012, when I was just starting my sophomore year of college. I had enrolled in a creative workshop which entailed working with folks at a local manufacturing facility on an art installation. I had no idea how those things fit together, but it sounded interesting, so I signed up for the class. Never in my wildest dreams could I have ever imagined how one class would change the course of my entire life.

art installationI realize how dramatic that sounds. “Changed the course of your life?” Yes. As my first semester at Peckham pushed on, the faces of strangers very soon became familiar, happy faces. As we worked on our portraits, each person’s story began to unfold onto paper, including my own.

One of the most poignant experiences of that first semester was working with a woman named Nikki. Nikki had suffered significant impairment of her communication skills after a debilitating stroke. As we worked on our portraits, Nikki shared with me details about her rehabilitation, of which painting played a large role. She showed me images of her paintings, which very much documented the process of her recovery.

The first paintings conveyed the feelings she couldn’t necessarily verbalize – they were dark in color, the people in them were sad and isolated. The more progress she made throughout her recovery, the brighter they became as she regained some of that control over her body. It was truly amazing to hear her story and watch it unfold through the paintings, and to have someone I hardly knew share with me such a personal experience.

Man looking at artwork on the wallWorking with Nikki illustrated a few things for me. First of all, it revealed to me the immense power the act of creating could have through the toils of both a physical and emotional journey. Second, it revealed the unique ability of the arts to connect and to serve as a vehicle to share our personal histories with one another, something I would experience many times over at Peckham. Lastly, it illustrated how art making can physically manifest our internal thoughts and feelings into an object, things we might not even be consciously aware that we are thinking or feeling.

Such was the case in the first portrait I created. My portrait began with an open book. Then from the spine of the book grew roots. And from the roots came flowers that exploded in colorful bursts over the book. It was from picking apart my portrait with then-art director Sue McGuire that I was able to decipher some of the subconscious feelings encoded in what I had made, allowing me to reflect and learn about myself in the process.

The biggest revelation happened for me at Peckham when I realized that I could still pursue my interests in engaging with community and affect the bigger picture through art. I am very thankful for the conversations I had with Sue, who encouraged art installationme to take the chance that I would in my studies.

Having been so impacted by that first semester at Peckham, the following semester I began a new journey at MSU in the study of studio art in addition to my studies at the Residential College. The next semester I also returned to Peckham to work with the Next Step Program, where I was again so lucky to have the opportunity to participate in collaborative creative endeavors, this time with young adults. And once again, I returned to Peckham this past fall to work on the Art@Work collaboration once more, and to meet more people who would always put a smile on my face.

Returning to Peckham to work on this project was a no-brainer. Coming back to Peckham was like coming home; it allowed me to reconnect with what had brought me to this point in my life. Working as a studio artist can be very isolating, and believe it or not, it’s one of the hardest things I ever decided to do.

art installationReturning to this collaboration reminded me of why I fell in love with the practice of making art in the first place, and making art in the community setting; and that is the validation of self-expression, expression not only of ourselves, but the expression and dialogue that takes place between one another in a project like this. I’m forever thankful that the collaboration between Peckham, the Residential College and the College of Engineering provided a place and a way for that to happen.

Read more about Art@Work

Photos by RCAH student Ian Siporin