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Jessica Poser brings community art approach to Springfield

By Jack Margaros
@JackMargaros

Arriving at the Design Studio on the second floor of Blake Hall, one hears the soothing sound of smooth jazz that permeates throughout the classroom and into the hallway. At first glance, it is easy to confuse this studio with a storage room.

There is a hefty utility sink in the back of the room with a couple of five gallon buckets covered in dried paint. There are storage cabinets filled with a variety of art supplies. Tucked in the back corner of the room is a spacious paper trimmer that makes a subtle creaking sound every time its used.

In the middle of the room, there are four clusters of large, rectangular tables that sit on top of the dark grey painted brick floor, which has permanent stains and paint chips that show years of artistic endeavors. There is even a mini snack bar featuring donuts and clementines.

The person responsible for this atmosphere, dressed in a black turtleneck with black jeans and grey boots, is Springfield’s newest professor in the Visual and Performing Arts Department, Jessica Poser.

Poser has a fervent passion for art, and has been exposed to it ever since she attended Saint Ann’s School in Brooklyn Heights, NY.

“I went to this wonderful progressive school. It was where all of the kids who did not fit into other schools ended up.”

She saw herself blossom at this school and really find her identity with its supportive environment. A misfit can feel like he/she is accepted. It makes the students believe in themselves and their ideas, and take chances.

Poser also had major art influences in her parents and the environment around her.

“Since I grew up in New York City, I was able to go to the best museums and galleries. I got to meet a lot of people in the art world, so that was the world I knew. It was the place where I felt most comfortable and most at home. It was always the place to be myself.”

These experiences have helped her to realize a passion for the arts. That’s what helps Poser connect with people — in this case her students. It’s how she has done it her whole life.

“What we are exposed to growing up has a huge impact on what we end up gravitating towards,” said Poser.

She has created a variety of different art pieces, and incorporates pretty much anything into her work, from plastic Chinese take-out bags to cereal boxes. Although she got her Master’s Degree in sculpture and installation, Poser has seen herself transition to collage and fiber arts in the last few years.

“I am very mixed media,” said Poser. “I am an artist who evolves as I go, and I respond to whatever is happening at the moment. It is always changing.”

Poser strives to emulate the support that she experienced at Saint Ann’s so she can give the same thing to her students. That starts with a welcoming classroom atmosphere. She feels that students don’t have to leave their personalities at the door. Express yourself.

She was hired by Springfield College to essentially be the leader in developing the new Community Arts minor. This program is a perfect fit for Poser, because it encapsulates all of her ideals.

“The idea is that the Springfield College student who is thinking about serving people in a lot of different ways would include artistic experiences as a part of that. It is Jessica’s mission to be the spearhead for the minor,” said Martin Shell, the chairman of the Department of Visual and Performing Arts.

There are very few community arts programs, so Poser was delighted when she got the offer.

Wow this is made for me.

It’s an opportunity for her to promote an unusual ideology within the art community.

“There has been this model of the artist working alone in their studio,” she said. “The community art approach pushes against that and supports the idea that the way we can make art meaningful is to get out of the studio and make connections with the community.”

Through this, it will strengthen the relationship between Springfield residents and students of the college.

“Students have felt like they shouldn’t go out into the community and community members have felt like they’re not welcome on campus. My hope is that through this minor, we can change that.”

Before coming to Springfield, Poser participated in several community arts programs throughout the country. Habitat for Artists supplies community artists with temporary studios created within the city. These “habitats” have been put up all over the country, ranging from California to Connecticut. The studios are made out of recycled material and community members are invited to interact with the artists.

She has been a part of this program for 10 years, and has recently organized Springfield’s first habitat on Eastern Avenue.

This 6×6 building uses every color in the wheel. One wall is a huge collage of newspaper clippings and torn out book pages. The other sides have room set aside for a community garden, library, and bulletin board. The main part of the habitat features a homemade banner reading, “INTER-ACTION-SPRING-FIELD,” that sits in front of a burgundy background.  A string of multicolored plastic water bottles runs across the top.

“When she introduced the idea to us, we immediately were excited about it and wanted to make it happen. Jessica has a good understanding how you read and assess a community and listen,” said Shell.

The habitat is a way to engage with Springfield on “the community’s terms in the sense of responding the unique needs of it.” Every community is different. In the case of Springfield, some fo the projects are going to be designed around food, according to Poser.

“I really like her as a teacher,” said freshman Sarah Collins. “She lets us be really independent, which is different than a lot of other teachers I have had in the past. She gives us basic guidelines and lets us do whatever we want with the project, which I really appreciate.”

Victoria Connors added, “She is awesome. Until I got here, I never really took any art classes. I think that she really cares that we understand things that we need to know.”

Poser is a very accomplished artist, and has spread her knowledge through numerous programs that reflect Springfield College’s mission of, “spirit, mind, and body.” She has worked closely with Charlene Elvers, Director of the Center for Service and Leadership, to help address Springfield in the most effecient way possible. She has morphed into an ambassador of Springfield College’s highest ideals in just her first year as a faculty member.

Featured photo courtesy Reef Rogers

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