Drawing Class Collaborates with University of Utah to Address Inequality and Immigration in Utah
July 19, 2019
During winter semester, students in Professor Joe Ostraff’s advanced drawing course collaborated with University of Utah students to facilitate dialogue among Salt Lake residents about economic inequality and immigration.
Utah students in the two-semester course, Globalization and Inequality: Precarious Lives in Utah, initiated the project last fall with an intensive study of trends in inequality, globalization and technology. As they proceeded to explore how inequality shapes life in Utah, they were introduced to Ostraff and, subsequently, his drawing class.
Inspired by the work of sociologist Arlie Hochschild, Utah students built on what she called a “deep story”: a narrative metaphor stripped of facts and moral judgment. They adopted Hochschild’s style to write two deep stories of their own—one that describes a world divided between rich and poor (“The House on the Shore”), and another that illustrates migrant experiences (“The Oasis in the Desert”). Utah students then shared these stories with residents across the Salt Lake valley and recorded their responses.
Afterward, BYU and Utah students collaborated to depict “The House on the Shore” and “The Oasis in the Desert” on two large canvases. Each group started with one of the stories and a canvas; then they switched and drew over and across each other’s contributions, providing a layered visualization of the issues.
“We wanted to use more of a street art, democratic model that took the pressure of skill out of the equation,” Ostraff said. “Once [the University of Utah students] got going and realized they were in safe territory, they really did a good job.”
To display their work, students rented a PODS storage unit to house an art exhibit on the University of Utah campus. For two weeks, visitors could view the collaborative artwork, read quotes from interviewees across the valley, and express via a whiteboard their own agreement or disagreement.
“It was refreshing to work with people that were not primarily focused on visual aspects like we were,” said Jeffery Hampshire, a junior in the BFA program. “They had the chance to create some artwork along with us, just as we had the chance to dive into their discussions and ideas.”