Visitors of all ages gathered at the Georgia Museum of Art (GMOA) this weekend to view the museum’s latest exhibit, “Crossroads of Memory: Carroll Cloar and the American South.” More than just a typical gallery viewing, this was a special event coordinated by museum curator of education and 2013-14 Service-Learning Fellow Carissa DiCindio to connect grandparents with grandchildren through art appreciation, storytelling and memory sharing.

DiCindio was recently named a Service-Learning Fellow through the Office of Service-Learning, a unit of the Office of the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach and the Office of the Vice President for Instruction. The Service-Learning Fellows Program was designed to enhance the impact of UGA courses by encouraging teachers to engage students in service, giving them essential practical experience and in turn a more well-rounded education.

DiCindio is no stranger to service, and her recent appointment came about as a direct result of a student volunteer program she spearheaded after GMOA reopened in 2011. Designed to teach student docents how to host gallery tours, the volunteer program evolved into a full-fledged, split-level course by the following year. She continues to teach this course according to the same design, though with the addition of a prominent service-learning element tied into the curriculum.

“As a museum educator who works closely with communities and deeply values community engagement, I wanted to translate the greater implications of that engagement into the student experience,” said DiCindio.

DiCindio’s decision to focus her latest course on grandparents and grandchildren was largely inspired by seeing Cloar’s work. “Cloar’s art centers on his own memories and imagination growing up, and I thought children and grandparents would be able to use his work as a vehicle for sharing their memories and creating new stories together,” said DiCindio. DiCindio and her students also had the privilege of direct contact with Cloar’s wife Patty Cloar, who continues to be actively involved in sharing her late husband’s work and currently lives in Athens.

DiCindio was also inspired by Grandparents Raising Grandchildren, a program created by the Athens Community Council on Aging (ACCA). The program provided a basic template for many of her efforts, and she and her students were in close contact with the program’s director, Paige Powell, throughout the semester. DiCindio also invited Grandparents Raising Grandchildren to Saturday’s event.

“I had known about Grandparents Raising Grandchildren for some time, and after being introduced to Cloar’s work I thought the two parts would be a perfect fit for the course,” said DiCindio.

The event was planned by DiCindio’s students, who also designed the exhibit’s gallery guide. The guide featured discussion prompts in addition to activity outlines developed collaboratively in a classroom setting. One such activity was the “token response,” in which the children placed pieces of paper with symbols (the tokens) on them in front of various works to prompt discussion with the grandparents. For example, footprints symbolized a work that the children would like to step into; a question mark was used when they had a question about a piece; a clock would mark a piece that sparked a memory; and a house represented a piece they would like to take home.

The day concluded with a hands-on activity led by DiCindio and her students, in which the children were given a chance to experiment with Cloar’s characteristic painting style. Cloar’s intricate method of layering canvas panels, illustration boards, paper, wood and masonite was stripped down to a canvas-only, child-friendly application that engaged the children as well as their parents and grandparents.

Although DiCindio’s current course is centered on Cloar’s work and engaging grandparents and grandchildren, it extends more broadly to the community as well. Her students will continue to give tours to a variety of groups throughout the semester, including fifth-grade tours for Clarke County schools. The student-created gallery guide will also be used again at the next Family Day event with Spotlight on the Arts on Sunday, November 10.

Further explaining her inspiration for Saturday’s event and her ongoing efforts in general, DiCindio said, “I consider art to be one of the most prominent and effective ways to bring communities together. Art is dynamic and revelatory, and by sharing together we connect with each other in ways that greatly benefit communities–and humanity–at large.”