San Diego State University College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts

"Learning to Fly" Project Integrates Visual Art, Dance, and Discussion

Themes of transformation and restoration are examined through visual art by the Prison Arts Collective and SDSU students, dance interpretations of the art by the SDSU Division of Dance, and an Arts Alive SDSU Discovery Series Panel.

by Aleesia Benkey

April 19, 2022

Learning to Fly is a collaborative visual art exhibition and dance performance hosted by the SDSU School of Art and Design, the Division of Dance, and the Prison Arts Collective (PAC). Arts Alive SDSU will host a panel discussion based on Learning to Fly as part of the Spring Discovery Series.

The art exhibition, running April 25 - May 3, 2022, will feature interpretations on the Wallace Stevens poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” created by artists facing incarceration, and a student book project addressing themes of transformation and restoration. It be held in the Flor y Canto Gallery at the School of Art and Design. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Thursday from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., and by appointment. Admission is free.

The Arts Alive panel discussion for Learning to Fly will take place on Tuesday, April 26 at 4:00 p.m via zoom. Based on the exhibition, dance performance, and artists' book, this panel explores the transformative and restorative power of creative expression. 

Burgess shares the significance of the Prison Arts Collective submissions and those of her students.

“The submissions that came in from the PAC participants have been deeply moving. They frequently reflected their experiences of incarceration or were reflective of the way creativity allowed them some escape from the awareness of being incarcerated,” said Burgess.  “My students, in creating the collaborative artists’ book, in turn, were able to feel kinship with them across those boundaries. After 30+ years of teaching, this just reaffirms my belief that art has great restorative and communicative power, especially in its ability to bridge different communities and cultures. I feel refreshed in my personal work in artists’ books, as well.”

A closing event including poetry readings, a dance performance, and exhibition reception will take place in the Flor y Canto Gallery on May 3, from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. The event will include interpretations of the exhibition in the form of dance, choreographed by Professor Jess Humphrey.

Humphrey shares her hopes for the impact of “Learning to Fly” on the community. 

“I hope community members' perceptions of incarcerated people are expanded when they see their art. Their humanity is front and center in these works, and I'm excited for the community to experience that,” said Humphrey.

About Arts Alive SDSU:

Arts Alive SDSU is dedicated to providing opportunities for students, faculty, and staff at San Diego State University to engage in the arts as an integral part of a comprehensive education that promotes creative research, interdisciplinary collaboration, professional innovation, and personal enrichment on campus and in the community.

About The School of Art and Design: 

The School of Art and Design is dedicated to educate, support, and empower our diverse student body to become active participants in the evolution of art and design. We seek to prepare curious and engaged creative practitioners and empathetic scholars that will develop their unique voices and create positive change in local and global communities.

About Prison Arts Collective (PAC):

Prison Arts Collective works to expand access to the transformative power of the arts through collaboration and mutual learning that supports the development of self-expression, reflection, communication, and empathy through providing multidisciplinary arts programming in correctional institutions and the justice-impacted community.

About Division of Dance:

The Division of Dance is a laboratory for exploration, integration, and conscious action: an ecosystem where emerging artists practice, connect, create, and reflect with depth and permeability. In this academic program, dance is personal, physical, social, and political. We prepare developing artists for dynamic, self-authored, and innovative careers in dance with curriculum that fosters collaboration and mindful leadership. 


The content within this article has been edited by Lizbeth Persons.

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