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MICA Students Create An On-the-Spot Portrait of Occupy Baltimore

A new MICA course called Visual Journalism requires students to take their drawing materials out into the city

Photo: Matthew Vanderslice, License: N/A

Matthew Vanderslice

Every Friday morning, Shadra Strickland turns her students out on the streets of Baltimore. It’s not a heartless move; in fact, it’s designed to help them grow. A new member of MICA’s illustration faculty, Strickland inherited an established MICA course called Visual Journalism, for which students are required to take their drawing materials out into the city—this semester it’s Fridays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. “I try to really make the students focus on reporting,” she says. “It’s training them to observe the world and sort of—what’s the word?—filter it through their own eyes and their own hands and their way of understanding the world and sharing what they’ve learned with other people.”

In weeks past, Strickland and her students have done drawings at the Baltimore Grand Prix and the Baltimore Book Festival (examples can be found online at the class blog, On Oct. 21, Strickland took her class down to McKeldin Square to draw Occupy Baltimore.

“When we got there, it was early morning so there weren’t a lot of people,” Strickland says. “The kids were really nervous at first, but they warmed up.” The students not only drew the Occupiers, they were encouraged to interview them too. “A big part of the class for me also is helping them burst the MICA bubble,” she adds. “They’re so insulated here on campus, and this class gets them outside of [that].”

Lidia Garcia, 27, is taking Visual Journalism during a year of study at MICA after studying art in her native Barcelona, Spain. An unabashed Occupy sympathizer, she says she loved the class visit to Occupy Baltimore. “I was really excited at coming [to America] and finding that people are waking up, that they’ve had enough,” she says. “I feel like we are all one, that the whole world is doing something great at this moment.”

Class member Matthew Vanderslice, a 27-year-old from “small-town central PA,” sounds less enthralled. When he speaks of the Occupy “cause,” you can hear the quotes. “I know very little of what they’re trying to accomplish by setting up tents in the middle of the city,” he says. “I know it’s got a lot of people’s blood running, but I can’t say the same for myself.” At the same time, he acknowledges, it did serve to “[get] me out of my box.” He adds, “I would never imagine some little sketch I did of some woman would get published” in City Paper.

But it has, adding a unique volume to the mounting record of materials documenting the Occupy movement.

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