Graduate student Jillian Hirsch was reaching out to organizations in the Knoxville area for ways to bring mosaic murals to communities even before she arrived on campus.
Hirsch, a New Jersey native who is a Master of Fine Arts student, had been working as a freelance artist in upstate New York, collaborating on projects with schools, nonprofit organizations, and municipalities. Her interest in art education emphasizes community engagement and involvement.
When you’re invited to a place where you don’t have roots, you have to find a way to become part of it, she said.
“I feel a responsibility to connect with the people who have stake in the place,” said Hirsch. “If I’m coming in as a guest, I want to make sure that I can feel a part of that community by collaborating with the people.”
Even though she was months away from moving to Knoxville, she began researching possible projects soon after she was accepted for graduate study at UT. After learning about Knox County’s Storm Drain Art and Strong Steams initiatives, Hirsch contacted the county government and proposed a mural project.
A year of planning and creating later, a mosaic mural featuring Beaver Creek was unveiled at the Karns Senior Center in June.
“We started by involving community members in workshops to create the tile pieces that would eventually be used in the mural,” said Hirsch. “Although I am the artist, I consider myself more of a facilitator for the people who don’t see themselves as artists—but they are the ones helping bring this piece to life.”
In addition to the Karns Senior Center project, Hirsch has worked with six undergraduate students and children at Maynard Elementary School to paint a mural in the school’s library.
The Maynard project was funded through the School of Art and the UT Foundation. With the help of Jason Brown, associate professor of sculpture, Hirsch and the undergraduate students applied for and received a grant from the UT Office of Community Engagement and Outreach to help pay for materials for the school mural.
Hirsch is interested in using the remaining funding to bring two more murals or sculptures to Maynard Elementary in the coming year.
Whether it’s working with children or seniors, Hirsch said, “there’s something about making art with people—it’s a really great experience.”
Amy Blakely, UT media relations (865-974-5034, email@example.com)
Ellen Orner, School of Art (865-974-3195, firstname.lastname@example.org)