Skip Navigation

Text Only/ Printer-Friendly


Partners in Art is an arts partnership between the Institute for Service-Learning, Ministry with Community (MwC), the Michigan Commission for the Blind Training Center (MCB) and many other community organizations in Kalamazoo. Each week, about 8 "K" students work with about 4-8 members from MwC and about 5-8 students from MCB and on arts projects including mixed media, fibers, clay, and photography.  

Some of the goals/outcomes of the collaboration for “K” students include: 1) Students learn basic building skills better when teaching them to others; 2) Students witness the power art can have in the lives of others; 3) Students better understand their own creative process by offering support to others experiencing the same struggles/fears; 4) Students experience a deeper sense of place through their engagement with the community members and the city itself. 

Goals/outcomes for Community Partners include: 1) Community members explore their creative potential in a supportive and educative environment; 2) Community partners connect with other individuals and groups in Kalamazoo; 3) Members and students are empowered through the gift of their art to others.


Each quarter, all students must attend a mandatory orientation/training session, complete appropriate paperwork, and attend mandatory reflection sessions throughout the term.

Program History:

Kalamazoo College has been actively engaged with Partners in Art through various courses over the years, including Dhera Strauss’ Documentary Video courses.  More recently, ceramics students have collaborated with many different community partners, student leaders, and other classes at the college for three Empty Bowls Projects and two on-going art partnerships.

Empty Bowls

Kalamazoo's first Empty Bowls event, in 2006, was the Senior Individualized Project (SIP) of Art/Art History major and LaPlante/Americorps Scholar Breigh Montgomery, who coordinated  the entire event, working with two service-learning courses, under the supervision of Sarah Lindley & Alison Geist.  The classics class, "Cool Cities: Carthage and Kalamazoo," researched hunger statistics and relief; 16 students in "Ceramics: Handbuilding I" assisted with 12 ceramics workshops where over 125 members of the Kalamazoo Community including homeless individuals, "K" students, and public school kids made over 500 bowls.  Our community's generosity was apparent in donations from local restaurants and Sodexho Food Services, a grant for a new kiln at Kalamazoo College from Pfizer, and a grant for workshop materials from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation.  At the first Kalamazoo Empty Bowls event on our campus in 2006, over 450 people attended, and we raised over $5000 for Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes and Heifer International.   The second Empty Bowls Project and Event incorporated additional community partners including the Michigan Commission for the Blind and Derek Jeter’s Turn 2 Foundation.  Workshops with all five community partners were taught by students and faculty from Kalamazoo College.  Additional bowls were collected from the Kalamazoo Institute of the Arts, KVCC, and Western Michigan University.  Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes(KLF) took a joint leadership role in planning the event.  The 2008 Empty Bowls Event was completely coordinated by KLF, with bowl donations from Kalamazoo College students and faculty, the Michigan Commission for the Blind and four other institutions in Kalamazoo.

Ministry with Community & The Michigan Commission for the Blind Partnerships

Service-Learning in ceramics for the 2007-2008 academic year incorporated an expanded view of Partners in Art.  Each week, "K" students led pottery workshops at the Michigan Commission for the Blind for students who are either legally blind or loosing their sight.  Specifically, students at the Commission collaborated with "K" students on the design and artwork for a new “senses garden” - such as benches, tiles, and wind chimes - at the center.  Vibbert Scholars also coordinated on-campus events to raise awareness of public art  and art in the community.

In spring of 2008, half of the intro students in Sarah Lindley's "Ceramics: Handbuilding I" joined the Civic Engagement Scholar, Julia Gartrell (K'08), at the Michigan Commission for the Blind to help step-up the intensity of the projects, as spring makes the garden site more accessible.  The remaining students in the ceramics class participated in weekly workshops at Ministry with Community.  Each student attended a weekly workshop at one of the sites in a group of about four "K" students, a workshop leader (Julia Gartrell or Professor Sarah Lindley) and six to ten community partners.  Both groups worked on three-dimensional tiles that were permanently installed in the Senses Garden. "K" students collaborated with adults from both sites to design and create the ceramic tiles and planters.  All participants engaged in the full creative process from initial planning and drawings, to the development of a cohesive theme and unity within the finished product. 

In 2008-2009, the Partners in Art partnerships continued with both Ministry with Community  (MwC) and the Michigan Commission for the Blind Training Center (MCB).  Vibbert Scholars Elayna Snyder & Alexandra Leonard, both K'09, facilitated on-going weekly art workshops with community members at both sites.  Snyder taught weekly photography workshops at MwC -- one workshop included giving members "point & shoot" cameras to capture images from their lives.  The members then returned the cameras to Snyder, then she had the photos developed and enlarged.  Some of the members' photos were on display for the 2008 "Martin Luther King Jr." Celebration on K's campus. Leonard taught clay workshops with several students from MCB, resulting in textured ceramic tiles, wind chimes, bowls, and toad houses.

The two groups also had an opportunity to work together on a creative project.  Members from MwC & students from MCB attended two collaborative workshops on K's campus during spring quarter.  Snyder, Leonard, & students from Lindley's wheel throwing and handbuilding courses assisted community members in crafting large, hand-made planters to be on display and sold at the June Art Hop at National City in downtown Kalamazoo. Proceeds benefited Ministry with Community.

Contact: Kacey Cook