The arts impact others immensely, and it probably can’t ever be measured in full

Categories: ASC, Blog, Education

By Scott Walker Cunningham
Davidson College Education Scholar

Scott Cunningham

When I came to Davidson College, I arrived as a wrestler. I spent my high school days between three varsity sports, and while I always held creative interests, I never invested much in them. But by the end of my first semester wrestling was no longer an option.

Fast forward to the spring and my best friend began teaching me how to take pictures on his camera. I started uploading my early work onto social media platforms and caught the attention of Aly Dove ’16 who won a grant to run a photography teaching program called YouthMAP in the upcoming fall at the Barium Springs Home for Children. She asked if I would mentor some students in the program and I accepted the offer.

Though a bumpy experience in the piloting process, the program went well and we concluded the semester with a Gala showcasing our participants’ work. One student, Carlos, talked about how he brought some of the pictures on a rare visit home, and when he showed them to his parent they started crying—and then his brother started crying—and his grandma too. I realized that our entire semester, for me, really had nothing to do with photography. It was all about creating that moment for Carlos, providing him with the opportunity to work for something he and his family could connect over.

This inspired me to pursue the Davidson College Education Scholars program and an internship with the Arts & Science Council to learn more about the non-profit sector and arts-based teaching. I split my time between the ASC office and their digital and media literacy camp held at spirit square under the supervision of Dr. Barbara Ann Temple.

In the office I researched best practices for afterschool programs and created a report on the most measured methods of success.

At camp, where the ASC’s Studio 345 program runs during the school year, I saw the human element that researchers could not convey in their work. There are some parts of education that seem to go beyond the data, and cannot be quantified in numbers.

If you took these opportunities away from the students, something would be missing. Morelia’s movie on Abekh’s dance moves, the song Childhood Memories recorded by Da’Quan and others, and the many other instances of cup stacking, Claymation, laughing, and photographing—these happened at camp, and without camp they wouldn’t have happened.

With my internship concluding, I will begin channeling my experiences with afterschool programming back into YouthMAP, which brought me here in the first place. But I continue to ask myself if I think it’s all really worth it, and if photography can actually make a difference for these kids.

Well, I’d like to remind myself and others that, two years ago, my friend Jack taught me how to take pictures in the spring. The simple pleasure that started as a creative outlet opened one opportunity after another and brought me to where I am today.

I’m happy to be living evidence of the impact I hope something as simple as photography can have on someone’s path. I hope we will always remain faithful to those factors in education that are organic, human, and sometimes difficult to measure.