Paul Gebhardt ʼ96

Artists have so much to offer the world. Their creative approach is needed in all of our cultural, economic and political institutions.

What drives your need for/belief in service and public engagement? I am most interested in that intersection between a creative action and a social need. I am curious about how art can bring awareness, challenge an assumption, open a discourse about a difficult topic—like poverty or food security—and solve a practical problem. I am inspired by the work of socially engaged artists who are using art and creativity in conflict zones. Social practice is the most challenging and expanding field—it is a necessary balance to my studio practice.

Why does Public Engagement at MECA matter after graduation? Public Engagement matters for our students because it demonstrates the value of working with others and being engaged citizens. It matters after graduation because students have gained confidence to tackle a call for proposals or a public art commission. They are confident in their ability to collaborate or to envision a large complex project with partners. They have worked with a nonprofit, proposed ideas, had them critiqued and been successful in creatively developing art in the public.

Artists have so much to offer the world. Their creative approach is needed in all of our cultural, economic and political institutions. Encouraging a commitment in our students to becoming active citizens—to what Don Tuski likes to call “public intellectuals”—is essential now more than ever.

How would you respond to someone who said, “Art is a luxury and has no place in disadvantaged communities? Well, that would depend on one’s definition of “art.” Historically, art has been an integral part of the human experience both for individuals—to help understand and bring meaning to the human condition—and for communities to communicate, honor and celebrate together. That “art” is for everyone regardless of wealth. Another inherent value of “art” lies in appreciation of craft and skill, its cleverness, its ability to subvert. There is value in both; they are both necessary.