Students’ creative project reveals strength of college community

Published 08 May 2012

Student residents at the University of New England’s Austin College have created a work of art that expresses their individuality as young adults and symbolises their connectedness as a community.

They have creatively celebrated the supportive network of social bonds within the College by inter-connecting photographic portraits of themselves using individually decorated strings that criss-cross an entire room.

The creation of the Austin College Safety Net has been led by two Austin residents – Samantha Young and Max Dowden – who worked with the local community arts organisation Beyond Empathy in designing the project. Samantha and Max are in their third year of the Bachelor of Social Work degree program at UNE, and their collaboration with Beyond Empathy has been a community placement undertaken as part of their degree program.

The completion of the project was marked by a “launch” at Austin College on Friday 4 May. “We always have the launch at the end of a project,” explained the Executive Director of Beyond Empathy, Kim McConville. “It’s actually the beginning of the movement forward inspired by the project.”

“As we usually work with disadvantaged groups, it’s been a challenge for us – and a wonderful experience – working with a community of university students,” Ms McConville said. “It’s been a harmonious partnership with UNE Social Work, and a pleasure to work with Sam and Max.”

She said that, from a purely artistic perspective, the Safety Net was “an example of lifting the bar” in the quality of such works, and she thanked the Sydney-based photographer Wendy Kimpton and the local artist Myfanwy Gulliver for their contributions to the project. (Both Ms Kimpton and Ms Gulliver were at the launch.)

She also thanked her colleague Narelle Jarry, Beyond Empathy’s Project Manager, for her work as one of Samantha and Max’s supervisors (together with Samantha Ackling, a former Head of UNE’s Robb College and current casual academic in UNE Social Work).

“The collaboration has involved all of us sitting down and seeing how we could celebrate a group of young people looking after each other,” Narelle Jarry said.

Dr Myfanwy Maple, Coordinator of Social Work at UNE, said that this kind of innovative project, based on the placement of social work students in a non-government agency focusing on social change, provided fertile ground for further collaboration between the University and community services. She also thanked the Head of Austin College, Andrea Gledhill, for her support of the two students undertaking a placement within the College.

Max said that working on the project with Beyond Empathy had helped him and Samantha “appreciate the power of art and how it can change people”.

“We organised the portraits because we wanted to identify and celebrate you as individuals,” said Samantha, addressing her fellow Austin College residents. “We also asked you to answer questions about what Austin means to you, and to create your own individual string for the installation.

“In the process you found that there are lots of people you’re connected to – and that in the end we have a ‘net’. There’s always someone there to catch you.”

The ‘Safety Net’ image displayed here expands to show Samantha Young and Max Dowden with the installation in Austin College.