"One Small Project

Dean Johnson Gallery

Through April 26

How many students does it take to change the world? Thirteen. Or at least that’s how many it takes to ask the right questions. At Ball State University in Muncie, students enrolled in the Virginia Ball Center for Creative Inquiry this semester have taken on homelessness and related societal ills as a focus of study, offering their reactions and insights as an installation at Dean Johnson Gallery.

Wes Janz, associate professor in the Department of Architecture and in-residence at the center, led the students in the ambitious “One Small Project” seminar, giving students the opportunity to examine their consciences collectively and individually. Janz doesn’t entertain any grandiose notions about changing the world on behalf of the students. Rather, as a good teacher should, he guides the students towards important questions. Looking through the lens of, as he describes, the “leftover people and spaces” that exist in every city and the potential of “leftover material” to serve as building materials, the students tried to make sense of what they witnessed over the course of the semester.

On a recent Friday afternoon soon after the exhibition opened, three of the participating students met with Janz and sculptor Hugh Timlin who had made a special trip from Detroit to look at the work. Timlin, who serves on the board of the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit, curated the Shelter show there last September. Timlin addressed the students: “What are your expectations?”

Kat Townsend, a fourth-year visual communications student, offered, “People are expecting very negative opinions. I don’t think we’re trying to be abrasive …” Rather, she says, “You start to challenge those [negative] ideas.” The students were standing next to Townsend’s installation, which included a suitcase filled with personal articles as an analogy for the human side of the immigrant’s experience.

Architecture student Adam Pruden put it another way, suggesting that the work can “give people a chance to learn about the Hispanic community before you judge it.”

Answering with a question, architecture student Bre Gary posed more philosophically, “What can homeless people tell us about home?”

Professor Janz took his cadre of students to Mexico to visit the border. Janz recalls being given a tour by agents of the Department of Homeland Security — the same tour offered to legislators, he said. Students also visited Los Angeles, touring Skid Row and a needle exchange center.

The majority of the students are architecture majors and they put their newfound skills to use, designing hypothetical structures for the homeless to live in or otherwise help them function, or for the homeless to congregate. Others simply wrote about their responses. All of the students volunteered at places such as Second Helpings — and this, too, was intended to generate questions rather than answers. The students will continue their questioning with a series of public discussions. As Janz puts it, it’s a way “to push some of these questions out into the world.”

One Small Project is on view at Dean Johnson, 646 Massachusetts Ave., 317-634-8020, www.deanjohnson.com, through April 26. For information about One Small Project, visit www.bsu.edu/onesmallproject.