Student Voice: Art Can Change the World

By Kassidy Wallace
Senior, Visual Arts and African American Studies

On the greater landscape of higher education, a stigma surrounds the value of an art degree. Society burdens students in the arts with the "starving artist" stereotype, making it hard to imagine how creativity plays a role in our growing and changing world. Without proper access to cocurricular opportunities, gaining a foothold in the post-graduate world proves to be a difficult task for students with art degrees. This spring, I will graduate with an art degree. Since the beginning, I knew that I wanted to make art into a career that created change for the public good. I expected the difficulties I experienced when trying to find opportunities that bridged my two passions. Unexpectedly, local government was the answer I was looking for.

My journey as an artist in public service started with the Bob Graham Center and City of Gainesville Fellowship Program. With our national politics in such an uncertain state, the fellowship was a compelling alternative and gave me a chance to start where it counts — my community. The fellowship bridges the gap between student life and citizen life in Gainesville. As the visual design fellow, my role on the team is to think outside of the box by applying creative solutions to problems that I can see in the place where I live.

The City of Gainesville focuses on a citizen-centered approach to government. This means starting with the needs of the citizen and improving accessibility for all. What can we design to improve the experience of everyday citizens? This year, it was collaboration among our fellowship team that led to improvements in the process of successfully opening a local business in Gainesville. Our team created a digital service that mapped out the complex process. The priorities were to increase points of interaction with the user, build an accessible interface and simplify navigation to information and city contacts. Teamwork was essential as our responsibilities stretched beyond our assigned roles to include a combination of research and design. The individual strengths of each team member drove the project to the most citizen-centered result.

Designing the business portal was just the start. My fellowship experience highlighted the give and- take process of creating lasting solutions in the public sphere. It also underscored how diversity in educational backgrounds, life experiences and skill sets is invaluable when working to solve problems locally for all citizens. The University of Florida and City of Gainesville partnership is a model for the way we can create large scale change. From reducing the number of 911 calls to re imagining internal communications, it takes many minds of many talents to make a difference for the greatest number of people.