ACCelerate festival at the Smithsonian gives students the opportunity to share creativity, research and art
Theresa Olohan | Monday, April 8, 2019
Notre Dame was well-represented at the second ACCelerate festival, which took place at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C this past weekend. Organized by Virginia Tech and the Smithsonian Institution, the festival was a way for students from the 15 ACC schools to demonstrate their creativity and research at the center of science, engineering, arts and design, according to the statement on the Festival’s website.
Deputy director Jeffrey Brodie said the event was a good way to captivate public attention with research.
“I love the exchange of ideas between people who get to learn about one another, explore new ideas [and] get exposed to things that they’ve never seen before [and] never heard of before,” Brodie said.
The 40 projects from the various ACC schools were grouped thematically according to floor in the Smithsonian. The first floor displayed projects about geography and the environment while the second floor was home to projects focused on the health of body, mind and community. The third floor, where the Notre Dame projects were housed, was focused on the intersection of arts and technology.
Brodie said he thought the third floor was especially unique.
“There’s a misplaced assumption that the rise of technologies displaces the importance and value of aesthetics and the meaning of art in our society. What the projects on that floor really indicate is that one can really enhance the other,” Brodie said, “I think the Notre Dame projects are really important because they’re connecting art and technology to advance a conversation about identity and social health.”
Representing Notre Dame, senior visual communications design major Meghan Kozal’s exhibit was based off a final project for her Summer Service Learning Program. The project was designed to summarize her experience working with underprivileged middle school girls in Buffalo, New York.
“I worked with the middle school girls that I was directly working with to create the part of the project that I’m displaying. For each of the eight girls, I had them fill out a little paper with some words to describe in more than just a physical description,” Kozal said. “Are they smart? Are they funny? What do they want to be when they grow up? What do they want to do in the future? What are some things they
like doing now?”
For her project, Kozal designed silhouettes of each of the girls using these descriptions, the girls’ favorite lines from the program’s daily poem, as well as each of their favorite colors.
“I took a picture, did a little outline and illustrator of their silhouette and just filled them with the text and we gave it to them,” Kozal said. “At the end of the summer, each of them got their own framed version.”
Even more impressive than the physical exhibition of Kozal’s project was the symbolism behind it. Focusing on individual ownership of identity, the project was designed to empower underprivileged girls and give them the confidence so crucial to their development and education, she said.
“Each girl’s ownership of their identity is so central to helping them in their studies,” Kozal said. “The teachers at the middle school want the girls to see that if that’s what they want to do, they can achieve that, and there will be support along the way. My family focused on my education and encouraging me to be whatever I want to be. That’s something I feel like I need to give back or to focus on in the work that I do. Empowering people who might not feel like education is the right route for them or has all of this support for them.”
Also representing Notre Dame, sophomore Allie Champlin said she was equally excited about her project and the opportunity to display it in the Smithsonian. Resting atop a white podium was a wired brain Champlin had designed, filled with and surrounded by crumpled paper balls.
“My project is a self-portrait in some ways,” Champlin said. “Inside and surrounding the brain are 70 crumpled paper balls which are supposed to represent the 70 thoughts that the average person has in the span of two minutes. The idea is that in the two minutes people stand at my sculpture, they are invited to unravel some of the paper balls and see some of the personal thoughts that I documented.”
Deputy director Brodie noted Champlin’s project was special not only for its look but for its ability to draw in and engage those who viewed it.
“The sculpture takes a look and includes within it written descriptions about thoughts and feelings. You’re making a very physical representation in a beautiful way about these ideas and what causes the viewer to explore those ideas and think about those ideas in a different way,” Brodie said.
Champlin said the significance of her project lies in its ability to draw individuals into a conversation about deeper ideas and thoughts through an exploration of her own mind.
“Art is always a way to discover new things about you based on what you create and sort of also using that artistic process to channel your thoughts and your emotions into your work. It’s a means of communicating those thoughts and emotions with other people,” Champlin said.
This interactive nature of both Champlin and Kozal’s projects was part of what made the event so special.
“It allows the viewers to come to understand it in a different way and invites them into it in a way that just viewing it doesn’t,” Kozal said. “What goals we have or positive traits about ourselves is not the kind of self-reflection that you always do. I hope that in asking people to engage with the project by writing down a goal that they’re working on, maybe that sparks them to take a concrete step in the next few days or weeks towards that goal.”
Champlin said she valued the opportunity to watch visitors engage with her piece of its three-day display.
“I think the significance of it is in being given the opportunity to share my project with the Smithsonian and so many people is that I can share myself and my thoughts with others.”
The collaborative and thought-provoking nature of Kozal and Champlin’s projects truly demonstrates the beauty and ingenuity of the event, he said.
“They’re both really wonderful examples of how art and technology come together to express a much deeper, much more important exchange of ideas,” Brodie said. “We have people here today from all over the country, all walks of life, all types of experience [and] ages. We are sharing with them not only really important technologies and creativity addressing really significant challenges in our society, but also we’re creating the opportunity for dialogue and exchange between the public and both the scholars and the younger students who were there to demonstrate their ideas.”