GFA Special Projects class provides real-world experience while giving back to the community

Artwork depicting birds and Baltimore landmarks— like race horses at Pimlico, boats in the Inner Harbor and the Patterson Park Pagoda — now adorn the Johns Hopkins Community Physicians Remington (JHCP) facility, thanks to a partnership between JHCP and MICA.

Last fall, 11 MICA undergraduate students were able to try their hands working for a client through GFA Special Projects, a class steeped in real-world experience. Taught by Gina Gwen Palacios, an Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD) teaching fellow in the Painting Department, the course resulted in the creation of 44 original pieces of artwork that will now live in exam rooms at the practice in Remington. 

JHCP is a “very patient-centered practice,” said Michael Weiss, associate dean of Fine Arts and the First Year Experience, and one that focuses on making the patient experience as humane as possible. Part of that approach means making rooms less scary and more comforting, something the MICA students’ artwork was able to do. 

The class was sponsored, Weiss explained, to create what was essentially a commission experience for students. The College and JHCP worked up a memorandum of understanding and agreed on a budget — just like what would happen in a real-world client-based experience.

“In the fine arts, that’s something in our traditional curriculum we don’t normally have,” Weiss said, adding that while students receive feedback from classmates and teachers, a client relationship is a different experience they need to learn.

MICA students interviewed the client, toured the practice, and asked questions before creating client portfolios that they added to and maintained throughout the project, Palacios said. They took trips throughout the city to engage in the communities and with the landmarks they’d been assigned, something Palacios said was especially interesting, because many hadn’t travelled far beyond MICA. 

From there, students sketched ideas they then presented to clients. Once final designs were chosen,  students began creating the final works.

“I worked more as a project manager. I helped critique and work with the students, but it’s the client who made the final decisions,” Palacios said.

For Pao Ju Chen ’21 (General Fine Arts BFA), who is an international student, the class provided a number of experiences, from real-world painting work, to just getting a chance to better know Baltimore. The class helped prepare Chen for the future, especially when it came to how to talk to a client and how to work within the confines of a project.

“I liked to see their reaction to the work we made,” she said. And while it was hard to get everything done in time, and Chen said she felt a bit rushed, the experience was one she knows will come in handy in her career. “I feel like it’s actually helping me to work within a deadline,” Chen added.

Chloe Green ’21 (Illustration BFA) also said the class helped to prepare her for the future, and provided an experience that strengthened her confidence in her ideas.

“I gained valuable insight into working on a commission project with a client and institution, which is something that my artwork and I could experience or need in the future,” she said, adding, “I learned how to present my work to people outside an art institution, how to speak with professional yet assertive language when it came to my art and how to document an ongoing commission project through budgets, schedules and sketches.”

And while Green echoed Chen’s thoughts that it was challenging to work within a time constraint, she loved the experience, and was excited to make artwork that was for a project for the community.

For Marisol Ruiz ’21 (Painting and Humanistic Studies BFA) the class was also a chance to learn a bit of a different medium. Ruiz went in with a background in oil paints, but had to modify what she normally would do in order for the artwork to be under plexiglass in a clinical setting.

In addition, Ruiz said, the class was a chance to work with industry professionals in the medical field, something that artists don’t often get a chance to do. 

“I just think it was a great experience and I got to learn a lot about myself and the art process,” she said.