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Students take in the murals painted at the Ferry Dock Marina in Burlington, Vermont.

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J-term Scenes: Origins and Politics of Graffiti and Street Art [video]

February 14, 2018


MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – Will Kasso Condry knows there is a lot to be learned from the history and politics of graffiti. The street artist and activist, who served as the Alexander Twilight Artist in Residence last year, brought his craft, knowledge, and experience to the Middlebury classroom during winter term with his new offering: “The Origins and Politics of Graffiti and Street Art.”

Kasso Condry says his goal was to teach students to view graffiti and street art as multicultural forms of expression layered with existing issues of race, class, and gender.

“People see a tag or something on the street and most people don’t really realize the process that artists had to undertake just to get that up,” says Kasso Condry. “This art form gave many people a voice who otherwise would not have had it.”

Kasso Condry led students through the origins of the art from, from its emergence in Philadelphia and New York City in the late ’60s and ’70s to one of the most dynamic art forms in urban culture to date. Students delved into the role that street art plays in the gentrification of blighted inner-city areas.

The artist balanced out class discussions and readings with anecdotes from the field, including his own. Maleka Stewart ’19 says Kasso Condry served as the “missing link” most of the time between what students saw in videos and real-life experiences.

“I loved hearing about his experiences—his trials and tribulations,” Stewart said of the Trenton, New Jersey, native.

Of course, a class about street art should not be confined to a classroom, so Kasso Condry led students on tours of the newly transformed Anderson Freeman Center, whose walls are now filled with murals of famous and lesser-known American writers, activists, and artists of color, and the College museum, where they saw works by Banksy and Shepard Fairey. Further afield, they explored large-scale murals at the Ferry Dock Marina in Burlington.

Perhaps the most rewarding field trip was a mural workshop the J-term students conducted at Middlebury Union Middle School in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Collaborating with the MUMS after-school art club (whose members had expressed interest in a female figure from the Civil Rights Movement), the College students suggested painting Rosa Parks at the school entrance.

Kasso Condry painted the main figure, while the College students and middle schoolers worked side-by-side to add inspirational messages to the background.

“I felt like we were doing something that is so important,” said Stewart. “To me, that was a monumental experience and it feels like we’re already making change.”

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