Posting Date: January 19, 2010

Sandra Bird's Global Vision

By Cheryl Anderson Brown

Bird (second from right) on a KSU faculty study trip to Turkey sponsored by the Istanbul Center in March 2009.

Turkish prayer room Bird designed and installed

on campus last year.

Bird with a friend she met during her December visit with students to Morocco.

Associate Professor of Art Sandra Bird has been exploring international and intercultural connections since long before Kennesaw State University adopted “Global Learning for Engaged Citizenship” as its quality enhancement program.

Bird embraces the idea that people should celebrate each other’s cultural identities rather than creating a climate of fear and misunderstanding. She infuses her courses with projects and curricula to support this ideal. She is a model for the power of collaboration. Bird and her students work with local elementary school teachers to create interdisciplinary, intercultural curricula for the children. The students explore a different culture and design/facilitate unit plans, culminating in a community performance or presentation by the elementary school students.

Last semester’s project at Big Shanty Intermediate School in Kennesaw asked the students to use art and music to compare the cultures along the Osun River in Nigeria and the Chattahoochee River, closer to home. In December, the youngsters dressed in Nigerian costumes, tasted Nigerian foods, displayed the unit’s artwork and performed myth enactments.

This cross-cultural theme was inspired by Bird’s work with African art historian, Assistant Professor of Art Jessica Stephenson. They are collaborating on a book focused on the arts of the Osun River. This will be Bird’s second book; her first book, "Wisdom at the Crossroads," documented another intercultural service-learning project at a local elementary school. Bird’s work in infusing art into university service-learning initiatives is nationally recognized by the publication of her curriculum course syllabus on the Campus Compact website.

Bird’s latest collaboration is working with the director of KSU Holocaust Museum, Catherine Lewis, and many globally engaged colleagues and students from across the KSU campus. Bird was invited into an ongoing oral history project sponsored by the U.S. State Department, in partnership with Hassan II University of Casablanca, Morocco. The Creating Community Collaboration Project involves the collection and eventual exhibition of oral histories conducted in Morocco and Atlanta. Moroccan researchers collected histories from its neighborhood of Ben M’sik in Fall 2009, while the KSU research team is now collecting oral histories from American Muslims in the Atlanta Metro area.

Over the winter holiday, Bird had the opportunity to take four history students to the North African nation, “largely to serve as Dr. Lewis’ camel” according to Bird. Bird and the students were honored at an opening ceremony of the “Ben M’sik: Creating Community in Casablanca” exhibit, discussed developments of the ongoing collaboration with Hassan II university officials, and delivered presentations on American cultural topics. The group was also provided personally guided tours of the historic sections of Casablanca, Marakesh and Rabat. A Moroccan team of professors and students will visit KSU in April 2010 for the presentation of the KSU research team's findings.

Bird has always had a strong interest in the cross-cultural aesthetics of the Middle East and Africa, which has only deepened in recent years. She actively works to foster understanding among people from these areas and Americans. To this end, she serves as the faculty sponsor of both the Muslim Student Association and the Turkish Student Organization. She also has served on the advisory boards of the Islamic Speaker’s Bureau and the Istanbul Center in Atlanta.

Last year, during KSU’s celebration of “The Year of Turkey,” Bird intertwined her myriad interests to create a unique art installation for KSU students. She worked with Professor of Art Carole Maugé-Lewis and students to develop and install a traditional Turkish prayer room on campus, which Muslim students were able to use for the early evening prayers and community meals during their observation of the holy month of Ramadan. This became provided the KSU Muslim community an opportunity to interface with the KSU community at large. The project is described in Bird’s upcoming book chapter, “Teaching Islamic Aesthetics” within a University of Maryland Press publication, “Incorporating the Middle East into the Classroom,” edited by Jason Tatlock.

Read a 2008 profile of Sandra Bird.

View Sandra Bird’s faculty bio.


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