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Students Examine What Being “Local” Means at Midwest Symposium

What does it mean to be local? What defines the bounds of locality?

Students in Professor Belinda Haikes’ Art & Art History Web 2 class have been looking at these questions all semester. Using the web as a storytelling medium rather than just an informational platform, each student created a project that explored the idea of locality. Topics included where people travel for vacations, the challenges of living off of a minimum wage income, and the history of buildings in downtown Trenton.

Shannon Kelly ’16, a graphic design major, approached the idea of ‘locality’ by looking at how sex-ed standards vary state-to-state and even school-to-school. She researched sex-ed laws in all 50 states, and using that data, Kelly designed a website to present the information. In addition to learning coding skills and gaining research experience, Kelly said that project made her realize just how different your experiences in life will be based on where you live – where you are local.

“It definitely made me think about what it meant to have grown up in New Jersey and how diverse the social and political atmospheres of the states and regions are,” said Kelly.

Participants at the 2016 Confluence Symposium at Southern Illinois University
Participants at the 2016 Confluence Symposium

The locality projects were part of a collaborative effort with three other schools: Tulane University, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and Southern Illinois University (SIU). Professors and students from all four schools gathered during the last weekend in April at SIU for the Confluence Symposium, where they shared their work analyzing locality and participated in workshops and seminars. Kelly joined Professor Haikes, Courtney Ling ’17, and Aya Golender ’17 as the TCNJ representatives at the symposium.

Students’ final projects from all four schools were displayed in a pop-up style gallery on the SIU campus. Each of the schools varies socio-economically and in its student population, and the projects reflected that diversity.


“It was interesting to see our web-based work share a physical space with the work from the students of SIU, Tulane, and the Art Institute of Chicago who filmed videos, recorded sounds, took pictures, and created an app,” said Kelly. “Not only had each school worked with a different medium, each school had it’s own take on the theme ‘locality.’”

Ina addition to the pop-up gallery, the students who participated in the Confluence Symposium worked collaboratively to document Piles Fork Creek, a small stream near the SIU campus. The creek is so small that it does not appear on resources like Google Maps. Using the concept of locality and introducing the idea of e-publishing, the group documented the creek through video, sound, and 360 degree photographs that could be adapted for Virtual Reality. Through the process, students learned how to mesh together their skills and creative processes.

“We collaborated in-person with primarily cinematography majors,” said Kelly. “I had the opportunity to not only work with a lot of different people in order to create content, but also people who approach creative work differently and use different mediums.”

With the media they gathered, the group designed a web page with their own map of the creek, linking the sound and images they had captured to the coordinates they plotted so that those who aren’t local to the Piles Fork Creek can still experience the creek in a digital landscape from the perspectives of those who were.

You can check out the locality projects that the TCNJ students created in addition to seeing the final project from the Confluence Symposium.