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Art that Empowers

Written by Nicole Harvey
June 9, 2015

For Jennifer Kulik, Ph.D., a member of Matteo Ricci College's faculty, theater has been more than just a lifelong passion; it's been a source of strength and empowerment. 

Kulik's middle school years were difficult. She was frequently bullied and had to deal with a health issue. Reflecting on the experience years later, Kulik came to the realization that it was her participation in theater that allowed her to feel heard and make connections with new friends. 

"Theater was the thing that kept me going, and grounded me in that particular time in my life," she says. 

Kulik decided she wanted to find ways to help empower others through theater. She founded Silver Kite Community Arts , an organization dedicated to providing an outlet for people to express themselves, build self-esteem, and connect with people they would likely not have met otherwise. 

One of the ways Silver Kite transforms lives is through integrated theater workshops. In the workshops elderly participants are paired up with high school-aged participants. Participants form connections with one another by sharing real life stories, overcoming stereotypes and find commonalities with one another. 

Kulik has brought this community-minded approach to theater to a course she developed and taught in Matteo Ricci this quarter. Titled "Arts and Community Engagement" the course teaches students about arts and social change.

As part of the course, the students designed and facilitated a six-week arts enrichment program at Bailey Gatzert Elementary School, a key partner in the Seattle University Youth Initiative. Kulik and her students worked with second- through fifth-grade students to write poetry and stories, create performance pieces based on the stories and design costumes. The SU and the Gatzert students performed their original stories together on the last day of the program before an audience of kindergarteners. 

"I have nothing but praise for the Arts and Community Enrichment Program provided by Jen Kulik and her SU students," says Bailey Gatzert School Success Coordinator Jonathan Ruiz. "They did a great job at building relationships and engaging students. I remember that at the beginning, some of the participating Gatzert students were reluctant to participate…To these students, their arts experiences had not been as positive. However, the SU students under Jen's direction truly were able to communicate what the program was all about. During the middle of the program these skeptical students began to really get into the performing arts…and break out of their shells.

"At the end of the program most of the participating Gatzert students really enjoyed it and grew into their stage presences, dramatic character creations and public speaking abilities. As for the SU students, they were really challenged and truly grew into their roles as instructors and got great experiences on how to manage a classroom setting and how to engage elementary school students."

Kulik is similarly impressed with the SU students in her class. "The students in the course are passionate about engaging with their community. I am thrilled to be working with future leaders who are interested in seeing how the arts can be used in their future leadership of this city and the world." 

Nicole Harvey, '16, is majoring in strategic communications and minoring in Spanish.