FauHaus offers court-involved youth a 'space of imagination, possibilities'


By tapping into its talents and expertise, the School of Education is involved in a range of efforts designed to positively impact our community — and our world. Following are a few examples of how faculty, staff, students and alumni are working together and with valuable partners to push boundaries and deliver innovative programs that are making a difference in real and relevant ways. 

FauHaus offers court-involved youth
a ‘space of imagination and infinite possibilities’

Whether presenting a new collection of artwork in his hometown of London, speaking with UW–Madison students or working with court-involved teens in Dane County, Wisconsin, Faisal Abdu’Allah isn’t afraid to draw attention to — or ask probing questions about — history, race and intolerance.

“Everywhere I travel, the rubric is the same,” says Abdu’Allah, an associate professor with the School of Education’s Art Department. “I’ll meet a group of students less fortunate than myself and think, ‘If it weren’t for my strong family structure growing up, that could have been me.’”

Abdu’Allah is an internationally acclaimed artist who creates iconographic imagery of power, race, masculinity, violence and faith to challenge the values and ideologies attached to those images. He came to UW–Madison in 2013 as the Arts Institute’s Interdisciplinary Artist in Residence, and he returned in the fall of 2014 to join the Art Department as a faculty member.

Fall 2018 Learning Connections cover at 300 pxDuring this period, the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families released the “Race to Equity” report that put the spotlight on the Madison area’s profound racial disparities in education, child welfare and the criminal justice system, among other realms. Three- quarters of Dane County’s African-American children live in poverty, compared to 5 percent of white children, the 2013 report explained. Half of all black high school students don’t graduate on time. And black juveniles, the report noted, were six times more likely to be arrested than white juveniles.

While such inequities are deep-rooted, Abdu’Allah has a unique ability to infuse people with confidence that the future doesn’t have to look like the past.

“Anyone with support will fly,” he says this fall while hanging out with six Madison-area teens at The Bubbler, a hub within Madison’s Central Public Library that connects artists to the community via a range of free, hands-on making, exhibitions and events. “Instead of watching young people become a representation of what some members of society expect, it’s important to help people become the very best of themselves.”

Abdu’Allah’s efforts center on utilizing the arts to connect with young people, nurture their creativity and confidence, and help give them a voice. Each semester for 15 weeks he runs the FauHaus Project, which he launched while visiting campus in 2013 and that he retooled and restarted in 2015. This project connects court-involved and at-risk youth with area artists, resources at The Bubbler, and a unit within the Dane County Department of Human Services.

“When we offer this program to the court-involved youth, an arts program is often the last thing they want to do,” says Alan Chancellor, a program leader with the Neighborhood Intervention Program, which is part of Dane Country Human Services’ Youth Justice Offices. “But we have this hook to get the students involved because it’s often a part of a deferred prosecution agreement, where if they take part in our program for six months and take care of some other business, the charges can go away. So it’s a critical time for them.”

FauHaus project with Faisal Abdu'AllahWhen asked why he agreed to take part in FauHaus, one 15-year-old replied quietly, “I was in a bad place before, so I thought I’d give it a try.”

One October evening, the students met with visiting artist Carlos Gacharná, an alumnus who first helped bring arts to underserved youth as an undergraduate taking a service learning course through Art Department Professor Gail Simpson. Over the years, Gacharná has taught a range of classes at The Bubbler and has partnered with Abdu’Allah and others on restorative justice projects. During this visit to The Bubbler, Gacharná led a pattern design session that included a history lesson on how patterns spread across the globe through the African diaspora.

“We can connect with students in ways that aren’t always possible in schools,” says Gacharná, who lives in Long Beach, Calif. “It’s personalized and a way to disrupt ways in which some students keep getting pushed to the margins.”

Rob Franklin, also known as Rob Dz and the media projects bubblerarian at The Bubbler, adds that by the time some of the youth become involved with the FauHaus project, they are already being written off as “unworthy” or “problematic.”

“That’s frustrating, because these are just kids!” says Franklin, a Kennedy Center certified teaching artist for the Making Justice program who focuses on hip hop, personal branding and spoken word as a positive form of self-expression. “We’ve all made mistakes. These guys are only 14, 15 or 16 years old. Sure, some are at a bit of a crossroads. But programs like this allow us to make connections and help students view themselves and the world in a different way.”

The students have gotten involved in art-related activities like painting, printmaking, spoken word, performance and photography, while contributing to discussions pertaining to identity and representation in visual culture. The art produced stems from the participants’ stories and experiences.

“I’ve learned that I really enjoy art,” says one 15-year-old.

FauHaus is linked to the Madison Library’s Making Justice Program, which was initially developed as a Wisconsin Idea initiative in partnership with Nancy Buenger and UW–Madison’s iSchool. Making Justice was seeded, in part, by grants from both UW–Madison’s Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment and the Morgridge Center for Public Service, along with a National Leadership Grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services.

“What’s unique about the program and what makes it work are the individuals involved,” says Chancellor, who highlights the efforts of Abdu’Allah, Franklin and Bubbler teen services librarian Jesse Vieau. “There are many programs that try and deliver something — but it doesn’t mean it’s received well by the target audience or it has any value to the wider community.”

When asked if FauHaus has value in the eyes of the Neighborhood Intervention Program and the Dane County Human Services’ Youth Justice Offices, Chancellor says: “It’s extremely valuable. I only wish more kids could take advantage of it.”

FauHaus is also part of the new UW Com- munity Arts Collaboratory, which was made possible via the School of Education’s inaugural Grand Challenges Engage grant competition. Grand Challenges was launched in February 2017 to back interdisciplinary teams to address critical problems that span the arts, health and education. The Collaboratory, which is led by School of Education faculty members Erica Halverson (Department of Curriculum and Instruction), Kate Corby (Dance Department) and Abdu’Allah, provides artmaking opportunities for youth to cultivate wellness and advocate for social change.

“I think the real impact from FauHaus will be in the next five to 10 years,” says Abdu’Allah. “We have testimony from students talking about the impact this has made on their lives. I need to think of next steps on how I can collect more data over time and prove its worth.”

For now, Abdu’Allah says simply: “I’m confident that our work here, and our partnership with The Bubble, offers a space of imagination and infinite possibilities.”

Too Much Sauce

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