Social justice program tackles societal problems at the community level—and calls for healing through art.
What’s your problem: racism, homelessness, immigration, pollution, bullying, human trafficking, mental illness? Take your pick, they all could use some creative problem solving on a community level. That’s what an Arts for Social Justice program at SCU is meant to help foster—with a boost thanks to a prestigious matching grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

The Creative Project/El Creativo is the name of SCU’s program, launched last year and running through 2016. It has brought nationally known artists to campus and has enabled faculty and students from the visual and performing arts at Santa Clara to work with schools and communities to develop projects that tackle the problems they see around them every day. Butch Coyne, director of SCU Presents, underscores the value of the grant in helping raise the profile of the project.

At Washington Elementary School in San Jose, the program brought a dance and poetry event to address issues of low self-esteem in the low-income school—a project that builds on SCU’s broader involvement with the school through the Thriving Neighbors Initiative, directed by the Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education. Other community programs include photography, dance, and mural painting projects at Sherman Oaks Elementary and Del Mar High School—taking on local environmental concerns and bullying.

Here on campus, the inaugural event for El Creativo was a dance performance in the spring by Lineage Dance, led by Hilary Thomas ’98 and Caterina Mercante ’00, who are based in Pasadena. They premiered Ceiling in the Floor, a project intense and cathartic for choreographers and viewers alike. For Thomas, it was giving shape to a profoundly personal story: portraying her friendship with a person she’d known since high school who wrestled with depression for years before he committed suicide in 2012. That friend, Brandon Toh, also spent years trying to help others suffering from depression; and he wrote most of the music to which the show is choreographed.

Ceiling in the Floor draws on the journals that Thomas kept while a student. “So much of the show I was writing about my experience during the time I was at Santa Clara,” she says. Lineage Dance itself was founded on the Mission Campus—when Hilary Thomas and sister Gillian Thomas ’96 returned to perform in 2002 and adopted the moniker for that show. The show speaks to a real problem that college students everywhere face, and it speaks to the possibility of healing through art.

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