a club, and its creative impulse
At Brown, it’s simply impossible to join all the clubs or participate in all the events. We have to prioritize how we spend our time, no matter how much we’d like to experience every interesting thing happening on campus. Yet, in the claustrophobic bustle of the fall activities fair, I was still able to find Artbeat—the clever name caught my eye, and if it weren’t for the witty pun, I might have accidentally overlooked its unobtrusive booth in the absolute anarchy of the activities fair. I was greeted by the effortlessly-artsy Mandi Cai ‘17, co-founder and president of Artbeat, who told me a bit more about the club. Art installations? Workshops? Interactive public displays? I was sold.
After the first event, Festival Fete, I had already been able to experience the creative and collaborative atmosphere of Artbeat. Our project was to create a public art piece for this festival, and we decided to make it an interactive chalk mural. What ingredients did we need to fulfill our objective? One questionable asphalt intersection, two nostalgic boxes of Crayola chalks, a handful of creative Artbeat members, and, most importantly, a healthy amount of eager passerby willing to contribute.
We decided to make a big foot print (because how clever is it to have Festival Feet at Festival Fete?), which would subsequently be filled with the traced footprints of anyone who wished to participate. There were no rules, of course, so the art was not limited to just footprints—and in fact the artists themselves were just as varied as their art.
The first passerby to add her footprint was a mime. She added a brightly-colored pair of footprints that were every bit as quirky and distinctive as herself. Throughout the day, she came and watched the mural develop, declaring her satisfaction through drawn hearts and happy faces. She didn’t verbalize anything, but she didn’t need to because her art spoke for her. Art is a way to communicate.
People were hesitant to join in at first, perhaps gripped by various inhibitions. One woman initially refused, stating that she hadn’t done art in years. Nevertheless, with some gentle encouragement, she surrendered herself to the call of the chalk and stooped down next to me. She went on to draw a beautiful, intricate pattern reminiscent of a Mandala (spiritual symbol in Indian religion which represents the universe). Art is a way to reconnect with yourself.
Later on in the day, I met individuals who seemed to be foreigners. Although we didn’t speak the same language, we shared a unique dialogue simply by working alongside each other. Art goes beyond borders.
Young toddlers waddled onto the mural without inhibitions, followed by apologetic parents. They were driven by the peculiar curiosity that lies in the mind of every youngster. We encouraged parents to let their kids express themselves fully, reassuring them that it might be healthy to get a little chalk dust on their knees. Despite the fact that they could hardly talk, these toddlers were still able to communicate (in their own, squiggly ways) through their chalk art. It was especially endearing to see the parents join in, following in the footsteps of their tiny pioneers. Art is something that belongs to all ages.
This communal masterpiece helped to bridge the gap between ages, between ethnicities, and between otherwise profoundly different experiences. It was a testament to the oneness of the human experience, an opportunity to share something special with individuals who (under different circumstances) would be considered strangers. The ephemerality of the piece made it all the more precious, as everyone knew that once regular traffic resumed, the street mural would disappear—that is, it would physically disappear. This precious, if fleeting, experience will hopefully endure in the minds of those who witnessed it.
My personal experience with Artbeat has been particularly rewarding, but there is still so much more to this club. In the following interview, the president of the club (Mandi Cai ‘17) provides a unique insight to the creative and cultural depth of Artbeat.
What was the purpose behind the creation of Artbeat, and what are its goals and aspirations?
MC: Artbeat seeks to foster and unlock the artistic community at Brown by providing a platform for artistic expression amongst all students. We view art as something to be shared and interpreted differently by every person. Public art is a great way to unite students, faculty, and locals while communicating a message that sparks conversation, hence our motto ‘Find your creative impulse.’ Our future goals are to continue and expand upon our workshop series, build more public art installations that incorporate interactivity, and conduct large-scale ‘Art on the Green’ projects in the spring.
How does Artbeat use art to communicate with the student body at Brown? Through the various workshops, what else is Artbeat educating students about? How is art especially conducive in expressing these messages? Are the workshops interdisciplinary?
MC: In the past, Artbeat has collaborated with GlobeMed, Kappa Delta, and emPOWER on workshops supporting global health, child abuse prevention, and Earth Day awareness, respectively. The visual aspect of art is what makes it so powerful and impressionable—being able to demonstrate your ideas and immediately see how others react is a very rewarding experience. This year, Artbeat is trying to integrate cross-cultural aspects of art into our workshops. One of our previous workshops on mask-making educated participants about mask-making traditions through Jewish and Chinese culture. Because the workshop occurred right before Halloween, we also spoke about the difference between appreciating and appropriating costumes.
Why is the club called Artbeat? Is there something symbolic behind the name?
MC: Every individual engages in a unique creative process and follows their own rhythm, or beat. Our mission is to provide opportunities for everyone to contribute their ‘Artbeat’ and inspire each other.
I find the meaning behind Artbeat to be particularly interesting. Artbeat gives people the opportunity to explore art creatively in an unintimidating context. This safe, welcoming space fosters artistic thought and in the process encourages much-needed conversation about social, cultural, and environmental issues. Art is something that extends beyond and across the borders that we create for ourselves, whether these divides are national, cultural, or personal.