Catalano eyes art to promote civil discourse

· 3 min read

Catalano eyes art to promote civil discourse

Student and Yazidi participants inspect part of the “Unquiet Harmony: The Subject of Displacement” exhibit at the Sheldon Museum of Art.
Kyleigh Skaggs | CYFS
Student and Yazidi participants inspect part of the “Unquiet Harmony: The Subject of Displacement” exhibit at the Sheldon Museum of Art.

Theresa Catalano, associate professor in the Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education, is stimulating human connection by using art to engage participants. Her study explores how arts-based projects can promote civil discourse among pre-service teachers and prepare them to create effective, inclusive classroom environments.

“In our technological world, where we frequently communicate from a distance, it can become easy to say things you wouldn’t be held accountable for — things you wouldn’t say if you were in close, physical proximity to one another,” Catalano said.

Nebraska's Theresa Catalano is studying how art-based projects can promote civil discourse among pre-service teachers, better preparing them to create inclusive classroom environments.

The project is funded by a Humanities Nebraska grant and is supported by the department and is housed at the Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools.

Along with Catalano, the project’s principal investigator, the research team includes Jenelle Reeves and Stephanie Wessels, associate professors of teaching, learning and teacher education; and Alison Leonard, associate professor of arts and creativity at Clemson University. The Sheldon Museum of Art’s Walter Mason, Carrie Morgan and Jessica Rosenthal also were integral to the project.

Project participants included pre-service secondary education teachers enrolled in Catalano’s “Teaching Multilingual Learners in the Content Area Classrooms,” a course designed to prepare teachers to work with students with immigrant backgrounds and equip educators with tools that encourage healthy discussion.

Catalano’s project coincides with a Sheldon Museum of Art exhibition, “Unquiet Harmony: The Subject of Displacement”. The display features works from international artists that examine individual and global perspectives of immigration and migration. It is open to the public through Dec. 31.

Community partners from Yazda, a Lincoln nonprofit cultural center whose mission is to assist Yazidis in recovering from the 2014 genocide and prevent future atrocities, shared firsthand accounts of their refugee experiences with the students.

The participating Yazidi immigrants live in Lincoln, which is home to North America’s largest Yazidi immigrant community — more than 3,000 refugees who fled religious and ethnic persecution in Iraq.

Together, they created interpretive dances to bring those stories to life and performed them for one another.

“Dance is very important to express your feelings when you cannot talk and when there’s no one listening to you,” Bakir Murad, a Yazidi project participant, said. “Dance is connected to happiness and joy.”

Theresa Catalano: Promoting cultural understanding through the dialogue of dance
Video: Promoting cultural understanding through the dialogue of dance

The project focused on viewing and discussing the Sheldon exhibition, collaborating on the dance workshop and describing how their viewpoints had changed as a result of the experience.

“As people living in the same country and the same city, we need to know about each other,” participant Shahab Bashar said. “Life becomes more beautiful when we walk hand in hand, smile and respect each other.”

Although the Sheldon exhibition is key, the project’s most dynamic feature is the dance workshop. The challenge for participants is to figure out how to tell a story through dance.

“When you put people together and have them listen to one another’s perspectives, and then add dance to the mix, it adds physical intimacy and vulnerability that can level the field and help create a sense of community,” Catalano said.