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May 22, 2019

A unique Honors Forum class introduced students to Kansas City’s art history and current arts scene

The group visited the sculpture “Bird Lives,” a bronze head of jazz legend Charlie Parker, near 18th and Vine streets.

A Fall 2018 Honors Forum gave students a truly inspirational experience, immersing them in the art and architecture of Kansas City.

“KC as Text: Focus on Art and Architecture,” a class designed and taught by Art History Chair Dr. Allison Smith, visited 11 historical sites in the Kansas City area to study the city’s history through the lens of public art and architecture.

“This is the best class I’ve taken at the College.” – Michael Chaffee, retired educator

An Honors Forum is required for students graduating from the Honors Program but is open to others as well. After Honors students were enrolled, other students also were able to take advantage of this learning opportunity.

According to Smith, one of the things she loved about the class was the great diversity of students. “We had young students who were taking their first Honors class, as well as students in their 60s who love art and Kansas City,” she said. “Some students were new to the area and others had lived here their entire life. All came with different expectations and experiences that gave a richness to our study.”

Smith said the class diversity lent itself to great discussions at the sites and back in the classroom as students shared personal stories about their connection to the areas. For example, when they visited the Garment District one student told about her mother, who had worked at the Donnelly Garment Company (later Nelly Don), and even brought in a fur cape that her father had made as a furrier in the district.

Hometown appreciation grows

“This class reminds you of how critical arts are to our community.” – Dr. Allison Smith, Art History Chair

One of Smith’s goals was to show how art vitalizes a community. “When you live somewhere, you often take it for granted,” she said. “Seeing the community through the eyes of art gave students a new perspective.” Smith didn’t gloss over unpleasant parts of Kansas City’s history, either, making diversity a strong component of her curriculum.

By the end of the semester, the students had visited these areas:

  • River Market, Garment District, West Bottoms
  • Liberty Memorial, Union Station, 18th and Vine
  • Westport, the Plaza, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art
  • Johnson County Heritage Center

Ethan Bilyeu, 20, said he enjoyed living in Kansas City but didn’t know a lot about its history before he took the class. “I loved the topic,” he said. “It helped fulfill an Honors requirement and gave me a greater appreciation for the city.”

Smith designed the Honors Forum class as a combination of on-site learning, reading, weekly writing assignments, small group discussions and a final presentation. Students received firsthand accounts and background related to a site and its role in local history. Throughout the semester, students were challenged to improve their research, writing and presentation skills.

Michael Chaffee, a retired educator, said this was the best class he’s taken at the College. “Dr. Smith was so knowledgeable and obviously put a lot of preparation into what we’d be doing,” he said. This unique class was a popular one, connecting people from varied backgrounds as they explored something they had in common: Kansas City’s art and history.

Enroll now to change your future

The Honors Program challenges students to stretch beyond what they learn in the classroom. Part of that is the required Honors Forum, which focuses on issues and topics not covered in the general curriculum.

Honors Forum topics vary by semester. Students can take forum classes with different topics for additional credit, giving them multiple opportunities for a deeper learning experience. You will need department approval to enroll in the Honors Program; send an email with your student ID and the class you want to take.

JCCC offers hundreds of classes and continuing education courses each semester. Check out steps for enrolling to find out how you can get a new perspective on your education!