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Art professor successful with grant for new course

September 11th, 2017

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – A Bethel College professor learned recently that she is the recipient of a nationally competitive grant that will help support the development of a new course at Bethel.

Rachel Epp Buller, associate professor of visual art and design, applied to the National Art Education Foundation (NAEF) for one of its Mary McMullan Grants. The NAEF is affiliated with the National Art Education Association (NAEA), of which Epp Buller is a member.

When the NAEF put out its annual call for grant proposals, Epp Buller decided to respond. “I learned that I was successful with an application to fund the development of curriculum for my new course next spring, Activism, Art and Design,” she said.

Epp Buller’s grant is one of only two Mary McMullan Grants that the NAEF awarded in 2016.

The class Epp Buller is developing – which has been approved for the spring semester of 2017 – fulfills requirements in art history and general education (either arts and humanities or peace, justice and conflict studies credit). In addition, it follows in one of Epp Buller’s longtime interest areas: “activist artists.”

The grant will help Epp Buller spend some time in Lawrence with “a former mentor who’s worked in activism and printmaking,” she said. “A lot of it will go toward bringing in visiting artists.” She hopes to have up to a half-dozen.

In her application to the NAEF, Epp Buller wrote, “As a school affiliated with the Mennonite Church (a historic peace church), Bethel College’s core values emphasize the importance of peacemaking and advocacy for issues of social justice. By developing this new course, … I aim to begin moving the arts to the center of this values-based discussion.

“This parallels the direction in which many current artists and designers around the world are moving, seeing their roles no longer as producers of objects but rather as creative thinkers who can help enact social change. … By examining with students the ways that artists and designers … engage with peace and social justice movements, I seek to help our students develop a larger worldview outside of their own experiences.”

The course will be structured around both historical and contemporary examples of artists and designers who decided to become politically and/or socially active in an effort to bring about societal change, Epp Buller said.

“Our readings and the imagery we study will all center on ways in which artists have sought nonviolent means to make strong statements of protest [and] will explore systems of power and discrimination as related to race, gender, class and sexual identity."

In addition to incorporating workshops with the visiting artists, the Art, Activism and Design class will draw on area art exhibitions, Epp Buller added.

“Using visual and art historical methodologies, students will learn how to analyze the ways in which artists and designers have not only represented, but also engaged with and influenced, conflicts and issues of social justice from a variety of perspectives,” she said.

As an independent, philanthropic organization, the NAEF assists with efforts to represent the teachers of art in America by improving the conditions of teaching art; promoting the teaching of art; encouraging research and experimentation in art education; sponsoring institutes, conferences and programs on art education; and publishing articles, reports and surveys about art.

NAEF funding supports a wide variety of professional activities, including research in art education; scholarships for professional development; promotion of art education as an integral part of the curriculum; establishment and/or improvement of art instruction in public and private K-16 schools; promotion of the teaching of art through activities related to the instructional process, curriculum, student learning, student assessment, classroom behavior, management or discipline; and purchase of art equipment and/or instructional resources.

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2015'16 analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States, and is the highest-ranked Kansas college in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2015'16. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

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As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.