Rhodes Students, Brooks Museum, and Area Teachers Collaborate on Upcoming Day of the Dead Events

A group of six Rhodes students—Ailsa Bryce, Sarah Clifton, Amanda Draper, Abbey Judd, Micah Leonard, and Elizabeth Poston—are working with Elesha Newberry, associate director of education at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, and eight area K-12 teachers on educating school children about Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), celebrated in Mexico in November and several other countries of Latin America to remember friends and family who have died. As part of this celebration, families and school children make altars with food, flowers, decorations and photos in memory of their loved ones.

Dr. Eric Henager, associate professor of Spanish at Rhodes, is advisor to the Rhodes students, who with Newberry, have designed a curriculum to educate students in eight schools about the holiday and other culturally relevant activities. The schools include private and public schools in Memphis, Shelby County and Southaven, and the Rhodes students will be providing curriculum guides and assistance to the teachers and students throughout September.

“The project is particularly exciting to me because students and educators from ten different local institutions pool their resources and talents toward cultural learning goals and collaborative art work,” says Henager. “The art then can be enjoyed by visitors to the Brooks and the curricular work can be shared in support of future art and multicultural education projects.”

Abbey Judd ’15, who is pursuing an urban studies major with Spanish and Latin American minors, agrees. “This collaboration between the Brooks Museum and Rhodes has forged an enriching experience of cultural reflection, artistic expression, and community engagement. Our curriculum discusses a basic understanding of Día de los Muertos and how to build altars that will be featured at the Brooks Museum. In the classrooms, the students have astounded me with thoughtful discussions about who they should honor and why it is important to honor certain people, for example, Trayvon Martin. This partnership with the Brooks has demonstrated how essential the arts are in the fostering cultural understanding and the importance of partnering with the greater Memphis community.”

"The Ofrendas: Student-made Altars," the resulting exhibition of altars created by students of the eight schools, will be on view at the Brooks Sept. 28-Nov. 10. “We have not been able to provide this level of support for participating schools in the past and are very grateful for the Rhodes fellows and their enthusiasm for the project,” says Newberry.

Latin American studies major Ailsa Bryce ’15 adds she has enjoyed working with such a diverse group of students. “They have all been eager to learn more about a culture different from theirs and in the case of the Latino students, eager to teach others about their own traditions and celebrations. I am thoroughly looking forward to seeing the finished product in the Brooks.”

The Rhodes group also will be working with Newberry on the Brooks Día de los Muertos School Day event to be held Nov. 1 and its Día de los Muertos community celebration, held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Nov. 2. “They will work with me to develop culturally relevant activities and programs for the events,” says Newberry. “School Day is a free field trip opportunity for local schools, and includes music, dance and theatre performances and art-making activities. The community celebration also includes art-making activities, face-painting, music, dance and theatre performances and is a free event for all.”