University fund champions innovative faculty research projects

Pamela Lawton wants to replicate an almost extinct style of learning that once happened naturally when multiple generations of families lived together. A research award through the VCU Presidential Research Quest Fund will help her determine if it is possible.

Lawton, Ed.D., associate professor in the Department of Art Education in VCU’s School of the Arts, received a $48,000 PeRQ award to build on 15 years of research as an art educator. Her project, Artstories, involves a process of bringing together multiple generations of people in underserved communities and connecting them through visual stories.

Her grant was one of more than 20 projects to receive funding this year through PeRQ. Funding totals more than $930,000, including matching funds from faculty departments and schools.

The PeRQ Fund is designed to support faculty research projects across the university and its institutions.

“As a premier public research university, VCU is committed to supporting our faculty’s new, emerging and continuing research,” said VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D. “In today’s competitive research funding environment, the PeRQ Fund supports impactful research to advance knowledge, inspire creativity and improve health in the community, nation and world.”

Pamela Lawton, Ed.D.
Pamela Lawton, Ed.D.

Lawton’s research has several layers. In addition to intergenerational learning she is also interested in the process of communities healing by building rapport and trust among individuals who work on art projects together.

“If you think about troubled communities, it’s hard to think about healing taking place without trust, and trust without a rapport being built — that’s my experience,” Lawton said.

Lawton has her eye on the Fulton neighborhood in Richmond’s East End and, specifically, Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School. She will gather 30 participants — students interested in art, caregivers in the community, and people from VCU — who will create drawings around a unified theme they choose together.

Lawton is a printmaker and her goal is to have participants carve a woodblock with their design that will be inked and printed. Later, the woodblocks can be fit together like a puzzle to create one collaborative print. There is also a writing component, so participants can opt to write poetry or create a narrative that would be displayed with the prints at a final exhibit.

The grant money will support supplies and a stipend for graduate students assisting on the project and for someone to assess the data to determine that the project is meaningful and transformational for the people it serves.

“Obviously, people will learn about woodcutting, but the types of things I want to find out are, how people feel about the neighborhood, how people care about it, other people’s vision for it, how art might help them put ideas and concerns out there and get the attention they need,” she said.

Lawton hopes to pair this project with a similar project in Washington, D.C., where she lived prior to coming to Richmond last year. “We could have some sort of conversation between the two cities, whether it’s an art exhibit, or actual communications about how people answered questions and the similarities or differences between two,” she said.

Finally, Lawton will use the research findings to complete “On Common Ground: Community-Based Art Education Across the Lifespan,” a how-to book for educators who want to create similar projects in their own community.

It is a massive undertaking with lots of moving pieces, and the PeRQ award will support Lawton as she puts all these pieces in place. “There is no way I could do this without this grant being accepted so I am extremely grateful for it,” she said. “I can see where this grant can be the seed for a start for external money and grow beyond this one neighborhood.”

Sixty-five proposals were submitted to the PeRQ Fund this year. The university allotted a total of $550,869 through the PeRQ Fund to support 23 of these projects, and $382,913 in matching funds came from schools and the College of Humanities and Sciences. The funding period is 18 months and starts July 1.

Click here for a complete list of PeRQ Fund awards.


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