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Arts & Life

Brush Creek Gets Its Close-Up In Short Films By Kansas City Art Institute Freshmen

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Courtesy Emma Harford
A scene from Kansas City Art Institute freshman Emma Harford's 'Brush Creek Gone Wild,' showing at Tuesday night's Brush Creek Film Festival.

The spring assignment for a small class of Kansas City Art Institute students: Spend six weeks making art about Brush Creek. The results: 19 experimental video documentaries — none longer than five minutes — screen on Tuesday night.

Most of the 19 students in the Mapping Brush Creek workshop had never made videos until they took his class, says Steve Snell, an assistant professor in the Art Institute's freshman foundations program.

"The assignment was to get them out to see this creek that's right in front of them that they might have never noticed, and introduce them to video, all within this compressed time frame," Snell says of the workshop.

Freshmen in the foundations program have a choice of workshops, but they don't always get their first preferences. So Mapping Brush Creek wasn't the number-one choice for some of Snell's students.

"I told them on the first day: This class is going to require you to walk. A lot. Rain or shine, no matter what. Even if you break your leg, you’re going to explore the creek. We'll push you in a wheelchair if we need to," he says.

"Some students were really into that — the ones who like to explore and get out of the classroom. For others, it was something they’d never do if they hadn't been put in a situation that compels them. But after doing it for a couple of weeks there was no longer any resistance. If anything, the students want more time out of the classroom."

As it is, they've spent most of their last few weekends filming, from the creek's confluence with the Blue River up to its source in Prairie Village, Snell says.

The first assignment was to make a simple montage. The next project was inspired by Koyaanisqatsi, 1983's influential time-lapse movie showing "life out of balance." The students' task was to capture movements and patterns of light to reveal something otherwise unseen or not obvious to most Kansas Citians (Snell called this second assignment "Brushcreekasqatsi").

KCAI freshman Alexander Isgriggs' "A Creek In Contrast":

His favorite assignment, Snell says, has been what he called "Brush Creek Encounters." It's turned out to be a favorite of the students, as well.

"They had to encounter an individual outside of the class, who was not a friend, at Brush Creek, and engage that person in a short conversation. After collecting the audio of these stories, they had to recreate the story through their b-roll video footage to either compliment or illustrate the story."

Some more polished versions of those Brush Creek Encounters videos will screen at the film festival on Tuesday night, Snell says.

KCAI freshman Noah Jones' "Artist of the Creek":

The project grew out of Snell's own work. It's his first year teaching at the Kansas City Art Institute (he was previously at Hastings College in Nebraska).

"I like to learn about my local environment and history and explore things," says Snell, who calls his work "adventure art."

"That means using my art practice to create, for myself or others, unusual, exciting or remarkable experiences," he says. He's currently building a boat out of cardboard, which he hopes to float down the Missouri River from St. Joseph to Kansas City later this summer.

"The first part of the project is the experience. I use video to document that, and then the second part is creating the image to go with the adventure."

Snell says he won't be teaching another Mapping Brush Creek workshop.

"Next," he says, "will be riding the KCATA."

Brush Creek Film Festival, 6:30-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 5, Anita B. Gorman Discovery Center, 4750 Troost Ave., Kansas City, Missouri, 64111. Doors open at 6 p.m.; screenings followed by a question-and-answer session.

C.J. Janovy is an arts reporter for KCUR 89.3. You can find her on Twitter, @cjjanovy.