MSU Global hosts Nuestros Cuentos exhibit through October 30

Two years’ worth of work by MSU students, faculty and local elementary students is on display this month at MSU Global. The exhibit is part of MSU Global’s Creative Fellows program and features work from RCAH Professor Estrella Torrez’s ongoing civic engagement collaboration, Nuestros Cuentos. The project works with the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities, MSU’s College Assistance Migrant Program and Mt. Hope and Pattengill elementary schools to publish a book of stories authored by Lansing school district students.

Torrez said she was originally connected to MSU Global through an RCAH Graduate Fellow, Karla Loebick. Now, Torrez said it’s nice to see all of the works in one place.

“It’s the first time I’ve seen both of the exhibits together,” Torrez said, referencing the artwork from the first two years of the project. “As I’m looking at the illustrations, I’m remembering the kids specifically behind those stories… I can remember working with those groups in a particular time, maybe when they were struggling through a certain part of the story.”

Mark Sullivan, MSU Global’s Creative Fellows curator and former RCAH professor, said he thinks Nuestros Cuentos is a great program.

“It’s one of a handful of programs that actually tried to not just write about what kids do and analyze what kids do, but actually get their work out to the public,” Sullivan said. “In some ways, it’s very distinctive because of the kind of focus it’s creating. It’s getting people to interact with the kids’ art, not just secondhand vicarious experience.”

Sullivan says he thinks Torrez’s model has the potential to be useful to other groups as well.  

“She’s creating stories among young kids and opening up a space where these stories would be told and where they could be given the kind of attention they don’t always get,” Sullivan said.

Torrez said she first came up with the idea for Nuestros Cuentos by talking with several groups in the community, including MSU’s College Assistance Migrant Program and administrators in the Lansing school district.

“I had these three groups who were interested in working with Latino communities in various ways, so we bridged them together. What better way of bridging communities than through storytelling?” Torrez said.

Not long after that, RCAH Professor Dylan Miner suggested including his students in the project as illustrators.

Since then, Torrez says the project has continued to grow. This year, a group of Native American students are participating alongside the Latino students. Torrez says the elementary school students’ parents are also involved at a greater level. 

“It is a surprise that it’s been as well-received as it’s been,” Torrez said. “A lot of the time, when you do these storytelling projects, you get a sense of who you are. You really have to examine those pieces of yourself and be able to translate them to people who don’t have that context.”

RCAH student Faith Perrenoud participated in the program last year, working directly with the elementary students. This year, she’s working with Torrez as an undergraduate research assistant.

“I think I decided to continue because I wanted to see this other end of civic engagement that’s a bit more organizational,” she said. “I think very highly of the project. It’s such a great way to put together all these different groups, RCAH students, CAMP students, elementary school students, and another group of illustrators. I really like all these different communities coming together to work toward that common goal. I think that’s the most interesting part of the project.”

Perrenoud says her experience with civic engagement has taught her to be more flexible.

“I’ve learned that things tend to just happen when they need to. If something really needs to happen, just roll with it, just be flexible,” she said. “I guess I’ve learned to keep on top of things, but also to take a breath.”

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Story by RCAH student Kelsey Block. Story images by Katie Wittenauer.

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