Kira Hegeman, 2016

Kira Hegeman, a Ph.D. student in art education, researches the creative and social functions of artistic interventions in public space- in particular, a public space in Minneapolis, Minnesota known as Elf Door, where individuals leave letters and other objects for an “elf” that resides in the tree.

Under the direction of Dr. Lynn Bustle, her research focuses on specific practices like Elf Door where community members alter the landscape in some manner to invite interaction and participation from individuals as they move through the public space.

“I explore the social function of these interventions, the manner in which they invite conversation, art making or creative interaction, and their potential for building or supporting a sense of community.”

Utilizing visual art making methods, Hegeman also explores how visual art making may serve as a research methodology in the academic setting.

“Through sustained studio practice focused on observing, analyzing, and better understanding a site-specific intervention, as well as creating a new artistic intervention, I study how art making may open up new means of performing research and add insights within research practice,” she explains.

The topic of her research- anonymous elf, Mr. Little Guy- has been personally answering letters for more than 20 years and was recognized for his community building efforts with a special day in his honor – August 15th.

Hegeman plans to utilize art practice, such as drawing and printmaking, as well as more traditional methods of observation, interview, and document analysis to explore the ways in which individuals interact with the site and the types of questions or support individuals seek from the elf.

Her findings will help guide the development of an artistic intervention into a public space in Athens intended to foster the opportunity to explore the relationship between geographical region, neighborhood, and local culture in the development of artistic spaces for community participation and exchange.

“My research serves to garner more awareness of the potential for interactive artistic spaces to offering alternative possibilities for engaging with and conceptualizing urban spaces, specifically with regards to issues of isolation, discrimination and accessibility.”

Through this research, Hegeman hopes she will be better able to identify the types of social needs such a space addresses in order to identify areas where more attention may be paid to mediate issues around social well-being.

“With the development of an artistic space for community engagement in Athens, GA, this project invites individuals from diverse backgrounds and experiences to interact in a shared space, enabling individuals to recognize shared connections, particularly those that may not be initially apparent, and learn about other members of the larger Athens community,” she says.

After graduation, Hegeman plans to work in community and public arts either through a museum or community program.

“I am particularly interested in creative placemaking—utilizing art and creative design in public spaces to invite social interaction and arts engagement.”

“My work offers an opportunity to look more in depth at how people interact with such sites. I hope to be able to work as both an artist and an educator to design sites and experiences for participants to make art, connect with other individuals, and imagine new possibilities.”