Professor helps turn youth lives around through art education – UofSC News & Events

Olga Ivashkevich leads workshops for girls in juvenile arbitration program

As an art educator, Olga Ivashkevich has long been interested in seeing how girls
express themselves through art.

When she arrived at the University of South Carolina in 2008 as a faculty member in
School of Visual Art and Design, she wanted to pursue her interest in girlhood studies,
something she had worked on as part of her dissertation at the University of Illinois

“I was interested to see how girls make meaning about girlhood and about their identities
through spontaneous art-making outside of school” she says.

Her interests drew her to the Women’s and Gender Studies program, and she now directs
the Women’s Well-Being Initiative, overseeing arts and digital media workshops for
adolescent girls in the Juvenile Arbitration Program of Lexington County.

The workshops are part of a diversion program for middle and high school girls who
are first-time, nonviolent offenders. The goal is to keep them out of the formal criminal
justice system. Ivashkevich developed the curriculum for workshops, which use art
and digital media to promote engagement and discussion of everyday issues faced by
the girls and young women. Ivashkevich directs the program, and UofSC students from
various disciplines are trained to help teach the classes.

“There is always an art-making component to it. And the art-making component is focused
on the idea of feminist pedagogy and social change,” she says. “So, basically, art
functions as a tool to think through the obstacles you have in life as a girl, as
a young woman.”

I was interested to see how girls make meaning about girlhood and about their identities
through spontaneous art-making outside of school.

Olga Ivashkevich, School of Visual Art and Design

The program aims to provide tools for the young women — who have gotten in trouble
for issues like shoplifting, trespassing and underage drinking — so they can think
about themselves in a more positive way and imagine their future in a different light.

“We usually begin the classes with a discussion of what things make you feel small
and insignificant, what things put you down. And they create a map of obstacles, we
call it a map of roadblocks. The girls say things like peer pressure. They say partner
violence. They mention family issues. Or somebody in the family is incarcerated. They
share not having enough money,” she says. “And most of them are just typical teenagers
who need some guidance, who need a mentor, who need someone to talk to. And art is
a wonderful vehicle to express yourself, to talk about your life obstacles and also
to build community.”

The girls work on art that depicts social issues, speaking to topics like societal
oppression, sexism, fairness and discrimination against women.

Ivashkevich, who grew up in Belarus and moved to the United States for graduate school,
remains driven by the opportunity to use art to make a difference in young people’s

“It’s just very satisfying to see those teens walk in very silent and closed in with
so much baggage, and then see them slowly opening up — and not just to us, adult facilitators,
but to each other. And to see them have those conversations and realizing that they
are not the only ones who feel that way,” Ivashkevich says. “This is why I still do
this because having that experience for myself is deeply satisfying.”

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Anita Shire

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