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Learning Circles September 1, 2008


The Learning Circles Art project is a unique collaborative Community Art project which will be on public display in the JCU library by the end of 2008. The idea developed from meetings between Learning Advisers Peter Hanley and Kylie Bartlett and public art expert Linda Ashton, from JCU’s School of Education. The piece symbolises the importance of social support networks for contemporary learning.


The project was originally conceived to help first year retention rates. Mentors from the JCU mentor program were trained to show new students how to make clay mandalas for the large art installation. The time spent making their clay mandalas for the Learning Circles allowed first year students to chat and make new friends. They then recognised the familiar faces of their peers in class and their mentor providing a vital support group when needed.

Currently, there are approximately 3000 clay pieces however more are needed. These will be fired later then installed and handed over to the JCU library as a public art display by the end of the year. Members of the public who visit on Open Day are welcome to contribute to the project and view the installation which has already started.



The 17m x 3m work is located on the ground floor of the library at the Learning Centre and can also be viewed from the mezzanine floor. It incorporates six of  the unique circular windows which were originally part of an exterior wall.


Many students and staff have worked together on the one year project. This includes students from JCU’s mentor program, first year students across all Faculties, the JCU School of Education, Learning Centre Staff and members of the wider community. Local business Twin Cities Glass and Aluminium kindly donated and cut the large circular mirror pieces. School of Education art students worked with Linda Ashton to arrive at the final design. They also installed the thousands of ceramic  piece


The piece is made from a mixed media glued to the existing concrete wall. As well as clay, the final artwork will feature river washed stones, mirror, some river rocks from the library garden outside, clear glass, varnish and of course, lots of glue. A ceramic work by Peter (Travis (1969) which has been in the library since its opening provided a way of connecting with significant existing art in the space.



The majority of pieces were made during O-week in study period 1. Then mentors took the half hour clay workshop to lots of classes in their early weeks of university tuition. Midyear intake students also contributed. The work will be handed over to the JCU library as a gift at a formal event later in 2008.



The primary reason for the project was aimed at greater  retention of first year students. This was to be partially achieved through the time spent creating the display. The art work itself needed to complement the space and architecture of the library providing an aesthetic dimension. Its value will be about $20000.














The project is semi-abstract inviting multiple interpretations. First and foremost is that education is a foundation stone for life. The circles could represent the Faculties and the Library as information hubs. Mandalas are universal circular symbols for the sun and for social gatherings. Clay is an ancient, versatile and tactile medium in ochre colours from the earth. When fired it lasts for centuries and captures the marks of individuals along with their cultural icons. The rhythmic flow of the coloured stones represents the learning pathways of JCU students. The mirror invites them to see themselves as part the JCU learning community in the tropics and its alumni upon graduation.





As I am a fourth year student I will still on prac when the project began…I was filled in on the process by third year students.


The idea was to connect first year students with the university and therefore increase retention rates among first year university students at James Cook University. On the JCU open day third years encouraged students to make mandalas. Mentors were also involved in making mandalas with their group of first year students in tutorials.


The design was decided on, chalked out on the walls. Students took of different parts of the wall first blue –tacking on the design, getting it checked by others and then glue gunning with varnishing happening prior or after.



I saw the learning circles project in the flesh for the first time today. I was amazed, the photographed really do not do this piece any justice nor do they show the size of the project. I spent a wile just looking at the whole piece from a distance and then spent even longer investigating each tile. The mix of colored stone which have been varnished and the individual tiles along with the flowy organic lines makes this piece very appealing.



I spent time in the library today sitting at a desk beside the learning circles. I took great joy in watching many people walking past and stop and LOOK at the piece.


The learning circles project quickly took shape. Once students saw the patterns emerging, the wall quickly filled. We added white rocks and clear glass rocks to the design as well as small brown glass rocks.

We worked on the learning circles as a whole group for a couple of hours each week as well as most people working in their own time with a peer. We used QAP forms to ensure the quality of the overall piece. This involved checking designs with a peer or the project manager before attaching them to the wall etc and then getting theses procedures signed off by the peer.


In the last session of the learning circles we all worked on the wall aided with sticky notes from the project manager. We had to fix up any uneven parts, add on bling and clean the chalk and excess glue from the wall.

Finally the Learning Circles were formally handed over to the vice canceller at a ceremony held prior to the third and fourth year art exhibition.





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