MTSU students learned firsthand why the people of Scandinavia’s cozy countries continually top the United Nations’ “World Happiness Report,” and their own report is “Passport to Happiness,” a new art exhibit open through Aug. 15 in MTSU’s Todd Art Gallery.
Created by MTSU students and Danish and Norwegian children during a special MTSU study-abroad program, the art exhibit features multimedia pieces and artifacts created in Denmark and Norway and in America, all focusing on happiness.
Dr. Debrah Sickler-Voigt, MTSU art education associate professor, took seven students to Denmark and Norway in May to study art, stay with area families and teach in local schools for the “Scandinavia Abroad” project.
Brittany Gardner, LeAnne Hannington, Bailey Ingram, Ciara Knight, Whitney Proper, Kaitlyn Roberts and Tucker Webb made the trip, making stops in the capital cities of Copenhagen and Oslo, swimming in the waters of the Arctic Circle, visiting Legoland Billund, climbing mountains and admiring fjords, churches and museums while immersing themselves in the region’s culture.
The students worked with youngsters in the Anna Trolles Skole, or School, in Brenderup, Denmark, and the Svolvær Skole in Svolvær, Norway, to create original works inspired by Scandinavian folklore, art history and visual culture.
The Scandinavian countries — Denmark, Norway and Sweden — regularly rank at the top of the United Nations’ annual “World Happiness Report,” thanks to their solid incomes, top healthcare and schools, and balancing their work and personal lives via generous parental leave and vacation time and inexpensive child care. Combine those factors with scenic vistas and hearty outdoor activities, and it’s no surprise that citizens in those nations where the sun shines only seven hours a day in deepest winter still consider themselves “happy.”
“We had read that Scandinavians were the happiest because of their high standard of living,” Sickler-Voigt explained during a radio interview this week, “so the students came up with the lessons we taught: how can we communicate the idea of happiness that extends beyond the things we buy and shows quality-of-life happiness.”
The students used their time with their host families in Denmark to brainstorm project ideas for their young charges during their classroom visits.
“We learned a lot about the culture, every ‘little thing’ in life that makes them happy,” Gardner said during the interview. “We did some projects in photography, book arts and paper weaving to show how happy they are.”
“In Norway, we asked children to write sentences in Norwegian and English about things that made them happy. They didn't come up with ‘shopping’ or ‘money’; they came up with things like ‘my dog,’ ‘my family,’ ‘my friends,’ and it was beautiful,” added Roberts.
The result is a series of projects displayed in the Todd Gallery featuring the children’s work as well as the MTSU students’ art inspired by their experience. The “Passport to Happiness” exhibit also includes hand-carved trolls from the collection of MTSU professor Kent and Lynell Syler’s family, along with original Oleana sweaters and knitted goods from the Norwegian company.
“Our goal for the exhibition guests is to consider the importance of happiness in daily life and how to implement a positive lifestyle by simply enjoying ‘the little things,’” Gardner said. “Everything that the (Scandinavian) students made is up on display, so you can really see what makes them happy.”
You can watch a video Ingram created about the experience:
MTSU’s Todd Art Gallery is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and is closed on weekends and state and university holidays.