International Collaboration

August 2023
Written By: 
Sara Sobota
Photographs by: 
courtesy of Coastal Carolina University’s Athenaeum Press and Hochschule Mainz

Project brings Coastal Carolina University students to Germany and art exhibit to Myrtle Beach Art Museum

Many fortunate students embark on study abroad experiences at some point during their undergraduate education. However, few have the benefit of working with a corresponding group of students in a foreign country to create an artistic exhibit for public display. Fewer still have the opportunity to then travel to that international destination, meet their online student colleagues in person, and take part in the exhibit’s opening. A group of Coastal Carolina University students had a chance to do just that – and now, they’ve brought the project back across the pond for a public exhibit at the Myrtle Beach Art Museum.

Creating International Ties

Multiversum is the latest product of the Athenaeum Press, CCU’s student-driven publishing lab, and its first international collaboration.

Fifteen CCU students from a variety of disciplines took an eight-week Fall II class in Fall 2022 in virtual collaboration with a class of 17 German students at University of Applied Sciences in Mainz, Germany. Each week, the 32 students would meet each other on Zoom to work on an interdisciplinary project with the theme “What If?”

What if humans could live without air? Or if everyone were the same color? What if we could watch the movie of our lives after we died? What would the world look like if religion did not exist? What if animals could talk, or if humans could stop time?

The students were divided into groups, each assigned two speculative questions. They held online brainstorming discussions; completed scientific, sociological, and political research in their respective countries; and came together to compare their findings and determine how to display them visually and textually. The combined work of the groups, reflecting disciplines including digital humanities, English, graphic design, and filmmaking, ultimately resulted in a poster exhibit as well as a printed book.

In May 2023, six CCU students traveled to Germany to create an exhibit held at the annual International Days 2023 at the University of Applied Sciences in Mainz. This fall, that same exhibit - Multiversum, or Multiverse in English – is on display at the Myrtle Beach Art Museum through Dec. 31, 2023.

The Work Behind the Scenes

For nearly a year, Scott Mann, associate chair and professor of graphic design in the Department of Visual Arts and affiliated faculty with the Athenaeum Press; and Alli Crandell, director of the Athenaeum Press, have been involved working on this project with Sylvie Pagé, filmmaker and professor in the Department of Communication Design at University of Applied Sciences Mainz.In June 2022, Mann traveled to Germany to meet with Pagé, and a few months later, Pagé traveled to Conway, S.C., to continue the mutual exploration of universities, student bodies, and facilities. There she met with Crandell and Mann to develop a schedule for the project and held a preliminary workshop with students.

“We decided to work together because we have a small mission,” said Pagé. “We want to make sure the students have another point of view, another life perspective. And through that collaboration, through that exchange, we want to eliminate mutual cliches and prejudices about Germany and America. With such big countries like America and Germany, it’s very easy to work among stereotypes, cliches, and prejudices. And those very things bring us very often to war.”

Pagé has done similar projects with universities across the world, and her colleagues enjoyed a longstanding partnership with CCU faculty, both in online and collaborative contexts. Multiple CCU faculty have taught at University of Applied Sciences Mainz.However, Multiversum is the first project between creative departments and the first to expand beyond the digital platform to include student travel, a full exhibit experience in Mainz, and a corresponding exhibit in the Conway/Myrtle Beach area.

“We wanted an opportunity to be able to showcase this project domestically for those who aren’t able to travel to Germany and to offer students here an opportunity to present on their work within the [Myrtle Beach Art] museum,” said Crandell.

Mann noted that as he observed German/American student interaction week after week as the project developed, he was pleased with the amount of time the students spent discussing a wide range of cultural topics outside the project.

“The cohesion that happened with some of the groups was fantastic to watch,” said Mann. “They would meet outside of class to talk about life in general - how is it to live in their country versus our country? And I would hear these stories from my students. One said, ‘The first time we met, we talked for hours about everything but this project.’”

Crandell added that students learned as much about themselves as they did about their German counterparts.

“These students learned persistence, and they learned a lot about collaboration, especially within remote teams, which is obviously much more common in today’s world. They learned the value of that synchronous communication as well.”

Jay Orcutt, who was recently part of the first CCU cohort to graduate with a B.F.A. in visual communication design, said the Multiverse experience was fun, hard work, and illuminating.

“It was really great, and the German students were wonderful to work with,” said Orcutt. “They were so welcoming, and we had an amazing time. We really connected and shared stories of the United States and Germany, and we came to the conclusion that we’re not that different.”

Homecoming – Multiversum as a Piece of the Whole

At the Myrtle Beach Art Museum, Multiversum is one exhibit within a larger retrospective, titled “Local Stories Matter: Exploring Our Region through 10 Years of the Athenaeum Press.” Crandell said “Local Stories Matter” is the largest exhibition the Press has ever created and encompasses “about three times the amount of space we typically deal with.”

The space allotment is appropriate, as the Athenaeum Press has plenty of fascinating material to share.

Established in 2013, the Athenaeum Press is dedicated to finding, researching, and telling local and regional stories that are often overlooked. Topics over the years have included pirates in the Carolinas, chicken bog, photographer William Van Auken Greene, South Carolina’s energy system, pulp fiction writer Mickey Spillane, and Gullah Geechee music, people, language, and culture. Each project spans 1-2 academic semesters; involves students as well as affiliated interdisciplinary faculty, local scholars, and community members; and culminates with the production of a textual work and a multimedia element, such as a pop-up museum exhibit, a recipe kit, an interactive website, or an audio recording. “Local Stories Matter” includes exhibitions of 14 Athenaeum Press projects as well as related programming including panel discussions, excursions to areas of focus in the projects, and scholarly lectures.

Crandell said the design of the “Local Stories Matter” exhibit allows viewers to follow a theme through related projects, or to move through the exhibit as a time line.

“We’re designing it chronologically with some sub themes that are happening throughout,” said Crandell. “Our Gullah Geechee projects are within eyesight of one another as you navigate through the exhibit, so that each time you go through, you can follow a different story line. Or, if you just pass through without knowing anything about the projects, you’d get a snapshot in retrospective of all our projects that we’ve worked on, including a summary and a student experience.” Crandell added that it’s the first time the Press has installed multiple projects within the same space. “It’s a great opportunity to see these projects in conversation with each other,” she said.

Along with the development of Multiversum, Crandell has been taking other measures to expand the reach and scope of the Athenaeum Press. The Press was recently awarded a planning grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to explore the potential for growth both within CCU and in connecting with other regional institutions. Within CCU, Crandell hopes to incorporate storytelling and public-facing writing more fully into the curriculum.

“Along with our past collaborators and affiliated faculty, we’re trying to figure out, in different curricular integrations, how we can diversify the Press experience so local storytelling and community engagement is not just something you get in the last two years of your undergraduate life,” Crandell said. “How can we insert that experience earlier in students’ academic careers and prepare them for coming into the Press?”

This initiative would involve planning and instruction with faculty as well students.

“It would give faculty a primer on how a project works,” said Crandell. “And there are smaller ways of integrating projects we’ve worked on into content curriculum. While it might not be a full Press project, there are smaller components, skill sets, micro-lessons that we can integrate within other courses.”

In terms of collaborating with other institutions, Crandell envisions broader opportunities for the Press working outside university and local boundaries. For example, Crandell and Mann are in the early stages of collaborating with the Henderson School of Appalachian Arts in Marion, Va., to create a traveling museum exhibit focusing on the banjo in Appalachian culture, including the instrument’s African roots.

Over the years, dozens of CCU faculty and more than 150 students have participated in Athenaeum Press projects, and Crandell hopes to see the number grow exponentially in the future. In the creation of “Local Places Matter,” Crandell said, “We’re looking to the past in order to look forward about what the future is, or might be.”

In the meantime, “Local Stories Matter” is both an opportunity for the public to experience the full range of Athenaeum Press work and a chance for Press alumni to come together.

“It’s kind of a homecoming for us,” said Crandell. “We’ve brought back a lot of the scholars, faculty, and collaborators as well as students – all the people who have made the Athenaeum Press so successful over the years.”

For more information on “Local Places Matter,” visit