Through camera eye, opening minds on race
New Fitchburg State library art program aims to spur dialogue
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FITCHBURG -- The Fitchburg State library public art program launched Tuesday with an exhibit many hope sparks a conversation about race relations on campus.
The university's Black Student Union and Library and Communications Department worked together to create the "Our Lives Matter" photo exhibit, a display of photography that creates a visual perspective of people of color on campus.
Danette Day, an education professor at the university and an adviser to the Black Student Union, said the organization wanted to do something different than the typical dinner or dance, the students wanted to tell their stories.
"Any type of event where people come together and there is song and conversation, constitutes as celebration," Day said. "That celebration is around the lives of young people who really at times have it different than others at the university."
Christina Arecy, the president of the Black Student Union, said the project was influenced by the Black Lives Matter movement nationwide and they wanted to bring the movement and share their voices with the university.
However, it was not clear how they wanted to do that.
Sean Goodlett, the interim dean of the library, said the library wanted to incorporate public art into the newly renovated library, but it didn't come to fruition until Day said her students had a project in mind. Goodlett said it perfectly timed with February being Black History Month.
"I am a big believer in the power of art to shape and change ideas," he said.
Coelynn McIninch, the photographer of the exhibit and a photo and media specialist at the university, helped shape how the exhibit looked. McIninch worked closely with the Black Student Union and suggested they make the images simple, yet powerful.
Sixteen portraits of members of the Black Student Union are dispersed throughout the library with the hashtag "iMatterBecause" at the top. Below the students answered four simple questions, "I can," "I will," "I want" and "I am."
"(The idea was) to have people share and seeing more than just a face on campus," Day said. "It is not a lot of information, but hopefully it invites someone to stop a student if they have seen them somewhere and say 'tell me more.'"
Goodlett said he hopes the art can create a dialogue, many find difficult to engage in.
"It really is about provoking conversations and having students see each other for who they are -- real and fully rounded individuals," he said. "They have three dimensions, hopes and aspirations as well as fears and insecurities."
Arecy, a junior sociology major, plans on being he first one to graduate from college, a fact highlighted next to her photo. She said she knows other people on campus, regardless of skin color, are striving for that same goal. Arecy said she wants to be able to have open conversations with all people about who they are and what they go through."
Goodlett said the exhibit, which will last the entire semester, is just the beginning of the library incorporating public art in the newly-constructed library. The four floors include seven gallery spaces for two-dimensional art, five fixed digital displays for digital art and media and floor space throughout for three-dimensional art.
Day said art will be another way for students to educate themselves.
"Going back to when I was younger, libraries were places where you could explore, whether it be a picture book or a textbook," she said. "Libraries are learning centers."
She said part of learning is having open discussions about difficult topics, something the Black Student Union thrives to do.
"Our work is to always invite dialogue," she said.