The month of February is recognized as Black History Month and the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts is hosting a unique exhibit to celebrate the month.
Gallery coordinator and coordinator of client services Shawna Witherspoon wanted to curate the exhibit after having serious conversations with her children about racial and social injustice earlier in 2020. Shawna’s husband is black. After having these conversations, she encouraged her children to make artwork about their feelings. This artwork and her own became the catalyst for the exhibit entitled “A Series of Artistic Inspiration.”
“You need to talk about it,” Witherspoon said. “My biggest thing is you need to be open and honest, caring and understanding. But the biggest part about it is to not be naïve and we need to come to terms with the fact that there are things that are hard to hear and hard to admit. Until you can recognize them and stop downplaying them nothing can change.”
Shawna said her main goal was to foster a dialogue about racial issues in the United States today. 2020 saw an outpouring of racial trauma in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and others, and protests being met with police brutality from both civil forces and the National Guard of various states.
“I hope this exhibit provides not only a platform or opportunity to have these conversations about change, but it is also it is meant for healing. Art is a fantastic therapy,” Witherspoon said. “This exhibit is meant to heal and set PSU in the right direction when it comes to diversity.”
Witherspoon wrote a grant in summer of 2020 to be able to enlarge, frame, and hang a special selection from the Axe Library Special Collections related to black history at PSU. The grant from the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission also alotted funds to purchase art supplies for patrons of the exhibit. Witherspoon is encouraging guests of the exhibit to create their own artwork to add to the exhibit.
“Attendees will be encouraged to leave their piece for display; those works will then be matted and displayed in the gallery alongside the inspiration piece,” PSU Marketing and Communications said. “An open gallery event is planned for March to allow the public to return to see those works.”
Witherspoon also wanted to highlight the power of art therapy with the added ability to add public artwork.
“Anyone who comes to see it can use our space and supplies to paint or draw the feelings they need to express but cannot find the words for,” she said. “My hope is that this project will help people work through the emotions they are experiencing, regardless of whether they’re because of social injustice or the pandemic… We are all in this together and I hope that this can also show that even though we feel isolated or alone, that you are not alone and that we are all doing our best to cope.”