Art can communicate, celebrate, and commiserate; it can educate, edify, and energize. On the Rivers campus last week, it did all that—and helped give a voice to members of our community who sometimes feel silenced.
October 21 saw the opening of RiversOUT, a community art show installed in the Bell Gallery in honor of LGBT History Month. Students, faculty, staff, and alumni were invited to contribute works that reflect LGBTQ+ themes. The show represents a collaboration between the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and the visual arts department—and those involved in putting it together were delighted with the cross-discipline endeavor.
“The idea that the academic disciplines can be actively engaged in DEI work is such a great shift,” says Katie Henderson, the school’s interim director of DEI. “The gallery space gives us opportunities to do shows related to identity in some way. What you put on the walls sends a message about who you are as a school, and who has a voice, and who belongs.”
Tim Clark, chair of the visual arts department, says he was “really excited to partner with the DEI office on this collaboration, to bring the show to fruition.”
He was also “thrilled we had alumni, faculty, and staff involvement.” One alumni work included in the show was Hunter Taylor-Black ’19’s painting of two women embracing. When the work was first displayed, during Hunter-Black’s student days, concerns arose about the appropriateness of the image, and it was ultimately removed from the gallery wall. Today, a little over two years later, it is back in altered form, with the words “It’s time to re-evaluate what is considered inappropriate and why” stenciled across the face of the canvas.
Marin Broderick ’22, one of the student leaders of the GSA, said that “the members of the club felt like the art was truly impactful, especially Hunter Taylor-Black’s piece.” This week, the club planned a meeting around the gallery, with members visiting the show and then discussing it.
Broderick also contributed her own works to the show. “I submitted a collection of pieces called ‘Basement Church Sinner,’ about the intersection between my queer identity and my religious background. It was amazing to see my paintings and poem go up in such a central part of campus. It truly makes me feel heard, and I feel it’s one step in giving me back the voice that marginalization stole from me,” said Broderick.
Besides the artwork on display, the show also includes a “coming-out wall,” which was created from a slideshow compiled for National Coming Out Day, earlier this month. Members of the community were asked to submit their thoughts in answer to the question “What Does Rivers Think of Coming Out Day?” The answers, printed on colorful paper, cover a full gallery wall and reflect the challenges, fears, and joys of coming out as LGBTQ+. Another wall educates viewers, with colorful graphics and displays, on such topics as gender identity and expression and moving beyond the binary. Clark said, “I think it’s wonderful that the exhibition is a combination of written voices, the ‘beyond the binary’ wall, and the artwork—it’s a wonderful amalgamation of these three avenues into a really important theme.’
RiversOUT will be on display in the Bell Gallery through November 23. Click here
to see a gallery of photos from the October 21 opening. While the impact of a single show may be hard to assess, Clark says the opening reception reflected an almost unprecedented level of enthusiasm. “It was jam-packed,” he says. “And there were meaningful conversations taking place.”