Fralin Museum of Art leads city-wide Signs of Change/Charlottesville art, community engagement project

university of virginia uvaThe Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia is mounting a city-wide campaign to educate residents about the history of slavery and African American life in Charlottesville, and to shed light on current realities for residents of color.

Signs of Change/Charlottesville, which begins this month, is a partnership with the Charlottesville Office of Human Rights, the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center and the Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative. The project will also involve 11 artists from the Charlottesville and Virginia area.

Artist Hank Willis Thomas invited The Fralin Museum to participate in the For Freedoms/50 State Initiative, a national program that uses art to promote civic engagement in advance of the November mid-term elections. Signs of Change/Charlottesville is The Fralin’s answer to that invitation. The program has two parts: a series of workshops in September and October and displays of artworks created by local artists beginning in October.

“We are honored to be a part of the For Freedoms/50 State Initiative,” said Matthew McLendon, J. Sanford Miller Family director of The Fralin Museum of Art. “This is an opportunity for the students and faculty at UVA to dialogue about race in our city, and also for the artists of our community to help spark conversations among the general public and to demonstrate the important place the arts hold in encouraging dialogue.”

Part one of the project involves local artists creating original works, which will address a number of historic events in Charlottesville’s African American history. Completed works will be reproduced for display at locations throughout the city, beginning in October. In January, an exhibition of the original work will take place at The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative. The artists – Bolanle Adeboye, Eze Amos, Anne Chesnut, Sahara Clemons, Logan Dandridge, Alan Goffinski, India Mawn, Cary Oliva, Frank Walker, Travis Walker and Sandy Williams – represent a variety of backgrounds, ages and artistic mediums.

“The diversity of our artist pool makes this project all the more meaningful,” said McLendon. “There are artists like Frank Walker, who grew up in Charlottesville during the segregated Jim Crow era, served in the Army during Vietnam and has painted portraits for most of his life. But we also will feature the work of high school students who are exploring their own artistic paths and sharing their perspectives on the African American experience in our city.”

Part two of Signs of Change/ Charlottesville is a series of community and University workshops. Community workshops will be presented by Charlene Green, manager of the Office of Human Rights, who will discuss African American history in Charlottesville. Teaching artists will lead a creative activity in response to this information and guide a dialogue on race relations. University workshops will be led by faculty presenting on their areas of expertise regarding the African American experience at the University of Virginia. A creative activity, modeled after the community workshops, will follow the presentations.

“Our hope for the workshops on site at the University is that students and student groups will begin to take an active role in these conversations,” said McLendon. “These, together with the community workshops, are a chance for real dialogue and intergenerational exchange to take place and hopefully lead to positive change.”

Signs of Change/Charlottesville is supported by an Arts Enhancement Grant from the University of Virginia Office of the Provost & Vice Provost for the Arts.

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