pARTicipate: Fostering Diversity and Inclusion through the Arts and Communication, 2017

The College of Arts and Communication at UW-Whitewater explores the theme of diversity and inclusion through an eclectic array of offerings on October 16-20. In the spirit of embodied experience, the 2017 Diversity Forum is conceived as a mini art festival complemented by classroom projects, performances, programming by student organizations and co-curricular activities involving campus and community partners. From art exhibits and lectures to concerts, staged readings, and community engagement activities, the CoAC-sponsored Diversity Forum has inspired collaborations — some interdisciplinary and others within departments and across colleges. Observes Dr. Eileen M. Hayes, dean of the College: “The 2017 Diversity Forum highlights pARTicipation by everyone — expert and novice alike. We are thrilled to present a palette of offerings in the arts and communication that reflect the breadth and depth of faculty and student-initiated programming at UW-Whitewater. I hope that everyone will take time to attend and experience at least one of these events, each engaging the theme of diversity from varied vantage points. After all, an emphasis on diversity, inclusion, and equity is most timely given the prominent role it plays in the university’s new Strategic Plan.”

This year’s Diversity Forum weaves programming into the curriculum of classes within the CoAC and across campus. For example, health communication and counselor education students will engage in a community art project facilitated by guest presenters Sisters Central City Circle of Change, from Milwaukee, who will talk with the students about human services delivery in diverse communities (October 16, 12-2 p.m., Wyman Mall). Members of the campus community will then be encouraged to inscribe messages of hope, love, and courage on ceramic tiles for the Living Walls project.

Celebrating international connections

A number of forum events highlight the international scope of the diverse array of offerings. Printmaking from Mexico is featured in the Crossman Gallery’s exhibit of prints by some of the innovative artists of Oaxaca, a city known for its indigenous peoples and cultures as well as its biodiversity. Each printmaker employs a distinctive approach to the use of imagery. Guest artists include: Victor Calderon, Silvia Castellanos, Argelia Matus Martinez, Alan Altaminrano, Ixrael Montes, Tomas Pinea Matus, Shinzaburo Takeda, Edgar Jahir Trujillo, and Esteban Urbieta. Please join us at the exhibit and reception on October 19, 5-7 p.m, to greet our visitors.

The Diversity Forum exposes attendees to traditional cultural practices, re-deployed for engagement by UW-Whitewater. Join us as the International Student Association takes the lead in adorning a Tanabata tree, typically associated with cultural traditions of Japan. In this collaborative art project, students provide passersby with colorful streamers with which to adorn the live tree that will be mounted for the duration of the Forum. The Tanabata tree is typically a part of the “star festival” that is held annually during the months of July or August in Japan. Come and add your streamer — personalized with handwritten wishes for a good future — to the bamboo tree in the lobby of Hyland Hall.

Getting to know you

There is something for everyone p-ART-icipating in the Diversity Forum. In an exhibit that began as part of her capstone project for Applied Communication, student Mengyuan Liu interviews 10 Asian students on campus and includes selected excerpts of their conversations in an exhibit at Andersen Library titled “Asian Students’ Integration into U.S. Culture.” Liu’s project is a reminder of the benefits of getting to know our neighbors and that we long for the day in which we are no longer strangers, one to another.

On the opening day of the festival, the UW-Whitewater Choir regales passersby with traditional songs from southern Africa and the United States (UC Mall). Be ready to raise your voice in a salute to this participatory mode of culture-making. Also located on the Mall will be the UW-Whitewater Printmakers Association, also known as the “Print Farm,” whose project facilitates the exploration of personal identity through creative mark-making. Students from Professor Max White’s Printmaking + 2-D Design classes will sponsor an intensive artmaking experience for the less experienced. Novices will have the opportunity to cut a Linocut block, roll it up with ink, and then print the matrix on a portable mini etching press.

The viewing of photos can prompt thoughtful action that may inspire changes in attitudes and behaviors — locally, nationally, and internationally. To that end, Professor Jim Kate’s Publication Photography class will curate an exhibit of photos taken across campus that exemplify inclusion at UW-Whitewater. Printed in large format, the photos will be displayed in the UC near the Willie Warhawk bench. The international students of the English Language Academy (ENG 163) are pleased to host “Where We Come From,” a digital poetry/photography installation that provides glimpses of students’ personal narratives in response to the perennial question of “Where are you from?”

Roberta’s Art Gallery is pleased to host “More Sights Often Seen, Rarely Noticed,” an exhibit by Wisconsin artist Shelley Smith. The Janesville resident’s work elicits nostalgia with subjects that are remarkable for their history, irony, and beauty using a limited palette of oil colors. The Crossman Gallery, housed in the Greenhill Center of the Arts, features the “Ask Me Who I Am” identity print project. In this event, open to all, Professor Max White’s students will engage pARTicipants in the art of screenprinting; each practitioner will take home a FREE t-shirt that reflects their cultural identity and voice.

“Humans of Whitewater” is an homage to Brandon Stanton’s well-known public art project, “Humans of New York,” begun in 2010. Stanton’s initial goal was to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers but the project quickly morphed to include excerpts of life stories by an astonishing number of New York City residents. In the spirit of Stanton’s project, the Communication Department will issue cameras, and faculty member Dr. Jim Kates and his Publication Photography class will curate the best of the photos. When completed, the photos will be displayed in the University Center.

Traversing identity categories

Understanding and tolerance across identity categories is at the core of the “Butterfly Project,” an outpouring launched by a nationally recognized arts organization to address hatred and bigotry. The Butterfly Project began in 1996 at the Holocaust Museum of Houston as a way to memorialize the 1.5 million children who perished in the Holocaust. While the goal of amassing 1.5 million handcrafted butterflies was reached, the project is a visual reminder of inclusiveness, diversity, and hope. Hosted by Roberta’s Art Gallery in the UC, members of the campus community can create a butterfly at any time during the Diversity Forum.

In an attempt to bridge cultural barriers, the UW-Whitewater Dance Company will perform to a soundtrack of three different songs: Cupid Shuffle, Cha-Cha Slide, and Thriller. “Cupid Shuffle” is drawn from Cupid’s 2007 album titled Time for a Change. The popular line dance has drawn comparisons with DJ Casper’s “Cha-Cha Slide,” which several years ago gained currency as the backdrop for aerobic exercise in fitness studios nationwide. Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” is the bestselling album of all time; it paved the way for other African American artists, such as Prince, to achieve mainstream recognition. This co-performance with members of the UW-Whitewater American Sign Language Club pays homage to Jackson’s artistic legacy. Come get your groove on. Audience participation is encouraged!

In “One Drop of Love,” actor Franshen Cox DiGiovanni problematizes the intersections of race, class, and gender in search of truth, justice, and LOVE. Inspired by her own experiences of race, family, and reconciliation, the writer-actor-director-producer explores tension-filled themes in ways that are at times funny and, at other times, poignant and revelatory. One Drop of Love was a project she created for her MFA thesis at Cal State University in Los Angeles. Join us as DiGiovanni introduces audiences to 16 different characters who explore, respond to, and question a dizzying array of racial classifications in the census since their inception by the U.S. government in the 1790s.

A staged reading of “Hang” by a diverse ensemble of three actors (October 16, 12:30-2 p.m.) complements a lecture by guest artist Marti Gobel, who will present a lecture on diverse casting in a World of the Arts class scheduled for earlier that day. Illustrating the ways that the theatre has traditionally hung on to sedimented modes of thinking that have permeated American society, Gobel’s project exposes audiences to a working example of how re-imagining casting can improve productions through diversity while maintaining the playwright’s intent.

The capacity of the arts to highlight aspects of self-identities becomes apparent in Kay Ulanday Barrett’s “Disability Poetics,” a spoken word performance by the acclaimed artist and foodie who identifies as a “Disabled, Pin@y-Amerikan, Transgender, Queer, Educator and Performer.” The event is hosted by the Center for Student Diversity, Engagement, and Success. The multi-talented Barrett speaks truth to power, making topics such as oppression, gender, disability, intersectionality, masculinity, Filipino heritage, and the diaspora, legible for all, while throwing in a deft sense of humor for good measure.

Art as inspiration for social action

Art can give expression to social concerns and be employed to help mediate conflict and inspire and reflect community formation. Professor Michael Betker’s Communication Conflict Resolution class will brainstorm powerful quotes and questions that can help members of various communities come together in the spirit of reconciliation. As their contribution to the art festival, the class will chalk quotations and thought-provoking phrases on campus sidewalks.

The 9-11 Freedom Quilt project is a non-profit that makes memory quilts for families of victims of war, service men and women, and victims of terrorism is inspiration for a quilting project with Project BIGG, a partnership between Fairhaven Senior Services, based in Whitewater, and the UW-Whitewater Children’s Center. pARTicipants will have the opportunity to contribute squares for three different quilts to teach pre-school children and their Grandfriends from Fairhaven about the values and symbols that can be sewn into the quilts giving deeper meaning and warmth to the quilts.

Another example of an academic class engaged in community outreach is the social justice project of the Drawing II class, which has collaborated with the community to make and install a 3-dimensional “line drawing” to shed a light on childhood poverty in the State of Wisconsin. The exhibit, which will be mounted in Hyland Hall, is comprised of recycled paper and symbolizes the number of children in Wisconsin who live in poverty. Under the direction of Bethann Morane-Handzlik, the class hopes that its work contributes to a heightened awareness of the issue, prompting empathy and — ultimately — action.

The Young Auditorium’s hosting of the “It Gets Better” residency kicks off Diversity Forum week. A project of the Gay Men’s Chorus of LA, a small but dedicated ensemble travels to communities nationwide to produce a week of educational workshops culminating in a moving music theater performance featuring poignant narratives of growing up gay. The ensemble presents a free performance (but tickets required) on October 19 at 7:30 p.m., followed by a post-show Q&A. At least five classes in the College of Business and Economics will be visited by ensemble members for special presentations.

The Department of Theatre/Dance embraces the idea that access to dance contributes to the health and sustenance of communities. Featuring students from Professor Barbara Grubel’s DANCE 141 (Contemporary Dance Technique 1), this semester, the class, which is open to all students, also includes able-bodied students who desire training as allies to dancers from a wide range of abilities and disabilities. Observers of the class are welcome.  

On the closing night of the Forum, join UW-Whitewater music and dance students and faculty in a benefit concert that raises funds to offset tuition costs incurred by UW-Whitewater DACA-eligible students. The program roster includes pieces by composers Piazzolla, Guastavino, and Rodriguez as well as Rosephanye Powell’s “Still I Rise,” a traditional song from Namibia, and “Quiet” by MILCK (Connie Lim), the Asian American whose song became an anthem of the 2017 Women’s March on Washington.

The College’s 2017 array of programming provides ways for everyone to become engaged. An examination of a select number of events through the lens of diversity and inclusivity reminds us that the arts and communication are frequently mobilized to uplift for the greater good. Offerings by our students, faculty, and guest presenters are testimony to the power of music, dance, theatre, the visual and communicative arts to mirror and reflect the human condition and to inspire us to improve it.