The 2021 Student Black Muse program expands to include a student category.
For years, adults have had the opportunity to submit their artwork for an exhibit that commemorates Black History Month.
This year, students were given the same opportunity.
The Black Muse exhibit — held in partnership by the Manasota Chapter of Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Art Center Sarasota and Suncoast Black Arts Collaborative — has been held annually for adults for more than 10 years.
However, this year’s exhibit was virtual-only, which left gallery space at Art Center Sarasota.
So Art Center Education Director Elizabeth Goodwill and SBAC President Michele Des Verney Redwine got the idea to host a Black Muse program for students.
The duo reached out to art teachers at four high schools — Booker, Riverview, Sarasota and North Port — and at Booker Middle School.
The exhibit, showcasing the work of 20 students, is available for virtual viewing through March 5.
Des Verney Redwine said a vital element of SBAC’s mission is offering students a creative way to express themselves.
“The exhibition gives recognition to the students of color to augment an understanding and appreciation of visual creativity,” she said. “It is important that students know that what they produce is important to the viewer because it encourages creativity and engages students’ minds.”
Des Verney Redwine said that as she has mentored in schools, she noticed low representation of Black students involved in arts, particularly after sixth grade.
Goodwill said both the adult and student programs seek to overcome that barrier by allowing students to see artwork done by artists of color and know that it is a viable career choice.
“It wasn’t probably until the contemporary arts movement that you will see anyone who is of African descent,” Goodwill said. “That’s disheartening when you don’t see your face in history, and then you think, ‘Why should I pursue it?’ We’re trying to change that sentiment.”
Students were able to create their pieces in any medium. The exhibit features drawings, paintings, photography, ceramics, mixed-media collages and more.
All students were required to write about the purpose or meaning behind their artwork because organizers wanted them to focus on their identity or heritage, Des Verney Redwine said.
Sarasota High School student Aimee Cazaubon submitted a piece called “Fence,” which is a photo of sunlight shining through a chain link fence. In her narrative, Cazaubon said the piece represents how Black people of all descents have been fenced in.
“We have been forced to hide who we really are to please other people,” she wrote. “We have been put behind a barrier that has restricted us of our true potential in many fields. … But no more. We are and will continue to use our voices to stand together and make a difference. We will break this fence down and continue steam down the tracks to equality.”
Des Verney Redwine said the narratives were important because they required critical thinking and self-identification.
“They’re identifying who they are, where they’ve come from, what cultures they affiliate with and belong to, and how all of that impacts who they are,” she said. “It gives them a greater sense of who they are in the big spectrum of humanity.”
Goodwill said she hopes the program can shed light on a topic that too often gets pushed aside.
“It’s a topic that people don’t like to focus on because it shows there’s an imbalance, and people often don’t want to accentuate the negative,” Goodwill said. “But we need to bring things to light and support artists of color and show them they’re not alone.”
Unlike the adult Black Muse exhibit, the student exhibit was not juried. All students received a certificate and a letter of achievement, and their parents also received a letter.
Des Verney Redwine said she hopes the letters encourage parents to engage with their children and their art.
“We’re losing too many young people in our school system, and it has nothing to do with students of color. It has to do with students who are missing out on valuable exploration of art,” she said. “We need to do better. We have talented young people, and we need to nurture that.”
Organizers plan to continue the program in 2022 and hope for greater student participation.
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