Monday, August 16, 2010
Dialogue with Fourth and Fifth Graders from E.D. Nixon Elementary School, Rosa Parks Museum Gallery and Library, Montgomery, AL, August 22, 2008
Art, Education, and Community Outreach
Field Trip for Children Sponsored by the E.D. Nixon Foundation and Alabama State Representative Thad McClammy in Conjunction with Art Quilt Exhibition "Portraits: From Montgomery to Paris"
This dialogue on art quilts with fourth and fifth graders in the exhibition room at the Rosa Parks Museum Gallery and Library in Montgomery, Alabama was held in conjunction with the ED Nixon Foundation and Alabama State Representative Thad McClammy. All of this in some ways brings my life full circle. For in high school as a junior and senior and student council vice-president and then president at the historic St. Jude Educational Institute, which is best historically known as the final camping place for Selma-to-Montgmery Marchers in 1965, I coordinated a weekly program at the Cleveland Avenue Branch YMCA in Montgomery (on what is now Rosa Parks Avenue) for children and teens to promote academic achievement and social graces. This dialogue with E.D. Nixon Elementary school children in every way took me back to the earliest community base with which I interacted as a teen volunteer, and this is, incidentally, part of the district area that Representative McClammy represents. To further attest to the difference that a commitment to community service early in life can make, in retrospect, I am amazed that I actually first met Georgette Norman, the curator for this art exhibition, when I was volunteering for a week at the Girl Scout Camp-Camp Sunshine-in Montgomery after I graduated from college at Spelman in 1993. The dialogue with these smart students for two full hours went well and I so much enjoyed the conversation with them. They were absolutely brilliant and asked so many interesting, useful and challenging questions. I am glad that we were able to use the art quilts featuring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., President John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, and Malcolm X to teach about aspects of Civil Rights Movement history and U.S. politics. In general, it is important to me as an artist that my exhibitions incorporate educational outreach and that they relate to my continuing commitment to helping to make a difference. (The art quilts featuring figures such as President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama and series on black history and Alabama women such as my great aunt, civil rights leader Johnnie Rebecca Carr, will help serve that purpose in the new exhibition). I was also inspired that there were some artists among the students in this group! I am thankful that being an artist allows me to have exchanges that take me far beyond the classroom at the university. Thanks so much to Deborah Garrison for the excellent photography on the morning of this exchange with the students, and for returning a few weeks later to photograph Representative Thad McClammy with the political quilt series. This event was also documented from beginning to end by a photographer from the Montgomery Advertiser.
After this busy morning, Deborah, my mother Joanne Richardson-who worked with Alma Johnson and other members of the E.D. Nixon Foundation, her club member Anne Eutsey from the Continental Societies, Inc., also a Partner in Education with E.D. Nixon Elementary School, and the school's administrators to help coordinate this event-went to pick up lunch at a popular Cloverdale restaurant in Montgomery. A final thing that I remember about this day is that the cashier checking us out at the restaurant at the end of the cafeteria-style line, a young white woman who may have been in her early twenties, quietly commented to me in the midst of all the noise and lunch-hour frenzy and her busy work on the cash register, and in a way that I almost didn't even hear, that "I like everything that you have on," which she must have noticed as I was coming down the line. She just said it out of the blue. That day, "everything" included a black Calvin Klein dress and the same black Prevata sandals that I'd worn to the exhibition's opening reception at the museum the night before, and everyday accessories such as black Ralph Lauren sunglasses and a black and silver Movado watch. This quiet and shy compliment was sweet to hear and shows that artists can inspire people in minor and unexpected ways wherever we go.