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CIE collaboration with the Danforth Art Museum brings Black artwork to campus


Maddison Behringer / THE GATEPOST

By Ryan O’Connell

Associate Editor


In April 2022, almost two years ago, the Center for Inclusive Excellence (CIE) installed 15 works of art into its lobby. 


The artwork, all student made, was installed as part of a permanent collection celebrating the diverse identities of student artists at Framingham State. 


Peppered across the CIE’s lobby, paintings, ceramics, and sculpture connect the center to the student body. Underrepresented groups are spotlighted by their artists, with many being students who identify as immigrants, Black, LGBTQ+, and more. 


For the month of February, five more pieces have been added to the CIE, as part of a temporary display, in coordination with the Danforth Art Museum at Framingham State University.


Although these five new pieces aren’t permanent, nor student made, they contribute to the same goal as the student art purchase from 2022 - providing minority student groups an opportunity to see themselves represented on the Framingham State campus.


Director of the CIE Jerome Burke said the plan for the art exhibition came after the success of programming the center organized for Hispanic Heritage Month, Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, as well as from his overall goals for the CIE to be a representative space.


Burke said the CIE engaged in a partnership with the Framingham Heritage Center during Hispanic Heritage Month to highlight Hispanic contributions to the community of Framingham. 


He said after Hispanic Heritage Month he began planning for upcoming heritage months in the spring, such as Black History Month, February, and Women’s History Month, March. 


Burke added the idea for an art exhibition traced all the way back to when he was hired as the director of the Center for Inclusive Excellence in June and first considered what its function was to the campus.


He said he thought about “how we could make sure the space is always vibrant and engaging, and how we could make sure that there’s always something happening that would be attracting an audience.


“One of the things I wanted to do was think about activities that didn’t necessarily always mean that there would be people leading on it,” he said.


The gallery is an activity which doesn't require an organizer and helps contribute to the around-the-clock engagement of the CIE, he said. 


“It’s one of those things where, 9 a.m. or 5 p.m., you’re able to come by at your own convenience and really enjoy the artwork,” he added.


Burke said the five pieces in the CIE were all created by Black artists, and help celebrate them as well as put them in places where they will be seen. Historically, he added, Black artists have not had as many opportunities to be showcased.


“If we are supposed to look at the history of Black artists, generally, they weren’t invited into public spaces, they weren’t allowed in certain museums,” he said.


“There have always been cases where a Black artist had to be innovative and creative and literally thinking of jumping hoops and hurdles to have their work be shown,” he added.


Burke said as a university, the campus community should always be looking for ways to put Black artwork on display, and that art is a form of cultural heritage.


He said the exhibition is also about empowerment and representation. 


He added he hopes students see themselves in the artwork and feel motivated to pursue their goals, and BIPOC students will feel convinced their accomplishments will be on display someday.


Burke said he also thinks the exhibition is important in challenging social biases in who is “allowed” to enjoy art.


He said, “We oftentimes see these in movies … that you have to be from a certain socioeconomic background to enjoy artwork, and I wanted to remove that barrier as well.


“Art shouldn’t only be for a certain class of people. Art shouldn’t only be seen or accessed or viewed by only a certain class - it should be something that is enjoyed by everyone.”


Burke added he believes artists generally want to see their work on display for everyone, and having it in a public space like the CIE helps remove any barriers. There’s not even the physical barrier of glass, he said.


“We want to really, truly remove that,” he said.


Burke said he collaborated with Rachel Passannante, collections manager at the Danforth, in order to get artwork selected and installed in the CIE. 


He added although the current installation will only be in the center until late February or early March, he’s already hoping to have another showcase lined up after it.


“We’re really hoping to have a revolving door and a continuing partnership with the Danforth,” he said. 


Passannante said the process of selecting art for the CIE began a little over a month ago, and was used to strengthen the sense of community in the center.


She said the five art pieces lent to the CIE varied widely in style, era, and medium, with works having been created in the range of the 1960s to 2021. She added the most recent piece was included in the Danforth’s 2022 Juried Exhibition, and later gifted to the museum.


Passannante said she and Jessica Roscio, the curator at the Danforth, suggested artwork to the CIE based on constraints such as what would fit in the space, what could be easily transported between the two locations, and the requirement of belonging to a Black artist.


“We sent him [Burke] over a list of, actually five works, and he said he wanted them all,” she added. 


Passannante said this isn’t the first time art has been lent from the Danforth to a department on campus. 


“We’ve actually been really lucky that a lot of FSU staff members have been reaching out,” she said. “We’ve been including some work in offices around campus - we have some in the president’s office, we have some in Ann McDonald’s office. 


“So it’s been great with that word of mouth. … We've been more than happy to work with them.”


Passannante said the Danforth was excited to support Black History Month by lending artwork to the CIE, and that the museum is also hosting some programming of its own this February to support Black History Month.


She mentioned the Danforth’s permanent installation of Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller’s work, an African American sculptor who lived and worked in Framingham for most of her life. The exhibit features an array of Fuller’s artwork and a recreation of her workspace.


Passannante also said the museum hosts “Drop Into Art,” a public program geared toward teaching young children about art, which plans to use Fuller’s work as an example in its exercises during a future session. 


She added she’s excited to continue working with the CIE, and lending art for other celebrations of culture.


“We’re really excited to keep this going for the history months that we can participate in,” she said. “And hopefully we can keep doing this for the foreseeable future.”


Iz Shields is one of four diversity peer influencers in the CIE - student workers who help the day-to-day operations of the center - from staffing the desk to organizing some of its programming.


Shields, a freshman American Sign Language major, said their work is focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion, and believes that’s what the CIE is all about.


“I know those are big buzzwords, but in general [bringing] those two things to campus events and just residents in general - a lot of those things you have to be intentional about,” Shields added.


“You can’t just say you support this and do this, you have to put forth action and show those things, and the CIE does that on campus,” they said.


Shields said the CIE accomplishes this by having those conversations and staging events with the goal of highlighting cultures and identities that haven’t been represented historically on college campuses.


They said all of the artwork lent from the Danforth comments on racism or disparity between the Black community and other groups, particularly “The Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles” by Faith Ringgold. 


The lithograph depicts seven historic Black women, including Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and Madam Walker, among others, as well as one fictional Black woman, Willia Marie Simone. 


Simone is a character Ringgold created and featured in 11 other quilts that alongside “The Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles” forms “The French Collection.” 


The series depicts her, a painter and mother of two, traversing art in Europe during the 1920s, according to a 2022 article by The New York Times, “Faith Ringgold’s Path of Maximum Resistance.” 


The women are all standing in a sunflower field, holding a quilt with sunflowers embroidered onto it. To the right is Vincent Van Gogh, not touching the quilt the women hold.


Shields said, “It’s showing that - I’m not sure if it’s Vincent Van Gogh specifically or all white artists, I don’t know if he did something specific - but white artists in general, their effect in the art community and how that has affected Black artists, and their means of putting their art into the world.”


Basma Hassanin is pursuing her master’s degree in hospital administration, and is employed as a graduate assistant with the CIE. She said her work consists of researching topics for the CIE, creating promotional materials, and preparing the space for events hosted there. 


She said the paintings were installed in order to “remember [Black artists] and remember the rich history that they contribute to.”


Hassanin said she is most interested in “Side View,” a black-and-white photograph capturing its photographer through the side-view mirror of her car. 


“Maybe it’s just because I really like journalism, or people who are taking pictures, because I actually believe that whoever takes the picture gets to tell the story,” she said. “The way they take the picture is the way the whole world will see what’s happening.”


Hassanin said everyone sees art differently, but believes people all sort of think about the same underlying message in a work. 


She added she is from Egypt, and feels like she can relate to Ringgold’s piece as a woman.


“Until the ’60s, no one cared if you were a woman in my country. And even until this day, we are still fighting over women’s rights. It’s sad to think about,” she said. 


“The paintings make you read about people who … were suffering, and yet they could do something beautiful,” she said. “So that’s the inspiration - everyone faces challenges, but the question is, ‘What are you going to do with that?’”


Hassanin said she enjoys working at the CIE, and that it’s a “safe place.”


“The first time I even read about the CIE, they kept saying ‘this is a safe place, this is a safe place.’ I really did not understand that until I joined them,” she said.


She added, “They do have a safe space - it’s not just words - you know what I mean?


“They do care.”

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