Signs of Change Charlottesville
Throughout America’s history, artists have answered the call during troubled times, and have responded to a clarion call for citizens to pay attention, to speak up, and to be part of the kind of discourse that is at the core of our nation. Earlier this fall, The Fralin Museum of Art joined forces with a national project called For Freedoms, aimed at encouraging people to use art as a vehicle for greater participation in American Democracy. “For Freedoms, led by American artist Hank Willis Thomas and photographer Eric Gottesman, was initially inspired by Norman Rockwell’s 1941 paintings that highlighted Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms (freedom of speech, of worship, freedom from want and from fear).
The Fralin’s contribution to this project, created in partnership with the Charlottesville Office of Human Rights, the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, and the Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative, was designed to bring attention to longstanding issues faced by people of color in the Charlottesville community, including many that were brought to light as a result of the tragic events of August 2017. “There are many issues that have long affected people of color, here in Charlottesville, and a history of events that are unknown to many of us who did not experience it, firsthand,” said Lisa Jevack, Assistant to the Director of The Fralin and the coordinator of the Museum’s Early Visions program.
In an effort to ensure that those stories were told properly, Jevack and Aimee Hunt, The Fralin’s Associate Academic Curator, turned to Charlene Green of Charlottesville’s Office of Human Rights. “Charlene offers a powerful perspective and presentation on African American history in Charlottesville,” Jevack said, “and we decided she would be an ideal partner for this program.” Green offered a series of presentations in the late summer and early fall, which were paired with community workshops in which local artists devised creative activities that complemented the presentation and allowed participants to more deeply engage in what they had heard and seen. The program also engaged local artists to create original works of art that highlighted the issues covered in the workshops. The artwork was later displayed on the Downtown Mall. The community engagement, efforts, timed to take place in the lead-up to the midterm elections, also spread to Grounds, where similar workshops featuring UVA Professors, including John Mason of the History Department, and Louis Nelson from the Provost’s Office, who led sessions on topics including the history of slavery at UVA.
Matthew McLendon, J. Sanford Miller Family Director of The Fralin Museum of Art believes “For Freedoms, and the community partnerships it has fostered, is exactly the type of socially engaged programming I think the 21st century museum, and certainly the university museum, is called to enable. I’ve worked with Hank Willis Thomas in the past and have long been an admirer of his work, and am thrilled that The Fralin is a part of this national conversation.”