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JMC & RCAH Awarded Creating Inclusive Excellence Grant

January 4, 2021

James Madison College and the Residential College in Arts and Humanities have received a Creating Inclusive Excellence Grant to merge the Emerging Visions program and the Social Justice Art Festival.

The annual “Perspectives on African-American Experience: Emerging Visions” program is a paid, competitive teaching and exhibition opportunity for Black artists. The residency was created in 2011 by RCAH Professor Emeritus and founding LookOut! Gallery Director Carolyn Loeb. This program offers a week-long teaching residency to one emerging or mid-career artist, to correspond with the opening of a two-month exhibition in the LookOut! Gallery. Each year, the selected visiting artist meets with RCAH and other classes, gives public talks about their work, and meets informally with students, faculty, co-curricular student groups, and community engagement partners.

The MSU Social Justice Art Festival (SJAF) is a four-day festival featuring a variety of student artworks centered on social justice topics. This festival was created in 2017 by Dr. Amber Benton, Director of Diversity Programming and Student Engagement for James Madison College at Michigan State University, with the first festival kicking off on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in January 2018. The objective of SJAF is to provide a unique platform that engages undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff, and the greater MSU and East Lansing communities around social justice topics through artistic expression. Due to the success of the first festival, SJAF is traditionally offered annually during the week of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

For the 10th anniversary of the Emerging Visions program and the 4th annual Social Justice Art Festival, the grant will help support a formal collaboration between these two impactful programs. As part of this collaboration, RCAH faculty, staff, and students will work together with representatives from the SJAF committee and James Madison College to craft and distribute the 2021 call for artists, on artist selection, and on arrangement and hosting of the residency. Combining forces for these two important diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives in the Residential Colleges will allow both programs to expand and deepen their impacts and make them more effective in their work toward structural and systemic change in the arts at MSU within a changing and uncertain landscape.

Integrating these programs also provides opportunities for both initiatives to extend their impacts. It will also enable the SJAF to extend its presence on campus beyond the one-day event by inviting a visual artist who will have a two-month exhibition in the LookOut Gallery and who will engage with MSU students through an extended teaching residency (or virtual residency). In past years, the SJAF has invited professionals such as Samantha White (Founder of Shakespeare in Detroit), Ariana Brown (spoken word artist and poet), and James Gardin (hip hop artist and musician from Lansing) who have offered keynote performances in the RCAH Theater. Last year, the SJAF also included a DJ and MC from the local, Lansing All Of The Above (AOTA) Hip Hop Academy. These performances have been incredibly well attended and well received by students.

This partnership between LookOut and SJAF will create new mentoring and feedback opportunities for student artists of color and student artist-activists to learn from and receive feedback on their work from the professional guest artist. The collaboration even opens up the possibility for select SJAF student artists to work with the visiting artist on the planning and installation of their exhibition and have their own artworks included alongside the EV artist’s work on the walls of the LookOut Gallery. The partnership will also allow LookOut's Emerging Visions programming to better reach the large student audience and participant base that Dr. Amber Benton and her team have cultivated over the years, which includes not only students from MSU’s Residential Colleges but also undergraduate and graduate students from across campus.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Social Justice Arts Festival and Emerging Visions exhibition and residency were moved online for the week of January 18. To see the Social Justice Arts Festival program information, including student art and Emerging Visions artist in residence Michael Darough, visit sjaf.msu.edu.