The night consisted of conversation and insight from three local artists and how they use art as activism. Panelists included Andre’ Sessions Jr, Ang Bennett and Tateyna Jones, all of which are or were students at UNO. President and founder of JLC Clarice Dombeck said the event was meant to celebrate Black history, but also Black futures, and the artists further defined this meaning too.
“Black future is about revolution and evolution,” Ang said.
According to a survey in 2019 by Williams College, only 1.2% of artwork in major museums across the nation are by Black artists. With 87% of artwork by men showcased nationwide, this leaves an even smaller spot for Black women artists.
In response to the statistics, Ang is currently working to achieve a Bachelor of Arts in Art History and to further transform their activism and art to encourage representation for Black artists.
“When I look at Black futures from a visual arts perspective, I’m thinking about how do we get Black art in museums, how do we get Black art in collections, how do we elevate those Black artists who the nation doesn’t know, how do we elevate the barbers of the world and push them out there and get their art seen and the stories behind that art told,” Ang said.
Hannah Michelle Bussa, Treasurer for JLC and the moderator for the event, asked “how can art help build political power for and within our communities?”
“Art does create engagement and insight into certain things like religious and social aspects,” Andre’ said. “So if more Black artists were represented in high places, seen more, respected and better interpreted of their art, then I think there could definitely be some building of political power within communities.”
Tateyna said it is a matter of whether Black artists and their art is going to be respected and be seen as intellectuals the same as other counterparts.
“We can be in these museums and magazines, but if we’re always going to be seen as less than, how are we going to advance?” She said.
Ang further said art is powerful within itself because it serves as a safe place to engage people and reach potential voters, more specifically the younger generations.
“Art is a way to use culture, teach culture and to empower culture,” Ang said.
Downtown and Midtown Omaha has the largest number of registered voters, but the lowest voting turnout due to the ever-growing diversity of people moving here from out of state and not having the resources and education of who is currently running for political positions in their city. However, Culxr House is one of those resources that has been consistent in activating and sparking activism within our community.
Because of the heightened social and political climate, local, regional and national organizations are taking part in the movement and striving to be “on the right side of things.”
“It’s great on the end of creatives because we are finally being pushed into the spotlight, even though they [Black artists] have been making this [art] for years and decades,” Ang said. “But it shouldn’t just be because George Floyd got killed and everybody protested.”
Ang said it is up to Black artists to use the “trend” of organizations creating space and being on the right side of diversity and inclusion to maintain and expand momentum for the movement.
“It’s where we take this little crumb we’ve been given, and now we need to figure out how we can expand upon that once these organizations say ‘the trend is over, go back into your little hideaway. We’ll see you next year for Black History Month,’” they said. “So, we need to figure out how we can expand upon this momentum we have been given.”
Throughout the panel, attendees were invited to create art with their own supplies, or the ones provided by UNO Multicultural Affairs that included zines, postcards and more. The postcards were also made available to make for JLC’s new pen pal program to write people who are incarcerated starting in March.
To learn more about JLC, follow them on Instagram @jlcuno and on Facebook at Justice & Liberation Coalition at UNO. To join, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Members may also join the email list and group chat on the app “Signal.”