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The Voice of the Black Community

Arts and Entertainment

Harvey Gantt Center takes Initiative for Equity + Innovation
Exhibitions address social justice issues
 
Published Thursday, September 6, 2018 5:08 pm
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

PHOTO | HARVEY B. GANTT CENTER
Harvey B. Gantt Center President and CEO David Taylor.

Art is not enough.

Cultural institutions need to enact change in the community through experiential learning. That starts with addressing issues through art for the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture, which announced the Initiative for Equity + Innovation targeting unconscious bias and discrimination, as well as social justice.

“We spent a good deal of time evaluating how we can leverage the work that we do to have a deeper impact as it relates to equity, and how we were going to approach it innovative ways,” Gantt President and CEO David Taylor said. “We think our art suggests innovation by its very nature, but we also thought about how can we leverage this work in even a clearer tone to folks about the importance of equity, and how can we engage the community around the work that we are doing, even more intentionally. We felt that we were doing it. This is an added dimension of the work that we are doing.”

It’s about addition, not reinvention for the Gantt, whose decision to pursue something like IEI came as a response to two studies: the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force’s 2015-16 study on intergenerational poverty and the Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools “Breaking the Link” study on poverty and educational outcomes.

Neither painted Charlotte as a place of opportunity for all its residents—only certain sectors. The goal is to help people live, learn and relate to one another by:

  • Using art to explore social issues, alleviate tensions and introduce creative responses;
  • Raising awareness on issues of opportunity, fairness and justice;
  • Engaging in regular discourse on timely topics and community concerns;
  • Deepen capacity for understanding and navigating differences throughout the community;
  • Equipping the next generation with knowledge and tools as a blueprint for the future;
  • Empowering partners across disciplines as allies in promoting equity.

The Gantt’s current exhibitions adhere to these themes. “Welcome to Brookhill,” which documents the Brookhill Village community in South End, is the final instillation, and officially opens on Sept. 8 with a preview starting at 6 p.m. on Sept. 7. On view are “Question Bridge: Black Males,” a multi-media exhibit exploring unconscious bias toward black men, “Hank Willis Thomas: What We Ask is Simple,” which explores 20th century protest movements and “For Freedoms,” which explore freedom from want and fear, as well as the freedom of speech and worship.

“It’s the state of our country, when you really think about it,” Taylor said. “I think for a moment we had optimism around equity and fairness in our country. I think that has changed the last few years.”

While the Gantt’s founding in 1974 as the Afro-American Cultural Center stems from a desire to preserve and share African-American art and history, they no longer see subtle community involvement as enough.

“Quite frankly, I think the [Barack] Obama years were certainly hopeful years,” Taylor said. “That hope is gone. When we think about what we see happening around our country and some of the rhetoric that we hear from Washington, and some of our other leaders even locally and statewide, it is extremely important that organizations like the Gantt Center, and others who have a platform to speak toward social justice and equity, it is more important than ever, in recent years, that we dig in deeper, and we make our voices louder than ever, because we cannot be drowned in lieu of the other noise that we hear.”

Initial IEI programs at the Gantt: 

  • Sept. 10 Community Town Hall: Nurturing Diverse Schools & Creating Opportunity
  • Sept. 15 The Look of Freedomsign making workshops on September 15
  • Oct. 9 Community Conversation on the History of Redlining and the Impact of the Current Data Trends

Note: Bank of America is the legacy sponsor for IEI, and will use the Gantt’s programs for additional diversity and inclusion training for their employees.

Said IEI partner and retired Bank of America Chairman and CEO Hugh McColl in a statement: “The launch of this initiative is exactly what I have envisioned for the Gantt Center for many years. This institution should be at the heart of Charlotte’s multicultural evolution, and the programs and art that emerge from this focus on equity and inclusion will help us learn to live more harmoniously with one another.”

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