Arizona Arts launches the Racial Justice Studio with a new course to be offered in the fall, “Rehearsals in Anti-Racism,” taught by Drs. Amelia (Amy) Kraehe and Gloria J. Wilson, professors from the School of Art.
The Racial Justice Studio is a new concept conceived as a hub for campus and virtual activities to promote a deep understanding of racism and anti-racism by centering artistic and creative practice.
Kraehe and Wilson co-founded the studio with Chelsea Farrar, curator of community engagement at the University of Arizona Museum of Art.
Kraehe said the group was formed following the killings of several Black people, including George Floyd in May, and with support from College of Fine Arts Dean Andrew Schulz.
Last spring Schulz called on the Arizona Arts community to challenge systemic injustice and use the power of the arts to affect change.
“This is not a time to be quiet,” Schulz wrote. “Our promise is to speak up and take concrete action in this moment and beyond, because not to do so comes with a price. We stand with the victims of racism and anti-Blackness who experience the violence of social inequity often with fatal consequences. We will listen and support efforts to undo systemic injustice, and we invite you to hold us accountable as we pledge to focus on the power of art to create positive change.”
Racial Justice Studio
The Racial Justice Studio was conceived to help Arizona Arts achieve three aims to:
- Promote deep understanding of racism and production of anti-racist knowledge through creative practice and arts research broadly conceived;
- Provide transformative learning opportunities and community engagement that build race-consciousness in and through the arts; and
- Build connections, compassion, and co-conspiratorship among students, faculty, departments, initiatives, centers, and institutes within and beyond the Arizona Arts that share a commitment to anti-racism.
“Art studios are spaces of risk-taking, trying new things, and reflection-in-action,” said Farrar. “Racial justice is at the heart of this particular studio and has broad relevance to all the arts disciplines in Arizona Arts.”
Dean Schulz feels that the Arizona Arts community is the perfect incubator to lead change through creative exploration and dynamic groups of educators who service both the public and University of Arizona students.
“They’re starting with really impactful initial programs that focus on students, our faculty and staff, engaging in community, and really leading with their own expertise,” said Schulz.
Rehearsals in Anti-Racism
The first initiative to come from the Racial Justice Studio is “Rehearsals in Anti-Racism,” which began to take shape in January 2021.
The course will engage students in personal, political, philosophical and aesthetic conversations about race, racism and their intersections with other markers of identity, by using workshop-style teaching methods that engage all the senses in creative activities so conversations about race move beyond words to something more embodied and participatory.
This is a big initiative but the inaugural class, beginning in the fall, will be very small, with a max of 16 students. “There’s a certain kind of intimacy that needs to be created for racial dialogues to take place,” said Kraehe. “ And that requires vulnerability. Particularly when using artistic and creative methods, it means there’s an additional level of risk-taking that we’re asking of students.”
Kraehe’s scholarship, teaching and community engagement focus on how the arts and arts education can challenge, as well as reinforce, systems of inequality.
“When doing the work of raising racial consciousness, those who are interested and invested in the work understand that systemic transformation does not occur in the space of a single three-hour workshop. They understand that racism is endemic and that this work is on-going. Offering a course such as ‘Rehearsals’ allows for investment in a creative form of risk-taking. That risk-taking is necessary for developing the affective dimensions of understanding,” said Wilson. “Racial Justice Studio might be viewed as a catalyst that sparks movement toward deeper engagement with race, racism, and anti-racism in and through arts modalities.”
Wilson’s work analyzes the cultural systems which work to produce race and racism, in general, and more specifically, examines constructions of racial representations across creative modalities and how these practices and processes work to reinscribe or resist systems of power. In addition to Rehearsals in Anti-Racism, the Studio is also pursuing two other initial programs:
- Race/Remix – interdisciplinary dialogues with featured speakers and related podcast beginning this spring.
- Creative Abolitionist Teaching (CAT) Fellows – an inter-level organizational network that brings together artists and educators who teach in schools and universities to develop anti-racist pedagogies and curricula using the lens of contemporary arts.
Farrar attests to the need for these programs. “I’m an alumna of the Art & Visual Culture Education program here at the School of Art, and I can speak to the need of teachers who are graduating with this critical focus in anti-racism and needing continued support and community when they go into the classroom and want to embed anti-racism into their teaching. As a museum educator, we too are in need of fellowship for this work. The Racial Justice Studio will begin to fill that need.”