Art meant to make a change

Elementary students, community members gather for 4th annual WSU Art for Social Change Showcase

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COURTESY OF KAITLYN BONZO

Students from Sunnyside Elementary colored their own paper dolls as part of their “Same and Different; We’re all Superstars” unit, ahead of their visit to the Art for Social Change Showcase.

JOSIE GOODRICH, Reporter/Copy Editor

On Thursday, the WSU Martin Luther King Celebration Committee; the WSU School of Languages, Cultures, and Race and the WSU Fine Arts Department came together to host the fourth annual Art for Social Change Showcase. 

Tom Forbes, assistant director for the School of Languages, Cultures, and Race, said he coordinates programs put on by the department such as this one. This showcase was hosted as a part of a series of events put on by the MLK committee that will last throughout the month of February.

“Basically the goal is there are people that have strong feelings about social change and they want to work towards that,” Forbes said. “A lot of times those feelings are best expressed through art and we hope that art can inspire change in the community and change people’s attitudes.”

The showcase ties different art forms with social justice and calls for action within those pieces, Forbes said. 

“We encourage virtually every form of artistic expression, you know, via paintings, drawings, digital media, which is obviously very popular these days, all the way through to poetry, graphic novels and short stories,” Forbes said. 

This year the committee wanted to focus on the theme of “Social Justice in Action,” and two awards were given to competitors. For every category there is a Best in Show award, which is the piece judges consider the best submission. There is also an award specific to the theme each year, so there was a Social Justice in Action award. 

Best in Show award winner Joel Makoudem is a junior English major with a focus in creative writing. He submitted a poem called “Afrocentric Studies.” 

The poem was inspired by the Black history in Africa, America and the Caribbean, and the similar traumas and colonizations those regions experienced despite the different locations and different colonizer cultures, Makoudem said. 

“The poem just kind of came out of relating these similarities between what Black people had to experience all around the world and how Black people overcome those experiences all around the world,” Makoudem said. “So yeah, [the poem] just kind of came out of those similarities between Black cultures like oppressions and their overcoming.”

Makoudem started on the poem as a freshman in college but never submitted it because he felt it was not ready, he said.

“And even this year, I didn’t think my poem was ready, but I just thought like, you know, I didn’t want to miss it a third year in a row, so I just went for it,” Makoudem said. “The fact that it actually won and that I got so much positive reception for it, it was really reaffirming and it’s nice to know that like, I’m not doing a terrible job as a writer.”

Pullman’s Sunnyside Elementary School also made an appearance at the showcase with its three kindergarten teachers, Willma Fields, Jess Bergstrom and Annalisa Kiblen. For the past six weeks, the kindergarteners at Sunnyside elementary have been working on a social studies unit called “Same and Different; We’re all Superstars.” 

“For the final project we started to talk about how things are similar and different just to take the stigma away from identifying yourself as different than someone else,” Fields said. “I think a lot of times kiddos are asked to be color blind and to not see differences between them and their friends, and we just wanted to make sure that they know that it’s okay to see that you and your friend can be the same and different.”

The kindergarteners were able to pick dolls that they felt represented themselves and then colored them to accurately describe their skin tone and eye color, as well as how they dress themselves. Fields said the dolls were hung up on display at the showcase and accompanied by some of the kindergarten artists. 

“So we have kids who want to talk about it, they want to talk about the lessons and they go home and they tell their parents like ‘we’re the same this way and we’re different this way,’” Bergstrom said. “They’re applying it to real life and it’s a lot based on physical features, but they see it without judgment.”

The 2023 Art for Social Change Showcase will start accepting submissions in late October and the deadline is in January 2023. The showcase is typically held in mid-February and is open to anyone, not just WSU students or faculty. 

“We encourage giving people a space and a medium to express their message, especially these days,” Forbes said. “We love to get participation from not just everybody on campus here, which includes faculty and staff, but also members of the community as well; they don’t even really even have to be affiliated with WSU to be able to submit an entry.”