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UNT art professors explore anti-racist pedagogy through panel series

UNT art professors explore anti-racist pedagogy through panel series

UNT art professors explore anti-racist pedagogy through panel series
April 21
18:41 2021

During the fall 2018 semester, Lauren Cross, UNT art and design professor, was conducting a symposium for her students focused on branding and visual identity in the arts. She told students to ask any questions they had about the topic and her experience as a scholar.

A student asked, “How do you survive as a person of color in this field?”

Cross stood there, thinking this was a moment of mentorship between the student and her. Some students thought she had to lose her identity to pursue a career in art design, but she proved to them the opposite. This concerned Cross, making her realize there needs to be more conversations surrounding art careers and racial identity. 

“As an educator, the greatest gift I can give to students [is] to help them to be themselves out in the world, where they don’t have to feel like they have to lose what they bring to the table in order to be a major player,” Cross said. 

Three years later, Cross joined forces with UNT and art professor Kathy Brown to create and co-host “2044 Series,” a panel series focused on anti-racist pedagogy, which started in February and concluded last week. In this series, professionals in the fields of art and design shared knowledge and taught strategies through antiracist thinking, afro-futurism and critical race theory.

Cross said her main goal for the panel was to help students feel empowered to change the world once they graduate, which can best happen by setting real-life examples.

“In art education, there is this notion of showing rather than telling,” Cross said. “I can tell you all day long that I can change this and that you can do this, but when I show you it’s being done [is] when the ‘Aha!’ moments happen.”

Cross and Brown agreed that the most critical part of the series was finding panelists who were leaders in the field, well-versed and unapologetic. 

The panel was centered around the idea of afro-futurism, which includes expanding anti-racist frameworks and viewpoints in a futuristic, new way for people of color. However, Brown said that this can apply to all kinds of people and situations.

You don’t even have to be Black to say ‘I am futurist’ because the futurism is just a way of moving forward,” Brown said. “When you are teaching, you are in the future’s business. You are planting seeds for those who are coming next, and that is what our speakers are doing.”

Tameka Ellington, a design professor at Kent State University, served on the panel as an expert in anti-racism fashion design. In her portion of the panel, she provided details about racism and cultural appropriation that continuously happen in the fashion industry. She said dismantling racism in the arts includes more than a shift in societal structures, but a shift in education.

“Being a part of this panel was just a way for me to help the others on the panel bring awareness,” Ellington said. “I’m a strong believer that change will happen when people have a better understanding of each other.”

The series provided students with resources to freely explore and navigate racial identity through the arts, while also allowing panelists to connect with each other and form collaborations through the same type of work. 

UNT alumna Teresa Moses, a panelist who specializes in graphic design, felt a special connection to Ellington because they did similar research about natural hair and the Black community.

It is always nice to see research from another perspective: the fashion lens,” Moses said.

Moses works with concepts of anti-racism and Black liberation through her graphic design work. She said as an artist, she wants to represent her culture through her work.

“I spoke about my responsibility as a Black designer to carry the torch of our ancestors for our liberation,” Moses said. “I hope that artists understand their positionality in the context of racism and how they can either perpetuate harm or promote healing through their work.”

During the panel events, Cross said she felt a “sense of connection” among the participants. 

“You feel like they are all kindred spirits,” Cross said. “This makes us all stronger and the message more impactful.”

Brown also talked about the opposition the group went through to get the series in gear. Although UNT and Onstead Institute were supporters of the series, Brown said she knows the artists might encounter people who do not know why these conversations are important.

“To those people, I say, ‘The fact that you’re asking why is the reason why,’” Brown said.  “To have such a privileged position teaching at a college level, and not talk about this is almost a disservice to students, to myself and to the field.”

Courtesy 2044 Series

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Oriana Valderrama

Oriana Valderrama

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