Student Perspectives on the Art Collection



Permanent link for Rough Waters: An Exhibition About Water on December 14, 2020

Student Perspective Provided By:

Autumn Flachs
Major: Art Education
Class of 2022

During the Fall 2020 semester, Autumn Flachs, class of 2022, in collaboration with Curator of Exhibitions, Joel Zwart, selected artworks from the GVSU permanent art collection representative of a broad range of water-related issues for an exhibition titled Rough Waters, now on view in the exhibition cases on the first floor of Zumberge Hall, Allendale campus. They also conducted research for and wrote the labels and introductory statement to accompany the exhibition. 

"For this exhibition, focusing on the socioeconomic and environmental impact of modern-day water issues was important to us. I looked specifically for works that either commented on water rights or the environmental effects of water-based geographical change, or were able to contextualize these issues with informational graphics. I am particularly fond of the two pieces from the Young Flint Speaks project, where young students from Flint, Michigan made drawings about their experience with the ongoing water crisis in their city. Kids are very straightforward and genuine about what they think and it's that’s obvious in the drawings. Everyone hopes for children to be as happy and healthy as possible, so it’s a shock to see the horrible messages in the works. Words like, ‘help us…’ ‘save us…’; bring up sobering but necessary feelings and help spread awareness about the Flint water crisis. 

For me personally, I loved this project and the process of creating it. I am an art student myself and so much of my own work is social and political commentary, on issues like Queer rights and politics, so I connected a lot of the pieces that were contenders for this exhibition. Water rights are an increasingly important issue that impacts everyone around the globe and deserves broader attention from first-world media. I hope that this exhibition sparks a conversation between people, and showcases why we all need to come together to solve our climate crisis as a unified front."
-Autumn Flachs

View the artwork in this exhibition.

Permanent link for Douglas Gilbert's Photographs of Ivanhoe Donaldson on July 20, 2020

Student Perspective provided by:
Erin Harshberger
Major: English and Education
Minor: Political Science
Class of 2021

'Ivanhoe Donaldson (For Look Magazine)'
Douglas Gilbert
Photographic print
2018.48.1984 -- 2018.48.2036

In July 2020, Erin was asked to research Ivanhoe Donaldson, a leader in the Civil Rights Movement who championed voting rights for Black Americans and was involved in several high profile political campaigns in the 1960s and 70s. The GVSU Art Collection includes over 50 black and white documentary photographs of Donaldson taken by Douglas Gilbert. In 1965, on assignment for Look Magazine, Gilbert photographed Donaldson in Georgia leading up to the Georgia House of Representatives election as he lead the campaign for Julian Bond--one of the founders of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and the Southern Poverty Law Center, who went on to serve 25 years in Georgia’s state legislature, and later served as chairman of the NAACP. 

This is Erin's reflection on Gilbert's photographs and Donaldson's legacy...

"With a national election right around the corner and primaries well underway, news outlets have been sharing footage of giant lines, stretching multiple blocks outside voting places in many states. Individual voters share that they've had to wait upwards of five hours just to get inside their polling place. Voter suppression has never been completely resolved in our country, decades after the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed. Some states continue to make gradual progress through reforms that push for voting by mail (absentee ballots). Similar to Donaldson’s work, the Black Lives Matter movement used their platform to elevate Black candidates running for office. Most notably, Charles Booker in the race for the Democratic nomination for the Senate seat in Kentucky currently held Republican Mitch McConnell. Booker's campaign gained unprecedented momentum in its final weeks due to his unabashed support of protests and calls for reform.

Throughout the past month, I’ve been walking in protests throughout our city of Grand Rapids with the Black Lives Matter movement, which has given me space to reflect and feel deeply with my community. In our current state of pandemic, there has been a tendency for writers to reach for the positive silver lining at the end of their articles; as if a line in black ink at the end of a New York Times article will be the quote that propels us through what feels like the longest year of our lives. The hard truth is that the reality and discomfort of this struggle has long preceded this moment. Others, more knowledgable than I, have fought for Civil Rights for Black Americans for a long time, in wave after wave of resurgence, voices begging to be heard as they crash against the immovable shore. If there would be a silver lining in this story, it would be that people keep marching. Stories like Ivanhoe Donaldson's continue to echo and inspire; more Charles Bookers will continue to run for office—and will eventually win. People who are committed to change continue to fight against evil and injustice and maybe this 'longest year ever' will actually produce growth and change. That idea feels hopeful to me." - Erin Harshberger


Permanent link for Artists Responding to Crisis: Hurricane katrina on April 27, 2020

Student Perspective provided by:
Megan Daniels
Major: Studio Art
Minor: Public & Nonprofit Administration
Class of 2023

Mustang Drive, Arabi, St. Bernard Parish, LA
St. Claude Ave, Lower 9th Ward, New Orleans
Forstall Street, Lower 9th Ward, New Orleans
Steven L. Smith
Giclée Inkjet Prints

"When hurricane Katrina hit the United States in August of 2005, I was only 4 years old and unable to remember or understand the tragedy of this natural disaster. Ten years later in July of 2015, I went on a week-long mission trip to New Orleans, LA- specifically in the Lower 9th Ward where evidence of Katrina’s devastation on communities still remained.

While working for the Grand Valley State University Art Gallery, I came across a series of photographs in the collection titled 'The Katrina Landscape.' These photographs were created by GVSU Professor Steven L. Smith. The images immediately brought me back to what I witnessed in New Orleans during my mission trip. Reflecting on that experience and comparing it the COVID-19 pandemic we face today; I consider the different ways people respond to crisis. The Katrina Landscape photographs and the COVID-19 images we see on the news today evoke empathy, and give me an understanding of the tragedies people endure." - Megan Daniels

To view more artwork by Steven L. Smith visit the GVSU Online Art Collection. 

Page last modified December 14, 2020