'Beacons of Change' project will shine spotlight on alumni of color

January 23, 2024 (Volume 47, Number 11)
Article by Peg West

sunrise in winter, Mary Idema Pew Library in foreground

The Mary Idea Pew Library is pictured. University Libraries and the GVSU Art Gallery have partnered on a community project to honor BIPOC alumni through students creating portraits and collecting graduates' oral histories.

Photo Credit: Kendra Stanley-Mills

The GVSU Art Gallery and University Libraries are partnering on a community project to honor BIPOC alumni through students creating portraits and collecting graduates' oral histories.

"We at the GVSU Art Gallery are enthusiastic to announce this exciting new collaborative project that celebrates our alumni, titled 'Beacons of Change,'" said Nathan Kemler, director of Galleries and Collections. "Art is a timeless language that tells narratives of our community, painting tales of our shared history, culture and dreams. Through our creative spirit, it becomes a mirror reflecting our diverse voices, struggles and triumphs that define us and contribute to our collective stories."

The project will highlight about 10 notable BIPOC alumni who have made an impact on GVSU, their community, the state, the country, or an area of excellence within the context of the U.S., officials said. Confidential nominations, open to all, will be collected until early February by using this form. The project is sponsored by the Inclusion and Equity Activation and Accountability Leadership Team as part of the Culture of Educational Equity commitment.

Once alumni are selected, each will be paired with a student from the Department of Visual and Media Arts to spend time together creating a vision for a portrait done by the student. Other students will work with the alumni to create oral histories on the graduates' paths to being beacons of change.

The Art Gallery will then purchase the portraits to be part of the GVSU collection and display them in the campus libraries, Kemler said. In addition, Augmented Reality utilizing the oral histories will bring these pieces to life.

Those working on the project hope it will help inspire current and future students and show the impact they can create in their own lives. 

"Seeing yourself represented in spaces is a critical component of feeling like the spaces are meant for you," said Annie Bélanger, dean of University Libraries. "By creating portraits of alumni of color who have been successful, broadly defined in line with our mission as a university, the Libraries and the Art Gallery want to advance a sense of belonging on campus. Additionally, we hope that the broad definition of what success is can advance a more socially just approach to community."


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This article was last edited on January 25, 2024 at 11:3 a.m.

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