In the Criminal Justice department, Professor Amanda Howerton-Orcutt is interested in providing space for her students to feel comfortable talking about issues related to race, ethnicity, class, and other intersections of identity. Over the last few years, however, Howerton-Orcutt has noticed a growing sense of unease among her students when they approach such topics. To address this shift, Howerton-Orcutt has been searching for ways to continue facilitating these important discussions and encourage open hearts, open minds, and risk-taking in the classroom.
In September 2021, Howerton-Orcutt participated in Culture Keepers, Culture Makers, a workshop hosted by 3S Artspace in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Through an application process, Howerton-Orcutt was one of 14 participants selected to join the multi-week workshop, which was inclusive of different ages, races, ethnicities, and levels of artistic experience. Led by Portsmouth-based artist Richard Hayes, participants were guided in conversations about their lived experiences and focused art sessions to create visual representations of “diversity, equity and inclusion through art.”
Professor Howerton-Orcutt’s resulting artwork, titled A Mother’s Hope, depicts an African American-inspired Lady Liberty. While recognizing people of color are often underrepresented in art, she asked herself, what if Lady Liberty had an afro? Committing to this perspective, Howerton-Orcutt’s artist statement reads: “In this piece, the mother of exiles is pleased that her torch has been touched by the hand of goddess; thereby reigniting the collective values of liberty, freedom of choice, and equality for all...Why not?” Howerton-Orcutt says that the artist statement was intentionally provocative meant to inspire deeper thought.
At the conclusion of Culture Keepers, Culture Makers in November, participants had the opportunity to display their artwork in a traveling show that would be featured in galleries across New Hampshire. For Professor Howerton-Orcutt, this was an opportunity for her artwork to inspire discourse in front of a larger audience. From November 2021 to January 2023, Howerton-Orcutt’s A Mother’s Hope was a display in seven galleries across the state. Although she was met with challenges during the artistic process, to Howerton-Orcutt’s surprise, her piece was chosen to be featured in the promotional materials for the exhibit, spotlighting her work.
From this experience, Professor Howerton-Orcutt reflects on the power that art has in starting conversations. Howerton-Orcutt is currently planning a trip to Mass MoCA, where students can view and interact with artwork that engages in and speaks to issues in social justice. Students are talking, Howerton-Orcutt says, but they are sometimes afraid of stepping on each other’s toes in discussions and saying the “wrong” thing. Howerton-Orcutt wants her students to understand that race is not a bad word and is, in fact, a vital topic of discussion in college classrooms. Artwork, she notes, is one tool that educators can use to inspire meaningful engagement in conversations about race, ethnicity, and inclusion.
Congratulations on participating in your first traveling exhibit, Professor Amanda Howerton-Orcutt!
Do you want to share your research and creative activities with the SSU community? Contact the CRCA at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us what you’ve been up to!
Center for Research and Creative Activities