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Students tackle social justice in exhibit at Akron's Summit Artspace

Christa Boske has devoted her life to education.

“I’m currently a professor at Kent State University. This is my 15th year,” she said. “I was at the University of Houston before that, and then I spent 18 years in public schools, K-12.”

In 2018, she founded the nonprofit Art for Resistance Through Change, or ART-C, which partners with K-12 schools, small businesses and surrounding communities to help them understand the complexities associated with diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.

A recent partnership challenged students to create art around social justice issues and culminated in “Our Voices Matter,” an exhibition at Akron’s Summit Artspace.

Student artwork hangs in the galleries of Akron's Summit Artspace.
Jean-Marie Papoi
Ideastream Public Media
About 225 student artworks comprise the "Our Voices Matter" exhibit and are displayed throughout multiple galleries.

“For this particular exhibition, we’re focused on an intergenerational school community connection,” Boske said. “So the connection between community and schools and justice, equity, inclusion and belonging issues.”

One of the participating schools was Lakeshore Intergenerational School in East Cleveland. The fifth and sixth grade students chose a justice or equity issue that concerned them.

“Those particular issues ranged from police brutality to colorism to slavery to segregation of schools,” Boske said. “Personal experiences children had being ostracized from white students or white families or being followed by the police or being followed into stores.”

Boske said she was also surprised by the number of students who didn’t know what colorism is, hadn’t heard of slavery or civil rights or couldn’t name a Black figure from history who made significant contributions to this country.

ART-C founder Christa Boske stands in front of student artwork at Summit Artspace.
Jean-Marie Papoi
Ideastream Public Media
Christa Boske founded the nonprofit ART-C in 2018 to help schools and businesses develop better understandings of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging issues in our communities.

The project began with each student researching their chosen topic, then working with Boske to get their concerns documented through writing. Each paper started with an introduction to their topic followed by research and supporting facts.

“You have to persuade me that this is important,” Boske said. “How are you going to convince me that I need to pay attention to this? It’s not about your opinion, it has to be about facts.”

The students then described their art-making process: How and why they chose certain colors and materials and how the imagery illustrates their chosen topic.

Student artwork of George Floyd includes imagery and a powerful poem.
Bradley Hart
Summit Artspace
A student from Lakeshore Intergenerational School in East Cleveland created artwork of George Floyd to speak up about police brutality.

The final portion of the project is activism, guided by the students.

"If you tell me to call a politician, what if I don’t know how to do that? You have to tell me,” she said.

Students also chose whether or not they want to sell their art, and, if so, the proceeds go to an organization that is aligned with their concerns.

“It’s an honor and privilege to hear people’s stories and to work with children,” Boske said. “The common theme throughout all the schools I've worked with: Children want to not only be heard, but they want to be valued. They think that adults don't believe that they actually think about these things. But they do. They do see racism. They do see classism. They do experience the ‘isms’ in the world, and they want an opportunity to talk about it.”

“Our Voices Matter” is on view at Summit Artspace until March 18.

Jean-Marie Papoi is a digital producer for the arts & culture team at Ideastream Public Media.