The Glass House and S.T.A.R. Collaborate on a New Student Art Exhibition
What do an animated film on racial bullying (made out of LEGO figures), and a dress (that resembled flowing water) protesting the fashion industry’s collective environmental damage have to do with a Modernist historic site in New Canaan, Connecticut? For The Glass House —a National Trust Historic Site—it all comes to encouraging the future of art through an exhibition featuring the work of middle and high school students in the local community.
Creating a Safe Space for Art and Creativity
In the fall of 2022, The Glass House partnered with of Stand Together Against Racism (S.T.A.R.), a nonprofit organization dedicated to social justice on a student exhibition called Through Your Looking Glass.
The engagement of local students has been important since the opening of the site in 2007. As a place of inspiration for modern architecture and contemporary art, The Glass House had a meaningful role to play in this new project, which recognized the role of art in advancing social justice. S.T.A.R. was founded by New Canaan resident Fatou Niang after a series of community protests that called on institutions and the public to address systemic racism locally and nationwide. It was an ideal partner for this exhibition.
Niang said, “Art spaces create safe places to explore ideas and difficult, complex themes. Art also brings dignity to expression and allows discourse with an audience.”
To further create that sense of belonging the New Canaan Museum & Historical Society, a cultural institution that focuses on preservation, modernism, education, and community, joined in as an exhibition partner providing a publicly accessible space for the exhibit and reception.
In September 2022, the group of partners sent out a call for middle and high school students to submit art work focusing on the intersection of art, design, architecture, and social justice. The decision, after a robust discussion, was to keep the call open without being prescriptive on themes, to preserve the integrity of the art and the creative space. Each of the partners believed that their role was to make space for these pieces, while providing an opportunity to engage with the community.
The results were astounding.
Kids Lead the Conversation
The Through Your Looking Glass project sought to recognize the role art and design play in advancing social justice through the lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion. The resulting range and quality of the submitted art was impressive. Subjects of pieces included racism, bullying, reproductive rights, climate, equity, identity, world peace, and more. Student creations came in a variety of mediums including photography, sculpture, painting and film—all paired with thoughtful statements.
Senior Kayla Perez took social media to task for making it “increasingly difficult to appreciate uniqueness, individualism, and personal beauty.” Jose Diaz, a ninth grader, incorporated text and painting into his piece titled We All Bleed Red.
Lucas Carballo, a senior, submitted an Ansel Adams-like photograph called River of Rust. “To me, freight trains represent the blue-collar labor force across the country,” he wrote. “This shot of a boxcar along a desolate lonely landscape represents how these people are forgotten in society.” Sixth grader Alexa Burroughs painted three figures with different skin tones. Over their heads are the words “All Of Us Or None Of Us.”
Oliver Forrest’s animated short film about bullying featured a cast of LEGO figures as the students. The seventh grader deftly captured the sounds of a classroom when the bell rings, a locker scene in a crowded school hallway during the busy time between classes, and the moments of both kindness and casual cruelty in the cafeteria.
Untainted Water artist, twelfth grader Julia Contadino, who submitted the flowing, water-like dress, made sure that her fabric was from “old deadstock material…. I made a sustainable and wearable representation of the water and ocean before it was touched with pollutants and garbage.”
Freya Goldenberg, an eleventh grader, used a mirror, paint, and text composed with cut-out letters. The words “Do you stand with the oppressed or oppressor” appear in the center of the mirror. She described her piece as a “check-in point for me or anyone else who cares to think deeply about their position in a world where social justice is imperative. It may also be a moment of realization that you/we/I are not doing enough or that our morals are in the wrong place.”
It was thrilling to see how, with the help of students who took the time to carefully film, bead, paint, and photograph their social activist dreams, a small town can make a small cultural shift. Through the power of art, residents observed big ideas and more, with dignity and open contemplation in the setting of the Historical Society.
Building Stronger Communities Through Art
At the opening of the exhibition, the feeling of pride from the students as they saw their artwork—framed and hanging among the others—was unmistakable. As the room filled with artists and their friends, family, and members of the New Canaan community, it was clear that this was an important step in the process of recognition and reconciliation.
The Glass House, S.T.A.R., and the New Canaan Museum & Historical Society agreed the exhibition should become an annual event, one where students continue to lead the conversation.
“The Glass House was proud to partner with S.T.A.R. on this inaugural program,“ Greg Sages, executive director of the Glass House, said. “This partnership enabled us to reach beyond New Canaan and gather the insights of students from surrounding communities. We were impressed with the students’ skills and creativity, and the results they produced, and feel that this program should continue with our support.”
In 2023 the exhibition will be titled Through Your Looking Glass: Kids Lead the Conversation on the Social Justice Topics That Matter to Them. The call for work will go out to middle and high schools in Fairfield County, Connecticut, in September 2023.
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