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Art in living color

New Minority Artists Association at MU aims to bring attention and support to minority art and its creators
Monday, October 24, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:03 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Minority Artists Association, a new student group at MU, wants to see more color — not only on canvas, but also in the classroom.

“I wanted the minorities to have a place to display their work,” said Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm, the association’s president and founder.

Chisholm, an MU graphic design major who is black, said a lack of ethnic diversity in his art classes concerns him as a student and as an artist. “You really can’t find a face you’re familiar with,” he said.

Chisholm and Rhondalyn Goss, an art major and the association’s vice president, are the only minority students in a 16-student beginning ceramics class. Their teacher, Bede Clarke, said the art faculty also notices the lack of ethnic diversity.

“You notice when a minority student walks down the halls of the art building,” Clarke said. “That says something.”

But Clarke, who has been at MU for 13 years, said the issue might be less about skin color than about economics.

“I’m not sure, but the real color might be green,” he said. “If students are coming from a lower economic experience, there might be more emphasis on getting an economic foothold”— for example, by pursuing a more lucrative major.

Chisholm’s dream for the association includes mounting displays in Columbia-area galleries and holding art auctions. The group’s first scheduled show, “Genesis: Continuing Tradition,” will be at the Gaines-Oldham Black Culture Center in November.

Chisholm said the association is for anyone who wants to expand minority art in the community.

Other art students are rallying behind Chisholm’s vision. Goss, who is black, said that at times she feels a racial divide in the classroom over the study of art.

“When I draw a piece of artwork full with black people, students look at me and wonder why I’m doing that,” Goss said. “They make you feel self-conscious about the art you do.”

She said lessons also lack diversity. “You see a lot of focus on the white artists — you really don’t find out about the black artists,” Goss said. “We are out there.”

Kristin Schwain, an MU assistant professor of American art and architecture, said there has been a struggle for the study of more diverse art in the field of art history.

“I would say our department — and indeed, the discipline of art history generally — has focused on European art,” Schwain said.

But Schwain said faculty members in the department have increased the inclusion of ethnic artists in their course content in the last 20 years.

“I don’t think we offer enough, but we are trying,” she said. “Our good intentions haven’t provided the results we like, but we’re still working at it.”

Next semester, the department will have an African art history class taught by visiting professor Monique Fowler-Paul. Schwain said she thinks limited funding impedes building a more diverse curriculum.

“I think it’s critical to include African American, Native American, all the different voices that contribute to the visual arts,” Schwain said.

Goss said that when she draws a picture of a black subject, there are unconscious European traits in the face, because she’s been trained so extensively with white subjects.

“We’re drawing what’s ‘normal,’ and that’s not what’s going on outside,” Goss said.

Cameron said some minorities, in particular Asians, have no tradition of nudity in art, at least not like the Western tradition, so they are reticent to model in the nude.

“If students feel they are underrepresented, they should tell their friends about modeling,” Cameron said. “We are grateful to have minority models.”

Cameron said she finds the classes she teaches to be pretty diverse, considering how small most art classes are.

Chisholm said the association’s meetings will give minority artists a chance to critique each other’s art in a comfortable setting — to fine-tune their art.

“With this organization, we will be able to interact more with one another and gain a better understanding of art as to how we look at it,” said LaShawn Butler, an MU art major.

This past summer, the Minority Artists Association was approved as an MU organization through the Organization Resource Group, which allots money to student groups, but Chisholm missed the funding deadline.

“We’re broke, flat broke,” he said.

Because the association is a minority organization, it qualifies for funding through the Legion of Black Collegians, one of the student governments at MU. So far, 18 members have signed up through facebook.com, an online college directory of social networks.

Chisholm wants to organize a group membership with the Columbia Art League for display opportunities and discounts for art events for group members. Community service is also on the 2005-06 agenda; he hopes to teach art lessons Saturday mornings with Fun City Youth Academy, an enrichment program for children in Columbia.

“(There are) lots of possibilities for it to grow,” Goss said.


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