Talking about race can be challenging. Art professor David Finn, with the help of both Wake Forest and local high school students, is creating a space where people can learn to celebrate their differences.
Students from area high schools have been submitting designs for Finn’s “Big Tent” project. The images express something that each student feels is unique about him or herself. As the artwork arrives on campus, the design outlines are transferred to a 25’ diameter canvas that will cover a tent frame — providing both a work of art and a physical area to encourage community discussion.
Wake Forest student volunteers are filling in the transferred designs paint-by-number style, transforming the plain canvas into a tapestry of color.
“Small groups can have a huge impact,” says Erin Cassidy, a junior from Virginia Beach, Va., who turned out for a group painting session. A religion major and studio art minor Cassidy says she is energized by how art can be used as a tool to bring communities together. “Human communities don’t flourish unless they are unified,” she says. “Many people don’t see it as a problem if we don’t talk about race issues. But we can’t move forward until we can get rid of superficial niceties and really try to understand each other.”
Ruth Chen, a first-year student from China, says she was surprised how many of the pictures and symbols created by American high school students would be meaningful to people in her home country. “The artwork on the Big Tent will really speak for people no matter what race or nationality.”
“The flowers on the tent represent the character and beauty of each individual,” says Finn. “The chains painted around the tent border symbolize the prejudice and bias that holds us back as a society.”
The project is part of the Transforming Race project Finn began last year, which pairs Wake Forest students with local high school students to explore the topic of race through art.
The tent will be on display in the spring in a variety of public venues.
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