2019-02-01 / Shorts

Still Separate. Still Unequal.

Traveling exhibition on view at Penn State examines racial segregation in U.S. public schools.
Sarah Rafacz

In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. And yet, it endures.

That continued alienation is the focus of an exhibition on view at Penn State, titled Race and Revolution: Still Separate - Still Unequal. The traveling exhibition includes 35 contemporary artworks by 15 artists and is split between the HUB-Robeson Galleries on campus and the Woskob Family Gallery in downtown State College, the first partnership for the galleries.

The exhibition features works in a variety of media, including photography, sculpture, installation and textiles, and many of the artists were or are public school teachers. The contemporary art is paired with historical documents, to highlight injustices in the past as well as the present.

“It is a really exciting opportunity to share artwork with the community that is produced by people who are living some of these particular experiences that speak to a specific cultural moment,” says Ann Tarantino, assistant professor in the Penn State School of Visual Arts and director of the Woskob Family Gallery.

The works explore how students experience segregated schools — from inadequate representation and insufficient resources to standardized testing to over-policing, the exhibition’s website says.

“My interest is in engaging students, and ... this topic is one that affects many of them quite directly being that they themselves are currently in higher education and have perhaps come recently from the (K-12) education system in the United States,” says Lindsey Landfried, HUB-Robeson Galleries senior gallery manager and curator. “So it’s my hope that the topic and the artworks are something that will speak to their experiences and perhaps engage them in the arts and the ways in which arts can be a conduit for ideas and activism in their lives.”

Race and Revolution: Still Separate - Still Unequal was co-curated by former high school teacher and museum educator Katie Fuller and Larry Ossei-Mensah, senior curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. The exhibition’s first iteration, in 2017 at Smack Mellon in Brooklyn, New York, garnered a lot of attention, both for the subject matter and the public programming, Tarantino says.

The curators prepared a supplementary curriculum guide for the exhibition to help educators communicate with K-12 audiences about the works, and the galleries are working with State College Area School District educators to offer tours and discussions about the exhibition and the issues that its works address.

“I think that in the district there is a lot of interest orbiting around these types of issues,” Tarantino says.

The opening of the exhibition comes on the heels of a showing in December of Schooling Narratives, a mini-documentary by two Penn Staters that shares the experiences of families of color in State College’s schools.

Tarantino says there was an outpouring of interest in the mini-doc, and she sees the potential for Race and Revolution: Still Separate - Still Unequal to piggy-back on some of those experiences and questions.

The exhibition runs through March 1 at the HUB and April 6 at Woskob.

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