‘A Constant Struggle: Exhibit Focus is Race and Identity

By Scott Smith

“A Constant Struggle,” a multi-form art exhibition about racism, equality and identity, is open through June 8 in the Simmerling Gallery at the Beverly Arts Center (BAC), 2407 W. 111th St.  The exhibit is co-produced by the Beverly Area Arts Alliance (The Alliance), and two live events at the BAC will build on the show’s themes.

The show is anchored by the work of three artists who explore “the insidious reach of racism woven deeply into our nation’s history and culture, and its continuing legacy of inequality in America today,” according to an exhibit statement. The artists are Dorothy C. Straughter, Jomo Cheatham and Dawn Liddicoat.

Straughter is an artist, educator, occupational therapist and researcher whose detailed quilts tell stories of the Underground Railroad, the Great Migration and the stereotypes behind “negrobilia” artifacts. Straughter debuted many new quilts as part of “A Constant Struggle,” including one which pays tribute to first responders throughout history, from Harriet Tubman to police officers and firefighters who have died in the line of duty.

Cheatham is a graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and an arts educator whose work “Reparations for Interruptions” continues his intensive investigation of lynching in North America.

Liddicoat is a ceramicist who created the “Lynch Pots” series to visually represent the racial disparity of fatal police killings

The exhibition is co-curated by Straughter and Sal Campbell, a co-founder of The Alliance.

“The strength of the Alliance comes from celebrating the wide range of voices and perspectives among our local artists,” said Campbell. “We believe art can be a powerful way to engage in dialogue about difficult issues and we’re honored to work with Dorothy, Jomo and Dawn on this and to present it at the Beverly Arts Center.”

Additional work on display at the BAC includes photography documenting life in the neighborhood by Tonika Johnson of Englewood, and a series of pieces by artist Cathy Sorich, inspired by the “Constant Struggle” exhibit, which move to the Edna White Garden on Monterey Avenue after the reception.

In addition to the visual art of the exhibit, the Alliance will hold an open mic storytelling event on Thurs., May 18 and a panel on youth empowerment on Wed., May 31. Both events will take place at 7 p.m. in the BAC’s Simmerling Gallery.

The open mic topic is “Where Are You From?” and it will be emceed by Cole Lavalais, author and founder of Chicago Writers’ Studio. Poet Bryant Smith a.k.a. B Love, and Sandra Jackson Opoku, a poet, screenwriter, journalist and award-winning author of “The River Where Blood Is Born,” are scheduled to perform.

The youth empowerment panel will discuss ways to create programs that motivate and celebrate youth of color. The panel will include: Dr. Pancho MacFarland, head of sociology from Chicago State University, a published author who is active in food and social justice movements; Christopher Rudd, a youth and community program designer who ran a successful 10-month teen empowerment program as part of the Civic Innovation Fellowship at the Stanford Design School; Shaka Rawls, principal of Leo High School, who founded a program called IMPACT (Inspiring and Motivating Positive Actions for City Teens); Dr. Kathleen McInerney, a professor from Saint Xavier University who has been named to the Fulbright Specialist Roster by the Council for International Exchange of Scholars, and whose current interests include issues of power, privilege, and education policy in communities and their schools.

“We’re glad to once again host the Beverly Area Arts Alliance in the Simmerling Gallery,” said Shellee Frazee, BAC Interim Executive and Artistic Director. “The Beverly Arts Center’s mission focuses on building community through this kind of diverse, quality arts programming and education.”

A closing reception is planned for the exhibit. Campbell said the Alliance has been in discussions with the Southwest Chicago Diversity Collaborative, a local group that advocates for diversity issues, on participating in the closing event.

For more information about “A Constant Struggle,” visit beverlyarts.org or beverlyartcenter.org.

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