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Artful Proposal

Student assignment leads to timely campus exhibit

Dr. Jonathan Shirland challenges students to think like professionals by writing proposals to bring art to campus.

The assignment has been an integral part of his Women in the Visual Arts class, but a recent proposal on unique collages created by artist Lavett Ballard led to an actual exhibit reaching a much broader audience.

“We wanted to do something highlighting the work of a Black woman artist as that population is the most underrepresented in galleries and museums,” said art history major Elizabeth Ezekiel, ’23, who co-wrote the proposal about Ballard and became the exhibit’s assistant curator.

Ballard’s collages, some of which are on display in Bridgewater State University’s Anderson Gallery through Feb. 10, include images and newspaper headlines of historic events, such as the Montgomery bus boycott. She also incorporates pictures of famous and everyday members of the African diaspora. Ballard often uses sections of fence or other reclaimed wood. Fences, her work posits, are like racial and gender identities in that they confine and exclude.

The exhibit became a reality after Jay Block, BSU’s associate director of collections and exhibitions, saw potential in the proposal written by Elizabeth, Maya Boivin, Melanie Marhefka, Benjamin Matos and Erin Williams.

“I’ve always been a proponent of students having more say on campus and more say about the art,” said Block, who offers feedback on all proposals written by Shirland’s students. “This one was absolutely professional and spot on.”

As assistant curator, Elizabeth worked side by side with Block. She interviewed Ballard, wrote an essay about the art, and helped set up the exhibit.

“Getting to see the full breadth of this process has changed my career path,” said Elizabeth, who aspires to attend graduate school and become a curatorial researcher for a museum. “This was so monumental for me.”

While the exhibit highlights racial justice, Shirland helps students explore art addressing many contemporary topics, including LGBTQ rights and mental health.

The proposal assignment “is deliberately designed so students can find and make a compelling case for whatever issue is most urgent to them,” the associate art professor said.

Ballard appreciates how BSU students have the freedom to explore artists like herself.

“I look back to my young high school and college days, and the artists didn’t look like me,” Ballard said. “To be able to say that my work … impacted these students so much, it was really cool and humbling.”

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