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IMU adds three new paintings by Black artists to art collection for diversity initiative

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Three new paintings by Black artists were unveiled in the Indiana Memorial Union on November 28 as part of an initiative to expand the IMU’s art collection with contemporary works more representative of IU’s population.  

The new paintings include “Glorious Day” by India Cruse-Griffin, which is displayed in the South Lounge, “Reasons” by Kyng-Rhodes, displayed across from the dining area and “Empowered Tresses” by Tasha Beckwith, displayed outside of the Georgian Room.

In 2020, members of the Union Board, IU Student Government, the campus art curation staff and the IMU director were tasked with examining the effectiveness of the IMU’s art according to a News at IU press release. The goal was to determine how the IMU’s art serves students and reflects diversity and how the IMU can better represent students and communities with art. 

According to the press release, an April 2021 report found that only 2.3% of the art in the IMU’s collection were created by non-white artists and only 15.4% of portraits depicted non-white subjects, compared to the 26.9% of IU-Bloomington students who identified as a minority, according to an IU annual report for 2021-2022

Steven Paul Judd, a Native American visual artist and filmmaker, came to the IMU to create a portrait of Olympic athlete and former IU assistant football coach Jim Thorpe, a member of the Sac and Fox nation, as an initial step in 2021.  

RelatedHere’s how to celebrate Black History Month in Bloomington The month celebrates African Americans’ achievements and recognizes their central role in U.S. history.

The Union Board partnered with the First Nations Educational and Cultural Center to bring Judd to campus, the board’s President Laurie Frederickson said. 

“This took place in the dining area of the IMU, so there were actually students that were able to come up and paint part of the portrait along with him,” Frederickson said. 

One of the report's recommendations, according to the press release, included buying artworks that better reflect the student body, so the collection supports a sense of belonging, introduces students to art and presents new perspectives.  

Historically, Frederickson said, the Union Board president, the campus arts director and other members of the Union Board have worked together to find funding for new art in the IMU. She said the board is currently working on the next portion of the art initiative and has secured funding from the John Whittenberger Society to go towards Latine art. She said the board is now partnered with La Casa and Latinos Unidos to bring up pieces that represent Latine culture. 

Since the paintings’ installation, the board has been trying to promote the pieces, making students aware of the art in the IMU. 

Frederickson said she thinks reactions to the new artwork have been very positive. At the unveiling ceremony last year, she and other students were moved by the stories behind the paintings that two of the artists shared. 

She said Kyng-Rhodes' painting, “Reasons,” is a picture of him and his son, and he explained they’re each other's reason for continuing, trying to grow and better themselves. 

“I've seen a lot of enthusiasm to engage with this project, both from within our board and our new partners,” Frederickson said. “It seems like students are interested in helping out with this art and providing representation in the IMU.” 

Emmanuel Ufuah, a junior and facility worker at the Neal-Marshall Center, was one of four students who attended the Butter Fine Arts Fair in Indianapolis last September to select the new paintings according to the press release. Hesaid the group looked around the fair, talked and decided which pieces they liked and best represented diversifying the IMU’s art collection.  

Choosing a favorite of the three, Ufuah said, is difficult, but if he had a favorite, it would be India Cruse-Griffin's “Glorious Day.” The piece, he said, is powerful and shows multiple Black women on a large canvas. 

The IMU, Frederickson said, is the heart of campus and one of the few places where students from any school within IU, members of the community, faculty and staff can come gather and feel connected to the university. The IMU is a place she believes should be an iconic part of the IU campus. 

“And part of that means that it should be a place that reflects everybody who is part of our campus and makes them feel welcomed,” Frederickson said.  

RelatedHoosier Asian American Power group focusing on Asian women launches in Indiana The group grew out of the Indiana Chapter of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of Laurie Frederickson

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