There’s a time machine in Tallahassee. It’s not at the MagLab or in some kook’s garage, it’s the State Archives of Florida located in the R.A. Gray Building. This treasure trove of historically significant records, manuscripts, photographs and other materials is accessible to anyone who wants to experience another era.
Recently, a group of local teenagers visited the archives as part of a summer camp called “Footsoldiers: Change Makers Then & Now” to better understand the local civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. The camp was inspired by the Civil Rights Heritage Sidewalk, a public art installation honoring more than 50 “footsoldiers” who participated in Tallahassee’s bus boycott and lunch counter sit-ins.
Led by students and faculty members in the FSU Art Education department and funded by the university’s Arts and Humanities Program Enhancement Grant, the camp focused on conceptualizing and creating socially conscious artwork.
Danielle Henn, a doctoral student in art education, was one of the camp leaders. She said the goal was for participants to make “concrete connections between history and their lives today. The Civil Rights movement can feel a little abstract or far away, especially when you’re a kid.” Her hope was that this camp would help shorten the degrees of separation.
Campers got an overview of the national civil rights movement, then visited local landmarks like Bethel Missionary Baptist Church and the C.K. Steele bus plaza in addition to the state archives.Campers toured Frenchtown and heard from living legends of the civil rights movement.
In the days that followed, campers incorporated what they’d learned into poignant artworks, using a technique called creative remix.
By altering text, images or sounds, remixes often speak to broad political or social messages and offer the artist’s interpretation of and response to the original material. Campers were presented with the work of other artists who work in this way including Kara Walker and Willie Cole.
Henn explained, “the questions you have to ask to be able to make a work of art about something are far deeper than if you just had to report on it or summarize what you’ve learned. To go a step further and figure out how to put it out into the world, that requires perspective taking.”
It also requires consideration of how that artwork may be interpreted by others and Henn addressed that with campers as well. “You have to be careful about unintentionally saying something that you don’t mean. We discussed appropriation and the importance of the materials that are used. The example that gets used in art education a lot is when we recreate totem poles out of toilet paper rolls. What does that say? It matters. That’s a pretty contemporary practice.”
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