On May 26th, 2021 The Block Museum held a special conversation, “Considering Care and Community Through Art,” with Rikki Byrd, 2020-2021 Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellow and curator of the outdoor exhibition Behold, Be Held. In a year that has altered how we approach community, care and art, Byrd shared the challenges and creativity that shaped her curatorial process. She was joined in conversation by Allen Moore and Olivia Tsotsos, project leaders at Youth and Opportunity United (Y.O.U.), and the Block’s engagement team, Erin Northington and América Salomón, to discuss the impact of this collaboration with Evanston high school students, and the role of art in fostering community conversations.
From the discussion:
“I worked on this project over the course of about eight months, as the world around us shifted dramatically. Our concept of beholding was severely altered, going from seeing in person to seeing through screens. Our concept of being held was no longer a safe possibility. But that is not all. Many lay eyes on, beheld, for the first time, afflicting disparities that shaped the world around us, allowing some to thrive and others to suffer.
And so the question becomes, how do you hold all of this in a museum exhibition? And the answer is, really that you can’t. And so instead I decided to ask, what are you most in need of right now? What would hold you through this moment? What would hold you until you can get to the next thing, the next destination, the next place, the next kind of glimmer of hope?….
“The students selected Romare Bearden’s Mother and Child and Margaret Burroughs’ Two Worlds Romare Bearden’s “Mother and Child, That’s the one that really blew us away in their reading because it’s actually a mother and child in the work and it’s reflective of Bearden’s work in collage. The students noticed that the colors used in the parent figure, they were used in the child as well. And so they started to think about things that are passed down to you – some of those things are good and some of those things are not so good. And some of those things don’t have anything to necessarily do with the parent or how the parent lived their life but systematically how the world around them is structured. And so that’s the thing that gets passed down to them. They talked about how the parent hosts them through all of that and cares for them through all of that.
And then with Margaret Burroughs’ “Two Worlds”, the students were really thinking about the diversity in their community but also diversity of experience. How they could be in school sitting next to a peer that they spend time with, that they’re on sports teams with, but they have two totally different experiences in moving through the world. That peer might not even understand or know that the school-to-prison pipeline exists in a way that could literally cause their livesto split at the crossroads. Again the art reflected how the world is structured around them. So I just thought those observations were really compelling and as the students selected and discussed those words, I just think that it was incredibly brilliant.”
Our Y.O.U Student Partners
The Leadership Project (TLP) is a student-led space for high school students to explore the intersections of race, gender, and class through research, art, and discussions. In spring 2021, collaborated with The Block Museum of Art’s outdoor exhibition, Behold, Be Held, which reproduces artworks from the museum’s permanent collection and invites visitors to reflect on how art holds us through moments of crisis. Students discussed how white supremacist structures, like the school-to-prison pipeline, impact young people and reflected on the diversity they see in their community. They worked with curator Rikki Byrd to select these two artworks to support these ideas.
Here, Y.O.U students meet outside their building to discuss and celebrate their exhibition selections with Rikki Byrd, Erin Northington, and Block student docent Rory Tsapayi.