MLK Day shines a light on the enduring and symbiotic relationship between civil rights and creativity

Freedom is as hard to quantify as it is easy to take for granted. But without freedom of expression, there is no creativity. And ArtCenter, as a community of artists and designers, owes its enduring culture of innovation, influence and impact to the strides made by the struggle for civil liberties, both in the distant and recent past.

MLK Day offers an opportunity to recognize our debt to the original civil rights pioneers as well as to the new generation of #blacklivesmatter student activists who have laid the groundwork for generations of iconoclasts, innovators and change makers of all persuasions to continue to create a more just, equal and artful world.

Look no further than Illustration alum, Emerson Terry, for the living embodiment of that first-wave pioneering spirit and integral relationship between freedom of expression and creative fulfillment. Terry, at age 90, is one of the College’s first African American graduates whose, um, illustrious career included award-winning work for the entertainment and aeronautics industries. The above video pays tribute to Terry’s creative and cultural legacy, fittingly produced by current ArtCenter Film student, Amadu Haruna, with assistance by fellow Film student Matthew Plaxco and Photography alum Edward Cushenberry.

In a more contemporary iteration of the spirit of protest that inspired this holiday, Illustration student, Kayla Salisbury, voiced her own questions about our collective responsibilities in this courageous essay exploring the ways in which ArtCenter community might better support its students of color and begin to foster an honest and meaningful dialogue around human rights.

Indeed, the conversation around social justice takes many shapes at ArtCenter. Humanities and Sciences faculty member and accomplished entertainment attorney, Michelle Katz teaches a course entitled The Evolution of Civil Rights, which examines the greatest civil rights threats and champions and the ways in which artists have been instrumental to the march toward a more egalitarian society.


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