This October, the act of bridging the gap between Yale and the Elm City can go beyond just public outreach and community service.
On Sunday, the Yale Humanist Community sponsored “Art as Social Justice,” an exhibit and panel discussion featuring seven Connecticut-based artists. The exhibit, which is on display in Silliman College’s Maya’s Room until early November, highlights the role of art as a tool for social activism and building movements. The panel also served as an opportunity to introduce the Green Light Project, a community-based initiative that focuses on creating stronger bonds between New Haven and Yale through the installation of a sculpture on the New Haven Green. The piece, which stands 17 feet high, has nine sides that represent the nine squares of the original New Haven Colony plan. The sculpture will be done in aluminum and plexiglass and will glow brighter as more people surround it.
Chris Stedman, executive director of the Yale Humanist Community, said that he believes the sculpture has the potential to foster closer ties between the city and the University. He said that it celebrates Yale and the Elm City’s “shared humanity,” encouraging interpersonal relationships among all the city’s residents.
“We hope that the seasonal interactive sculpture will create opportunities for people to stop, gather and connect with one another in the center of New Haven during a time of year that can feel challenging, even isolating, for so many,” Stedman said.
Ted Salmon, owner of EWS 3-D — an architectural metal fabrication company — and the sculptor heading the Green Light Project, said he got inspiration for the images directly from the local community.
Community building and representation were also themes central to the panelists’ works. Sculptor Eóin Burke raised questions about representing figures and bodies in his work through the “lens of privilege” as a white male. Arvia Walker discussed her photography, which features protesters in the Black Lives Matter movement. She emphasized her desire to “change and elevate” the narratives surrounding black and brown communities, something she hopes to do by documenting the movement’s children. Similarly, Susan Hoffman Fishman and Elena Kalman, who work with mixed media, created an interactive installment called “The Wave.” The project was intended to serve as an educational tool to raise awareness about the global water crisis.
Painter Tracie Cheng noted that even pieces that do not overtly address social justice issues can take on meanings of their own separate from the artist.
“I really enjoy seeing the amount of questions that come up when people look at my paintings. I like when they answer the questions themselves,” Cheng said. “In instances when they’re really struggling with something, they see so much more depth in my work than I can offer them.”
Other artists agreed that the role of emotion is central when connecting to a broader audience. Walker said that emotion allows for the piece to become a catalyst in addressing a larger issue, adding that it invokes a human response within the viewer.
Juancarlos Soto, a graphic designer, emphasized the universal quality art can take on when creating bonds and organizing movements. Soto, who moved to the U.S. from Puerto Rico when he was 16, initially struggled with English and communicated through drawing.
“Often, when I couldn’t get what I wanted to say out, I would sketch it out. People could then understand what I was trying to say,” Soto said. “Art transcends language, and it amplifies our voices in ways that regular organizing can’t usually do. It’s also something that lasts much longer than the person who created it.”
On Nov. 13, the Green Light Project will host a fundraising event featuring food from local restaurants and comedy followed by the conceptual unveiling of the interactive sculpture on the New Haven Green.