ALTON — Earlier this year, Penelope Schmidt and Dennis Scarborough of Jacoby Arts Center went to an exhibition entitled Visualizing Life: Social Justice in Real Time, curated by Freida L. Wheaton.
That trip gave them an idea.
“We wanted to host relevant exhibitions here that engage the entire community,” Schmidt said. “We felt there was part of the community that perhaps wasn’t engaged with Jacoby. So this was the foundation for putting on an exhibition on social justice that included Illinois-based artists.”
The pair worked with local artist Sun Smith-Foret to bring the exhibit to Alton. Smith-Foret contacted Wheaton about showing the exhibition at JAC. The team got most of the original show to come to Alton, while adding artwork from Illinois-based artists.
The result is Social Justice: Both Sides of the River, on display at the Jacoby Arts Center July 1 through Aug. 6.
“Everything came together,” Smith-Foret, a co-facilitator of the event whose work will be featured in the show, said. “It was this confluence of ideas and art and people.”
Schmidt, also serving as co-facilitator of the exhibit, said it aims to engage people on relevant, challenging issues. She said art is particularly well-suited for that task.
“I think it’s a universal medium that engages all the senses and engages people at a different level that’s beyond words, and humanizes issues that are sometimes very difficult to talk about,” she said. “That can create greater awareness, empathy, understanding and hopefully spark dialogue and appreciation of ‘the other,’ which seems so frightening to us.”
The exhibit, which features mostly black artists, will mark the first time the center has presented a show on social justice. In addition to the work from Wheaton’s exhibit, the show will include work from eight regional artists. The exhibit will also feature Faces Not Forgotten, an eight-year project by Alton native Christine Ilewski that portrays children lost to gun violence.
Smith-Foret will provide guided tours of the art at 2 p.m. every Saturday as well as by appointment.
“As part of any installation or exhibition I’m ever in, I make it part of my contract to speak about the work,” Smith-Foret, who has been an artist in the St. Louis area for more than 40 years, said. “I always speak about the work because it helps people to have a context.”
A free public opening reception will be 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, July 8, at the center, 627 E. Broadway. The reception will include refreshments and music from local jazz artists.
In addition to artwork, the exhibit will feature two films. The first is “Jim Crow to Barack Obama,” a documentary from Denise Ward-Brown with a question-and-answer session with Ward-Brown to follow the screening. The showing will be at 7 p.m. Friday, July 15, and is free to attend.
At 7 p.m. Friday, July 29, the show will screen “Four Way Stop,” a St. Louis-based film focusing on an inner-city teenager who tries to create a better life for his troubled parents. The screening is free, and a discussion moderated by Steve Potter of St. Louis Public Radio will follow.
“Whenever we have an opportunity to invite people to talk and share, we want to take part in that,” Efi da Silva, the writer and director of the film, said. “I think that topics like these are difficult to talk about, but when you have a medium that you can take in yourself, that can be a bit more digestible. That’s why programming like this is important. It opens the door for something you might otherwise be hesitant to approach.”
“The film is so interesting,” Potter, who also has a role in the film, added. “It addresses a lot of questions about race, stereotyping and all that stuff, but in a really unique way.”
The exhibition will also feature aural art. Dello Thedford & The Gospel Symphonic Choir will perform at 8 p.m. Friday, July 8. Tickets are $10.
Additionally, Alton native Saman Swanson will provide a tribute to Whitney Houston at 7 p.m. Saturday, July 23. This Green-Perkins production costs $10 to attend.
Finally, the Show Me Arts Academy Youth Choir will perform selections from the national 2016 Spreading the Love Youth Tour. That free performance will be at 7 p.m. Saturday, July 30.
All features of the exhibit have more in common than the theme of social justice, Schmidt said.
“The work is particularly profound and moving because it’s artists responding to real-life issues and uprisings,” she said. “We’ve all had that feeling of being alienated or being an outsider. I think this exhibition, which springs from real-life experiences, has the power to create empathy, to create awareness where we might not otherwise understand somebody else’s experience.”
Schmidt also said the show’s atmosphere will not make visitors uncomfortable, despite the subject matter.
“I would encourage people to come, even if they’re unsure,” she said. “I think they’re going to be pleasantly surprised. It’s not a hostile or a preachy show. It humanizes the issues that are really causing a lot of concern and anxiety in our community. We know that from the recent tragedy in Orlando. These are real-life issues and we need to learn to come together as a community to strengthen the fabric of our community to understand each other better.”
Summer Art Day Camp
In addition to Social Justice: Both Sides of the River, JAC will offer children’s art classes in July. There are four classes, each with two sections. One section targets children ages 5-7; the other is for ages 8-12.
“It creates an opportunity for self-expression,” Megan Myers, who is on the board of directors and the education committee, said. “It gives the kids a different way to express what they’re thinking or what they’re feeling and gives them a voice. They know their interests are heard that way.”
The classes run for three hours per day, five days per week for the last three sessions. The first session, Life’s A Beach, is full, but the rest are open.
The Magic of Art, the second session, runs July 11-15. Around The World begins July 18 and ends July 22. The final session, Meet the Masters, is July 25 to July 29.
The classes are taught by Emily Wetter, an art teacher at a local school, and Jenn Dunnagan-Grassle, who owns Cheerful Canvas in Alton.
A full description of each class is available at jacobyartscenter.org. Registration for each class costs $99. Parents can register by calling, downloading a form and mailing it or online. There is a maximum of 30 children per class.