Moving beyond protests, ASU in Solidarity opens avenue for expressive arts


The Appalachian Online

Emma Speckman

In the wake of the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York last summer, sympathy, support and solidarity movements cropped up across the nation, creating dialogue about race relations and police accountability.

In support of the movements across the nation, a Facebook page titled “ASU in Solidarity” was created for students at Appalachian State University to share articles and opinions on the subject matter as well as bring attention to protests. Cara Hagan, an assistant professor of theatre and dance at Appalachian, saw how students reacted and wanted to contribute in her own way – through art.

Hagan will lead an informal planning session for an upcoming project, currently titled “Art and Social Justice,” in the Rough Ridge room of Plemmons Student Union at 3:30 p.m. Thursday.

The goal, Hagan said, is to allow artists on campus to express their feelings and contribute their opinions in a way that comes natural to them.
While there is room after a national tragedy for letter writing, voting and protesting, Hagan said some people are more comfortable working out big issues through their art.

“I would like to manifest being politically engaged,” Hagan said. “And I’m interested in seeing what the students are interested in. You can do something one way and it will speak to one group of people, but you can do something another way and it will speak to another group.”

Hagan said so far the students she has spoken with seem excited and ready for a community project like this.

“I’d love to see the art department involved in some way to bring awareness to social justice issues, especially since they emphasize contemporary issues influencing art in history,” senior studio art major Sloane Whaley said. “It’d also bring students together if we were able to do collaborative pieces.”

Through the “Art and Social Justice” project, Whaley plans to create one solo art piece and one collaborative piece with another art student.

“The solo piece would be in response to the multiple cases of police brutality, especially toward [people of color],” Whaley said. “The collaborative piece might be more specific to one case or to ASU in Solidarity. We haven’t worked out the details to that yet.”

Combining art and community engagement is not a new venture for Hagan. She moved to Boone from the Piedmont-Triad area two years ago, where she created a domestic violence and gender stereotype awareness nonprofit titled “The Wedding Dress Project.”

The project helps women who have struggled with domestic violence work out issues through dress deconstruction workshops, other art projects and writing displays.

Hagan’s efforts with the “Art and Social Justice” project are supported by the Office of Multicultural Student Development, which is heavily involved in the ASU in Solidarity movement.
Gus Peña, director of Multicultural Student Development, said Hagan has connected with the ASU in Solidarity Facebook group with the question, “Is there a space for expressive arts within this movement?”

“It is my hope that our students continue to use their voices to speak to kind of put a mirror up to this community, to see what our experiences are,” Peña said. “A movement like this helps us to hopefully recognize the connections and to hopefully feel some collective responsibility.”

Story: Emma Speckman, A&E Editor