Students work on chalk art project for Black History Month

Brenau community celebrates Black history, artists and voices

Feb 17, 2021
Allison Lauricella

Brenau University’s celebration of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and Black History Month continues this February with several events, activities and resources highlighting the impact of King and the Civil Rights Movement.

“Now more than ever, Dr. King’s example of ‘unarmed truth and unconditional love’ needs to be widely celebrated,” said Jim Eck, provost and vice president of academic affairs. 

During the week of the King holiday on Jan. 18, Brenau Trustee Library launched a new LibGuide that features sections on King’s life, videos of his speeches and other textual, visual and historical resources. The guide, compiled by library staff, also includes information on important thinkers of the Civil Rights Movement and a DIY Civil Rights Film Festival.

The Center for the Arts & Design (CAD) is also joining in the celebration as it works to educate Brenau students, faculty and staff about notable Black artists. On Jan. 25, CAD Director and Art & Design Department Chair Claudia Wilburn, spent several hours working on an acrylic portrait of King in the Yonah Lobby as Brenau community members and students stopped to watch and chat while this was in progress. Professor Wilburn’s painting will be donated to the university for display upon completion. 

On Feb. 1, CAD was active all over campus despite the cold weather. Students from Madia Cooper-Ashirifi’s dance classes, Tom Askew’s beginning photography class and studio art seniors Mackenzie Callas and Mirella Reily, with a handful of faculty members, participated in an encouraging temporary art project. They wrote quotes — mainly spoken by King — in sidewalk chalk, which were accompanied by a two-color stencil portrait of the Civil Rights leader. Professor Wilburn was inspired by the street art style of Banksy and Shepard Fairey in the creation of the stencil design and took advantage of an aerosol spray chalk to achieve this look. 

Excerpt from Amanda Gorman’s presidential inauguration poem, “The Hill We Climb”, on display in Yonah Lobby

Additionally, CAD has started a more analog form of student outreach. Five whiteboards set up across campus are being used to showcase encouraging quotes and introductions to Black artists in February and will highlight women artists in March. The boards — which are updated weekly and geared toward students, faculty and staff on campus — are intended to be quick introductions to visual and performing artists and provide a bit of hope and encouragement as Brenau heads into the middle of the spring semester. 

One of the whiteboards, set up in Yonah Lobby, celebrated Amanda Gorman and highlighted words from her presidential inauguration poem, “The Hill We Climb”: “For there is always light / if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.” Senior photography major Hope Vigil-Shuck and freshman fashion design major Harriett Manning have both been a great help in getting this project underway. 

CAD will continue to encourage and educate the students at Brenau on a broad range of arts and artists this semester while also celebrating diversity. Brenau Galleries is featuring artwork by women of color from the Brenau University Permanent Art Collection for #WomanCrushWednesday on social media throughout February. 

Additionally, you are invited to join Brenau University on Feb. 15-28 for Striding Forward: Selma Onward, a virtual walk from Selma to Washington, D.C., reflecting on the distances walked by so many pivotal figures during the Civil Rights Movement. Participants can log their miles at home on or on our website, and for each major milestone achieved, Brenau will share the stories of key events from the locations along the way.