Art that amplifies: MCLA BCRC takes on social issues, and the community joins in

A video tour of MCLA's Hostile Terrain 94 Exhibit.

MCLA’s Berkshire Cultural Resource Center produced an extensive slate of virtual programming, exhibitions, and discussions this academic year, all focused on using art as a catalyst for advocacy and a deeper understanding of current social issues like immigration, racism, and public health.

In addition to increased collaborations with local museums, nearby colleges, and the Northern Berkshire arts community, more MCLA professors are incorporating BCRC programming into their classes, and BCRC has welcomed artists from all over the world to offer exhibits, virtual talks, and other activities.

“So many different faculty members have said, ‘let’s use the art in our classroom discussions and activities,’” said BCRC Director Erica Wall. “It’s a testament to the work we’re doing here that so many want to collaborate with BCRC. It shows the arts are integral to a liberal arts education.”

Hostile Terrain 94 

A multisite, interactive installation meant to starkly illustrate the violence of U.S. border policy, MCLA’s Hostile Terrain exhibit incorporated community signage and billboards throughout the Northern Berkshires, a hotline phone number where people left messages answering questions like “when did you forget you were an immigrant?”, and even a one-credit class examining the art and anthropology of immigration activism led by Anna Jaysane-Darr, assistant professor of anthropology.

MCLA Gallery 51 featured the work of Sergio de la Torre, Chris Treggiari (Sanctuary City Project), and Trinh Mai, all who collaborated with students, faculty, and the community on a series of workshops and experiences examining, belonging, fear, and trauma. All told, MCLA’s HT94 installation included collaborations with dozens of artists, professors, and community partners, including Lisa Donovan, professor of arts management; Melanie Mowinski, professor of art; Jenna Sciuto, assistant professor of English & communications; Victoria Papa, assistant professor of English & communications; and Sandra Burton, professor of dance at Williams College.

Resist COVID / Take 6! 

MCLA's "DO THE WORK of Antiracism" campaign featured on WGBY's Connecting Point.

MCLA joined MASS MoCA, Williams College and Bennington College in showcasing MacArthur Award-winning artist Carrie Mae Weems’ Resist COVID / Take 6! project, which combines Weems’ photographs with messages that promote health and safety, offer hope, give thanks to frontline workers, and highlight the staggering death toll of COVID-19 and the disproportionate impact of the virus on Black, Brown, and Native American communities.

BCRC and the MCLA community used this work to explore these themes on campus, working to identify and address the needs of the College’s BIPOC community.  Students in Professor Melanie Mowinski’s Introduction to Design class created their own campaign, using Weems’ work as inspiration. The DO THE WORK of Antiracism campaign was created by the students and placed on two billboards out of four sponsored by BCRC, along with Weems, in North Adams and Pittsfield. Related events included an anonymous Q&A with MCLA Wellness Center staff, a panel on vaccines and herd immunity coordinated by students in Assistant Professor of Community Health Nicole Porther’s Health Promotion and Planning Class, and an open mic in response to health and wellness organized by Assistant Professor of English & communications Jenna Sciuto. Future projects are planned for the Fall 2021 semester, including a sound collage by Assistant Professor of Education Lisa Arrastia.

“Never in our history have we had a pandemic, the scope of social unrest, all of this coming together this one moment,” said Wall. “We felt that was most important to our own campus community in light of this larger project; we’re using this campaign in perpetuity. All of it is to model for the students what civic engagement and social justice activism looks like.”

Dismantling Racism

BCRC has continued to collaborate with other organizations and artists and present work that asks tough questions about racism, close to home and on a national scale. This included a collaboration with MASS MoCA on “In Sessions,” a series of four panel discussions on anti-racist work in museums, streamed live on MASS MoCA’s YouTube and Facebook; and monthly community conversations on racism with the North Adams Artist Impact Coalition.

Wall said these kinds of collaborations help introduce students to the wider arts and culture community in the Berkshires and bring new voices to important conversations that should involve everyone who lives here. “My hope and intention were that we would broaden the exposure our students and community have to the arts within the region and outside of the region, and that that representation would be as diverse as possible,” she said.