Otterbein Art and Activism Series Shines Light on Social Justice Issues

Posted Oct 20, 2020

By: Professor Margaret Koehler, Department of English chair 

The English Department’s fall Writers and Scholars speaker series, Art and Activism, was born out of Otterbein English majors’ concerns about maintaining community in the age of Zoom and a compelling need to connect their literary education with the historic racial justice demonstrations that have been occurring nationwide this summer.  

Responding to a survey put out by the Otterbein Department of English to check on the well-being of our students and hopes for the fall, one student responded “I think there are always ways to connect literature and writing to social justice. In fact, I think it’s crucial.”   

Another English major urged the department to “host and promote more Black authors, both local writers and students, and show films by Black directors.” 

As the Department chair, I reached out to three Columbus artist-activists and invited them to share their perspectives on the relationship between activism and art-making in their lives. These perspectives are especially important to consider during this intense time of pandemic, mass protest and a divisive presidential election.             

Art and Activism
Donte Woods-Spikes video chats with English Students during the first Art & Activism virtual session Sept. 8, 2020.

Columbus documentary filmmaker Donte Woods-Spokes presented on “Proactive-ISM” to an online audience of 87 people on Sept. 8. He shared clips of his film Donte and Day’Mariah and discussed the relationships among documentation, storytelling and mentoring in his work. It can be viewed on the Otterbein University YouTube channel

On Oct. 5, local spoken word poet and social justice consultant Kimberly Brazwell will present a virtual performance and interactive experience on “Writing Through Racial Trauma.” She’ll share poetry and excerpts from her memoir Browning Pleasantville to engage her audience in critical dialogue.  

A third Columbus artist and activist, Scott Woods, will join the Department of English virtually Nov. 10 to discuss his work as a journalist, spoken word poet and founder of the Streetlight Guild performing arts organization in Columbus.  

An exciting Art and Activism connection beyond central Ohio will feature internationally celebrated poet and memoirist Carolyn Forché. Creative Writing Professor Shannon Lakanen’s Essay Writing class will host Forché for a Zoom reading and conversation titled, “I believe with my life, with how I live,” on Oct. 20. 

Plans are also in the works to connect the Art and Activism Series across the Humanities at Otterbein. The theme is timely as Humanities faculty and students at Otterbein launch new initiatives to collaborate across academic divisions and beyond campus with community partners in Columbus to address the challenges of 2020. 

You can find recordings of the Art and Activism Series presentations online after the live events on Otterbein’s YouTube channel