Monday, February 29, 2016

Kansas People's History Project at Pitt State

In the Art Connectors Gallery, located on the 2nd floor of Porter Hall, there is a new exhibition featuring the work of Pitt State art students. The Kansas People's History Project includes the work of fourteen undergraduate students who were enrolled in Assistant Professor Emi Gennis' Hand Lettering for Illustration and Comics class during the fall semester. Their broadsides highlighting overlooked aspects of Kansas history were part of a larger, state-wide art project lead by artist David Loewenstein. The description of the project below is from the project website,

"Kansas has remarkable stories, but many of them are not widely known or taught in our schools. The Kansas People’s History Project (KPHP) will begin to address this gap by making history present and visible in our everyday lives. Inspired by Howard Zinn’s groundbreaking book “A People’s History of United States” which examined history “from the bottom up,” the KPHP will focus on the creation of a series of screen printed broadsides with text narratives, a comprehensive website, and an exhibition that shine a light on lesser known but greatly influential figures and events from Kansas’s past.
From the many Tribal nations that have called (and continue to call) this place home to the stories of Suffragettes, outsider artists, Civil Rights activists and countless others who have helped shape the story of Kansas, this project will celebrate the integral role these often overlooked groups have had in the making of Kansas history."

Associate Professor of Art Education Josie Mai has worked with the artist Dave Loewenstein on other community art projects and invited him to Pittsburg State University this fall to give a workshop related to the Kansas People's History Project. It was at this workshop that Gennis decided to get her class involved by assigning the broadsides as the final project for the course. "It was the perfect opportunity to apply the skills combining lettering and imagery that they acquired during the course, in addition to emphasizing other skills, such as visual research, that are an important part of artistic growth," she said. Loewenstein returned to campus later in the semester to give an additional workshop to the class, and the students also attended a presentation from librarians at the Axe Library about the Kansas-related content of the library's Special Collections. 

Loewenstein traveled to Pitt State again on February 18th to participate as the keynote speaker for the Pittsburg State University Museum of Art's IDEA Series, an annual lecture series that this year was built on the theme "Collective Memory." During his lecture, Loewenstein showed the audience screen printed version's of Gennis' work as well as student Mattie Parrigon's work and invited them to speak (video below).

Emi Gennis speaking about her work and class during the IDEA Series.
Posted by Pittsburg State University Museum of Art on Thursday, February 18, 2016

Mai, who curates exhibitions that engage the community in the Art Connectors Gallery, felt that the Kansas People's History Project was a perfect fit for the space. "The nature of the project fits with the Art Connectors Community Gallery mission of exhibiting art and projects generated by and featuring the wider Pittsburg region," she said. A Family Art Day event, to be held on April 9th from 2-4pm, will give Pittsburg citizens the opportunity to participate in an open mic; a small stage and microphone will be set up for people of all ages to present their own Kansas stories. 

Mai hopes the exhibition will serve as an inspiration for other students. "I hope students see the power of visually bringing unsung heroes and stories to life," she said. "Artists used to be advocates. Artists used to be rebels. This can still happen. I hope the community can celebrate these unsung heroes, appreciate the power of the arts to educate, and evaluate those heroes' influences on the very land they are raising their own families today."

The Kansas People's History Project exhibition, featuring student work presented alongside research material and preliminary sketches, will run until April 9th. Gallery hours are Monday-Thursday 8:00am – 9:30pm and Friday 8:00am – 4:30pm. An online gallery of all the broadsides submitted to the Kansas People's History Project from artists across the state can be found at