English students partner with Fort Collins Museum of Discovery to open art show focused on BIPOC joy

BIPOC art show

By Emily Harnden

Cana Peirce, Marquita Woods and Paige Lessig are choosing to recognize joy this season.

As English majors taking LB393 — an interdisciplinary seminar-style course focusing on exploring social movements and collective action through history and story — they felt frustrated by the lack of stories surrounding marginalized identities that prioritize happiness and hope over suffering and hardship.

“Although it is important to acknowledge and learn about the darker histories surrounding these identities and experiences, we feel that these narratives can also limit and harm BIPOC people’s mental health and make their navigation through the world more difficult,” Peirce said.

To combat narratives of trauma, the group sought to challenge such erasure by putting together a celebration instead. Embodying what they’ve learned about engaged activism, they collaborated with the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery to host an art show for and by their local community. The event, “BIPOC Joy Art Show” will take place Thursday, Dec. 15 at the museum, and is free and open to the public.

Peirce, a sophomore at Colorado State University studying creative writing, noted that during their class discussions, led by Associate Professor of English Ricki Ginsberg and Assistant Professor of History Jessica Jackson, they often talked about stories that are forgotten or misremembered — stories that don’t often make the headlines.

“So much is left behind or falls through the cracks within those narratives,” she said. “We wanted to create a space for BIPOC people to be able to have a voice in their own stories.”

Making collaborations

On finding a partnership with the museum, Peirce praised Ginsberg for cultivating a connection with Sharon Quist, the museum’s director for community connections. Once a meeting with Quist and FCMoD’s community engagement manager Laura Vilaret-Tuma was arranged, Peirce, Woods and Lessig, presented their vision and were met with unanimous support.

“They were thrilled to be a part of it, and offered not only the venue space to us, but their aid as well,” Pierce said. “Ever since then, we have been working closely with Laura on every aspect of the show, from advertising to hosting.”

Ginsberg and Jackson said they couldn’t be prouder of how hard the students worked to form partnerships in the community.

“Engaging in collective action thoughtfully can be extremely difficult,” Ginsberg said. “The students did a lot of outreach to engage with local organizations, yet sometimes they got no response, even when they showed up to the headquarters of the organizations … They kept pushing forward to engage in the issues they cared about. In the end, they found meaningful partnerships and worked toward meaningful change.”

A lasting impact

Woods credits Ginsberg and Jackson for tailoring the course material to illuminate untold stories that helped her reconnect her own identity to American history.

“I have a complicated relationship with history,” she said. “In the past, I always dreaded those courses for a few reasons, but the main one was that the stories and events I was taught about didn’t reflect my identity … I felt separated from American history.

“This course was my favorite of the semester, hands down,” Woods added. “I looked forward to meeting every week. Even in a class with heavy topics such as uprisings, abuse and gentrification, I never felt overwhelmed; it was more of a refreshing experience to have a safe space to engage with the content.”

In LB393, the class examines the formation, growth and currency of social movements and forms of collective action through an in-depth exploration of contemporary issues of race, gender, immigration and sexuality. As an English education major, Woods said she found the interdisciplinary nature between English and history both invigorating and instructive for her future as a teacher.

“Pairing the historical backgrounds with YA lit created a magical experience for me,” she said. “This made some of the themes that I didn’t personally connect with more relatable. Had it only been one or the other, I don’t think the course would have been as impactful as it was. This has inspired me to hook up with history and other humanities teachers for collaboration assignments in my future classrooms.”

For her, Lessig said the course shifted her perception of what it means to be a learner, and how valuable it is to communicate gained knowledge with people beyond campus.

“This class developed my understanding of how learning itself is an active process that takes place both in the classroom and with the outside community,” she said. “The stories of underrepresented people are often told through a distorted lens — creating a form of cultural and historical erasure. Our project aims to share this truth.”

For Jackson and Ginsberg, the students’ work in this class reminded them that they can be strong, engaged participants in the community, in both big and small ways.

“We hope that students will take what they learned about collective action, about engaging with communities and about themselves and their role in the community to continue to work towards being agents of change,” Jackson said.

All three students say they are particularly excited about using what they’ve learned in the classroom to give BIPOC youth in the community a platform to be seen and heard.  

“I am really looking forward to seeing the community come together to celebrate young artists,” Peirce said. “I think there is an opportunity for lots of positivity, kindness and connection to be fostered there, and I can’t wait to see it with my own eyes.”

About the art show

BIPOC art showEnvisioned by three Colorado State University students, this art show was created to challenge erasure and limited narratives, such as a constant focus on trauma that Black, Indigenous and People of Color are often reduced to. Instead, this event, hosted at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery, emphasizes joy and ignored stories told by college and high school students and other BIPOC folks from the Northern Colorado area. It offers them the space and opportunity to express themselves and to be recognized by their community stakeholders.

5-8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 15 

More information about the event can be found at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/bipoc-joy-art-show-tickets-461831810377