Burchfield Penney’s LEROI: Living In Color exhibit provided artful experiences and education for 40 local students

The Burchfield Penney Art Center was able to expand the reach of the LEROI: Living in Color exhibit on display now through March 26 by partnering with a number of local organizations and employing the help of teaching artists. In fact, they will be presented with the Museum Association of New York’s Award of Distinction in “Engaging Communities” for their work surrounding the exhibition and the supporting programming which addressed important conversations around themes like identity, social justice, and community.


WNY Soundstage
Conversation with LeRoi Johnson and several eaching artists that engaged 40 local students through the Burchfield Penney Art Center



Download file | Play in new window | Duration: 01:04:46 | Recorded on March 17, 2023

On Monday, April 17, the Burchfield Penney Art Center will be recognized among fourteen awards this year that celebrate unique leadership, dedicated community service, transformational visitor experiences, community engagement and innovative programs that use collections to tell stories of New Yorkers.

LeRoi Johnson told us,  

“The original concept was for us to work with a few students, but it turned into four different groups.  The whole idea was for me to talk to them and inspire them to do something creative around my work. But, my idea was for them to be incentivized to do their own work based on the knowledge and inspiration that I gave them. When they started to do the project themselves, it was something that they did, with little instruction from me… We spent five or six weeks discussing concept, design, and fabrication, and then they were let go to do what they did”  

As it turned out, 40 local youth artists from Buffalo Center for Art and Technology (BCAT), Squeaky Wheel Film and Media Art Center (Squeaky Wheel), Just Buffalo Literary Center (Just Buffalo), and the Buffalo Public Schools Office of CLRI (Office of Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Initiatives) participated in the program. 

Robin Jordan, who worked on the project, is the coordinator of the Just Buffalo Literary Center, described being a teaching artist as,

“a way of helping other people see how they may be an artist… in particular since I see writing as an art. I’m very passionate that I think everybody is a writer that we all have the desire to communicate. As a teacher, I feel like it’s my job to help people, in particular at this moment, young people, discover ‘Who am I is a writer? What is my voice? How do I want to communicate? What form is that going to take?’ and trying to sort of just help them discover that. But, then also showing them all of the different possibilities of what writing can be. I’m trying to support them as they discover who they are as a writer and as an artist.”  

Kevin Kline, digital arts and curriculum designer, for Buffalo Center for Arts and Technology, went further to discuss the importance of access and technology for those participating in the LeRoi project.  

“A lot of what I have done I have a background in photography, media arts, experimental media arts, digital technologies. I have crafted everything I do around what the meaning of those technologies are: voice, empowerment, and access. How can I create a curriculum for students to access in a way that is, what I call ‘not macaroni necklaces.’ In short, macaroni necklaces are cute projects that kids do… and everybody hems and haws over it, but doesn’t believe in it. It’s not the kids who want to make macaroni necklaces, it’s just the only thing that they’re provided with as materials and as a base for creations. I believe in giving them, especially when it comes to media and technology, a lot of literacy, a lot of access, a lot of flexibility. I do that by centering it on what they want to do, and then adapting the technology towards that.” 

The organization of the project was student centered, and Kaitlyn Lowe, teaching artist from Squeaky Wheel described the process that 

“created a student council which gave the students a lot more stake in their education and had them make decisions. We helped the students understand ‘what does it mean to respond to work? How can I take my true authentic point of view and use that to respond to what another person has created?’ People were thinking, ‘Respond? What does that mean? Do you want me to write an essay or something like that?’ No, that’s not what we’re talking about. The first thing you have to do is deconstruct the idea of an artistic response, and then start to bring in LeRoi’s work…Everyone did create short films… What we ended up doing was projection mapping. That’s something that the students ended up voting on. We had conversations about what Squeaky Wheel has done in the past…And the best part of that, of dealing with the council, was that some of the students had physically been there for classes that were taught with projection mapping, so they already had a leg up. They were seen as leaders and they were pulling their classmates up.”   

Jay Hawkins aka Cashis Green, a teaching artist, who works with the Buffalo Public Schools was thrilled with the result.  

“We all came together to create something beautiful for the [Buffalo Public School] students that I personally work with… I had the pleasure to be the lead instructor for the BPS students that contributed their creative ideas and hard work to the beauty and the wonder of LeRoi’s amazing show and body of work…They made some really amazing work.  LeRoi encouraged them to not really have any limits on their thoughts and ideas.”  

Robin Jordan added,

[The participants] wrote me these really beautiful testimonials. A lot of what they talked about was the power of art to build a community, to help us understand each other, and to be understood. But also to see the value of art in the community and that it deserves our attention and our resources.

LeRoi’s work and legacy is on full display at the Burchfield Penney until March 26, but it will live on forever in the experience of the individual students and teaching artists who participated in this program.  

See and hear more about this program and the student’s work:

The post Burchfield Penney’s LEROI: Living In Color exhibit provided artful experiences and education for 40 local students appeared first on Buffalo Rising.

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