Image: Center for Art & Public Exchange

Special to Find It In Fondren®

The Mississippi Museum of Art (the Museum) in Jackson announces a new community-centered initiative, the Center for Art & Public Exchange, that will use original artworks, exhibitions, programs, and engagements with artists to increase understanding and inspire new narratives in contemporary Mississippi. Projects will address and confront the complexities and realities of race and identity in Mississippi.

The Center for Art & Public Exchange (CAPE) is funded by a $1,398,000 grant over three years from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF).

“We at the Mississippi Museum of Art believe that when great, profound art and human beings come together that personal transformation is possible,” said Betsy Bradley, Director of the Mississippi Museum of Art. “We also believe that if one expands that circle, if people of different backgrounds together experience great art in intentional ways, that communities can be changed. In other words, we really do believe that art combined with human agency can change the world.”

CAPE will mount a series of exhibitions and art experiences, coupled with new programming formats, to facilitate dialogue and engagement with and between artworks, artists, and community members. CAPE and the Museum have partnered with the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation to help facilitate programmatic strategy and implementation, and will receive input from a Community Advisory Council, composed of members of the community in every city ward in Jackson and beyond.

A cornerstone of CAPE’s programming is an inaugural symposium, Bringing Forward the Past: Art, Identity, and the American South, a 1.5-day long interdisciplinary experience in February 2018 that convenes artists, curators, scholars, and the public to explore issues related to identity, race, indigeneity, trauma, and memory. Other monthly programs, special events, community projects, and partnerships extend CAPE’s work beyond the physical space of the Museum and into neighborhoods, rural Mississippi, and into the virtual space. An outgrowth of programming will be an archive of Mississippi stories that will inform the Museum’s approach to exhibiting and interpreting its collections of Mississippi and American art.

CAPE will fund residencies to bring nationally recognized artists to Mississippi to work in the greater Jackson community, and to send Mississippi artists into communities across the state to create collaborative work with local people responding to local issues, through lenses of racial and social equity. To support the long-term commitment to CAPE’s goals, the Museum will purchase new works by contemporary artists that address race and identity in thought-provoking ways.

The Museum has identified three overarching values that will guide CAPE’s work: equity, transparency, and truth (detailed below).

CAPE believes in the shared authority of artist and viewer, curator and layperson. CAPE’s methodology centers around the power of art to change lives, coupled with the viewer’s agency to make meaning in dialogue with art. CAPE honors and includes voices across spectrums of age, gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomics, and politics, and strives for institutional change that supports equal access for all peoples.

Central to CAPE’s work is the idea that open-dialogue and civil discourse fuel positive social change. By inviting public input and involving communities in initiatives and activities in process, production, and analysis, CAPE aims to build trust with the public and to foster collaboration in the public square.

CAPE recognizes and respects the subjective experiences of individuals, while striving for collective truths that unite communities toward common goals, greater understanding, and empathy. To encourage truth-telling, CAPE fosters “brave spaces” wherein individuals are free to express differences while being challenged to reckon with the fundamental realities of social inequity, many of which are painful and difficult to encounter, and often unspoken.

“Truth, as we define it at the Center for Art & Public Exchange, emerges in relation to things and people around us, through firsthand seeing and speaking and listening,” said Julian Rankin, Managing Director of CAPE. “What one person sees and shares, all who are present can observe. Individuals all have different stories. Taken in their totality, these stories compose more universal truths, with quantifiable benefits for Mississippi communities – and one hopes, for all of us in contemporary society.”
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