The Kent State School of Art is situated in the Leadership In Energy & Environmental Design building, an 127,900 square foot structure described as, “twice the length of a football field.” Given that this is Ohio, it’s an apt point of reference. However, the cultural reach of the Buckeye State goes way beyond the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, and the program at Kent State is a solid example. Bridging various disciplines, the Art Tech Studio is open to any major, and the art storage facility, holding over 4,500 items, is available to all art students. The Art Shop offers students autonomy as they gain entrepreneurial skills. The Museum of Costume and Decorative Arts, world renowned for its collection, aims to study and preserve fashion and textiles to promote better understanding among world cultures.

The new year opens with Contemporary Perspectives from Senegal, traveling from Dakar to show at the Kent State’s Center for Visual Arts from January 17 through February 22, 2019. Featuring work created in the last ten years, it offers reflections on modern life, described by Kent State Curator Joseph L. Underwood as, “an assemblage of artists from urban and rural spaces, who live in Senegal or have passed through, who draw inspiration from the ideologies of the 1960s or who dissect the street parlance of today.” Focusing on modern, urban reflections, the show is divided into three themes: Urban Textures, Icons and Symbols, and Negotiated Identities, each underscored by the rural roots shared by all of us. In fact, the tradition of storytelling “griots” who interpret genealogy, underscore the individual and collective search for soul, often torn between ethnic and national pride. Expanding the narrow views of a personal perspective and learning liberation by expanding those boundaries produces important art.

An incident for which Kent State may be most commonly known resonates beyond the state of Ohio—the deaths of four students killed at the hands of the National Guard on May 4, 1970. Since that date, many artists, some very notable, have responded by creating and donating work to honor them, as well as ongoing efforts to curb gun and domestic violence. In Spring 2020, Constructed Answer, a contemporary metals exhibition, will open to memorialize those students and, importantly, continue the conversation to find resolution to manmade divisions. An important artistic and academic mission, indeed. —Gwynned Vitello 

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This article was originally published in the Winter 2019 issue