Painting on Walls: Art History and Action in the Rustbelt
From Laura Holzman
Part of the Engaged Art History Event Series
Wednesday, June 22, 2022, 11 am-12:30 pm ET.
Since antiquity, walls have been sites for decoration, for mobilizing political action, and for coalescing community. More recently, murals (and other forms of public art) have become integral to the urban process of gentrification in major cities, offering pleasant decorative filler in spaces that were formerly seen as ‘abandoned.’ How do these sites animate local histories, erase or create collective memory, and ignite change? During the spring of 2020, students and faculty at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH partnered with the urban planning and public art non-profit LAND Studio to pursue these questions. The case study discussed in this talk emerged from this community-partnered course and quickly blossomed into a larger Public Humanities project. At its core, Painting on Walls explores what happens when we take up the “gritty spadework of community activism” (Cooper 2014) in the context of Art History—a discipline still deeply mired in colonialist discourses and largely confined to academic and museum settings. Weaving together history, theory, and practice, Painting on Walls asks us to consider what art history (and the humanities writ large) can do for society.
Erin Benay is associate professor of early modern art at Case Western Reserve University. She is the author of three books and numerous articles, including Italy by Way of India: Translating Art and Devotion in the Early Modern World (Brepols / Harvey Miller, 2021). Benay works closely with Cleveland nonprofit organizations to build community-engaged art historical curricula and programs.