Using Art to Inspire During Black History Month
Throughout history, art, pictures and multimedia have been central to helping our civilization learn, grow and evolve. Art is a powerful medium to tell stories, share history and create connections. In this spirit, members of Mosaic, Cengage Group’s employee resource group (ERG) for BIPOC employees and allies, hosted their second annual Black History Month Art Auction this week. Their goal was to inspire employees to learn more about Black history through art while raising money for several causes that align with their mission.
Cara S., Takeyce W., Jacob M., Sidney C. and Powell V. teamed up again this year to raise money for four charities supporting and uplifting the Black community through art and education. Employees bid on works of art in many forms including ceramics, photography, jewelry, drawings, paintings and more. The winning bidders donate to the non-profit selected by the artists. This year, the five organizations chosen were:
- Legal Opportunity Scholarship Fund, whose mission is to encourage racial and ethnic minority students to apply to law school and to provide financial assistance to attend and complete law school.
- The National Alliance of Black School Educators, or NABSE Education, is at the core of what we do here at Cengage Group. This charity is “devoted to furthering the academic success for the nation’s children – particularly children of African descent."
- National Black Artists Festival, supporting NBAF’s mission to “expose, educate, engage and entertain audiences by presenting and supporting the art and artists of African descent."
- National Museum of African American History & Culture, to help support the “only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture."
- Stephen Lawrence Day Foundation, a UK charity that has turned a horrific act of violence into an opportunity for racial equality.
“I was inspired to organize the art auction around Black History Month to engage the employee population at Cengage Group in the spirit of coming together to help others in our communities. Art has always been an excellent tool to bring greater awareness to the issues in our world,” says Takeyce. “This year’s auction was an astounding success thanks to the support of our Mosaic members, artists who donated their time and talents, and art lovers who so enthusiastically bid on the artwork.”
Cara says, “this is one of the biggest annual events I’ve personally been a part of, and it genuinely surprised the whole organizing group last year with how well-received it was. It's just this really great sense of community, energy and fun all for a deserving cause, that is palpable to anyone who participates.”
Jacob added that “my hope is this event will have a positively profound and lasting impact with the selected charitable organizations. Hopefully the success of this venture will inspire more consistent grassroots efforts to help those in need in many of our under-represented communities.”
Sidney was proud to share that “more than 200 employees joined our live auction and we raised over $5,500 to support our 2023 charities.”
Spotlighting the Artists
All art was created and donated by Cengage Group employees Charlotte E., Jen C., Caleb J., Emily L., Erik S., Jack P., Shannon G., Powell V., Kristine B., Luke B., Jannell W., Macy L., Takeyce W. and Fifi O. Here are just a few highlights of the pieces featured in this year’s auction:
Kristine B., Sales Support Specialist with Gale, has worked at Cengage Group for about 14 years. She explained that “although Black history is something my family and I talk about all the time, Black History Month (BHM) is a time to share important and lesser-known history about Black Americans. I think it’s important to remind people that Black history is American history.”
During our BHM Art Auction, Kristine sold her digital print of an original gouache and acrylic painting called ‘The Bride,’ which features a woman with her head shaved, to represent a new beginning of her life as a Maasai wife. Kristine said, “although her marriage may have been arranged and she will miss her family, the young bride in this digital painting looks forward with tentative yet hopeful anticipation.”
The proceeds of this art piece went to the National Black Arts Festival, an organization that supports all aspects of art, music, performing and visual arts. Kristine explained that she selected this organization because “as a Black artist, I appreciate what they do, and this is the perfect opportunity to support them in their efforts.”
This is Kristine’s second year participating in our BHM Art Auction. She is compelled to participate year after year because “it’s a fun and creative way to donate to charity. Not only does someone become the owner of beautiful art, but they are also contributing to a meaningful cause.”
To celebrate BHM, Kristine and her mother have been watching the 1619 Project and they also attended a lecture at their neighborhood recreation center on the life of Malcom X.
Emily L., Director of Product Development Research, has worked at Cengage Group for nine years. She shared that “Black History Month (BHM) is a dedicated time for everyone to learn more about the experiences that shape African American culture, the good and the bad, and celebrate the contributions that have been made but aren’t widely recognized. This acknowledgement of the contributions African Americans have made should be commonly represented in our books, movies, art and more to create experiences that are reflective of all.”
During our BHM Art Auction, Emily sold a ceramic piece that she named “Tulip Bowl.” She said, “the bowl is part of a series of Tulip pieces inspired by a colleague who took pictures at springtime in Boston. The joy, new birth and color of spring in these Tulips captured me, and I spent several years thinking about them before putting them into my art this past year.”
Emily explained that she decided to participate in this year’s art auction because “when I first started painting again as an adult, I realized that there was a lack of representation in my art instruction; most references were to white males. Recognizing this lack of diversity was empowering and refocused my art history education and exploration to be more diverse and inclusive. Finding a way to bring my making, which brings me joy, to support the development and awareness of African American artists makes the experience even more special.”
When we asked Emily how she celebrated Black History Month, she said “our Mosaic ERG planned several great events that I have engaged in. Each day this month the ERG has been posting about contributions from musicians, artists, engineers and more in our company communication channels. It’s a great way to learn more about the culture.”
As a mother, Emily shared that “I have also taken time to talk to my kids about what they’re learning in school this month and talk about the various contributions Black Americans have made to enhance their lives as well as discuss the systems and structures that have created and reinforced discrimination. These conversations aren’t limited to the month of February, but they are highlighted in school more often right now.”
Jannell W., Product Assistant, is new Cengage Group, having joined late last year. She explained that “Black History Month is special reminder for me to celebrate the beauty and progression of African Americans. I believe diversity, inclusivity and empathy are key values that everyone should uphold to continue celebrating and spreading awareness of Black History.”
During our BHM Art Auction, Jannell sold a painted ceramic vase that she named “Persevere.” She said, “I’ve always loved functional art or art that can be utilized in a creative way. I instantly knew I wanted to paint a vase. I traveled to my nearest craft store, found a vase I really liked and immediately started painting. I realized the vision I had in my head did not come to pass. Once I started in a new direction, I realized that making this piece was really a form of creative problem solving. I was able to persevere through discouragement and disappointment.”
The proceeds of this art piece went to The National Alliance of Black School Educators (NABSE). Jannell said she selected this charity because, “having worked at Detroit Public Schools, I’ve seen the potential of underserved students and the challenges educators face in meeting their needs.”
To celebrate BHM, Jannell and her family enjoyed a Black History Performing Arts program put on by the local high school. “The show included spoken word, poetry, dance, step and black fashion throughout history. I also enjoy checking out books with real photos that show how far we have come, not only as African Americans, but as a nation.”
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