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IMU art collection continues to diversify with 3 new paintings added

Feb 1, 2024

The painting Glorious Day that was purchased as part of an initiative to diversify the Indiana Memorial Union's art colle... The painting “Glorious Day” that was purchased as part of an initiative to diversify the Indiana Memorial Union's art collection was installed in the South Lounge. Photo by Andrew Russell, Office of Student Life

An initiative to broaden the Indiana Memorial Union’s art collection with contemporary works that are more representative of the current Indiana University Bloomington population has resulted in the installation of three new paintings, all created by Black artists.

“Glorious Day” by India Cruse-Griffin is displayed in the South Lounge, “Reasons” by Kyng Rhodes is across from the dining area, and “Empowered Tresses” by Tasha Beckwith is outside the Georgian Room.

“The Indiana Memorial Union is the heart of the campus, and its mission is to foster a sense of belonging for the whole campus community,” said Laurie Frederickson, a junior and Indiana Memorial Union Board president. “The IMU art collection, predominantly composed of pieces relating to Indiana, supports this goal as it reflects the diverse population of students on our campus while introducing students to art. I believe that this art plays a key role in making all Hoosiers feel at home in the IMU.”

History of IMU art

The IMU’s art collection dates to 1912, and works were purchased regularly until the 1970s, said Hank Walter, IMU executive director. The collection of about 350 pieces contains many Indiana landscapes and portraits of individuals, but it became viewed as neither contemporary nor reflective of the diverse styles of art or the campus itself.

“With an art collection that focuses on Indiana art and artists, we would like it to look more like today’s Indiana, in addition to the historical pieces we have,” Walter said.

Starting in 2020, the Union Board tasked members of the board, IU Student Government, the Campus Art curation staff and the IMU director with examining the effectiveness of art in the IMU. The goal was to determine how it serves the students and reflects diversity, and how the IMU can better represent students and communities with art.

According to an April 22, 2021, report, only 2.3% of the art pieces in the IMU’s collection were created by non-white artists, and just 15.4% of portraits depict non-white subjects, while about 25% of students identify as a racial minority. The report called this “grossly disproportionate to the student population.”

An initial step taken in 2021 was bringing in Native American visual artist and filmmaker Steven Paul Judd to create a portrait of legendary athlete and Olympic hero Jim Thorpe. The portrait of Thorpe, a member of the Sac and Fox Nation who was an IU assistant football coach in 1915, hangs outside the IMU dining area, celebrating untold Indigenous histories of IU.

Expanding the collection

Because the report said the IMU’s art collection should support a sense of belonging, introduce students to art and present new perspectives, its recommendations included buying artworks “that better reflect the student body.”

Empowered Tresses was installed outside the Georgian Room. Photo by Andrew Russell, Office of Student Life “Empowered Tresses” was installed outside the Georgian Room. Photo by Andrew Russell, Office of Student LifeFour students representing the Union Board, IU Student Government and the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center attended the Butter Fine Art Fair in downtown Indianapolis in September 2023 and selected the three new pieces.

Nicky Belle, associate director of the Student Involvement and Leadership Center in the IMU, organized the trip to Butter. But the students were the ones who discussed the works and decided which pieces to buy and where they would be displayed.

“Students need to see someone who looks like them, who has the same hair, who wears the same clothing, who speaks the same language or eats the same food or relates to others in the same way,” Belle said. “Being able to see a person or a place or a thing that you recognize … now that makes a place feel like home.”

Emmanuel Ufuah, a junior and studio art major who works at Neal-Marshall with facilities and events, was one of the students who attended the art fair. He said he appreciated the opportunity to help with the initiative and make an impact.

“I thought that we were doing something really great,” he said. “Representation is something we’re still working toward at IU, and I thought this would be a big step because the university is about inclusivity and being diverse.”

The students agreed pretty easily on the three artworks to purchase, Ufuah said, adding that the powerful pieces were the best fit for the IMU.

“The three pieces we chose from Butter really spoke to our group; we could all see them having a perfect home in the Union,” Audrey Waite, a junior studying abroad this semester, said in a John Whittenberger Society blog for alumni. ”So many pieces from the gallery stood out to us, but these three drew something special that we knew we, and every other student, needed to see in the IMU.

“Each piece had a story behind it that, individually, we were able to construct and apply to our own lives and experiences.”

Reasons was installed across from the dining area. Photo by Andrew Russell, Office of Student Life “Reasons” was installed across from the dining area. Photo by Andrew Russell, Office of Student LifeWaite, the 2023 director of Canvas Creative Arts for the Union Board, said that “Empowered Tresses” showcases different hairstyles worn by Black women, “Reasons” is an important representation of a Black father figure, and “Glorious Day” is an appealing representation of women that uses warm, welcoming colors in its mixed-medium composition.

The purchases were made possible by funding from alumni donations through the John Whittenberger Society. Waite said the students decided that buying multiple pieces would be the most effective use of their art budget and have the greatest impact because the art could be placed throughout the IMU to increase visibility.

Two of the artists, Rhodes and Cruse-Griffin, joined students and staff for an unveiling ceremony late last year in the Georgian Room.

“I think that these three artworks are important to diversifying the art in the Indiana Memorial Union,” Ufuah said. “Normally when walking around you just look at the art for a few seconds and walk away. What is important about the three paintings chosen is that it catches the attention of someone walking by and the painting evokes an emotion out of them.”

Walter said the plan is to continue adding more current, diverse and representative artworks to the IMU’s collections. Anyone who would like to support the initiative should contact Walter at walterh@indiana.edu.

IMU art unveiling

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IU Newsroom

Kirk Johannesen

Communications Consultant, Strategic Communications

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