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Symposium at IUPUI addresses 'civic controversy' over art, race and public spaces

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January 18, 2013

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INDIANAPOLIS -- The artist whose vision for a public monument to African American emancipation sparked a “civic controversy” will re-start the conversation as the opening speaker for a daylong discussion on art, race and public spaces.

The Art, Race, Space Symposium takes place from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 25, at the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis Campus Center, 420 University Blvd.

Artist Fred Wilson is one of several artists and scholars from around the country who will join leaders from Indianapolis’ arts and culture sector at IUPUI to explore how public responses to sculptures, memorials and archaeology reveal tensions concerning race and inequality in society.

Organizers say the symposium, presented by the Museum Studies Program in the School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI and supported by a grant from the IUPUI Arts and Humanities Institute, emerged out of the necessity to revisit Wilson’s “E Pluribus Unum,” a proposed sculpture for the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. The project was canceled in 2011 because of controversy surrounding Wilson’s appropriation of a freed slave figure from the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in downtown Indianapolis.

“The civic controversy sparked by 'E Pluribus Unum' included many topics of concern to historians: contemporary understandings of slavery; the relevance of our nation’s difficult racial past to the present; the negotiations or allowances that citizens make for those with competing views; (and) the continuing importance of civic symbols and monuments,” wrote symposium moderator Modupe Labode, public scholar of African American history and museums at IUPUI.

Those who followed or participated in discussions found the experiences “variously invigorating, bruising or disorienting,” Labode said in “Unsafe Ideas, Public Art, and ‘E Pluribus Unum’: An interview with Fred Wilson,” an article published in the December 2012 issue of Indiana Magazine of History.

In Session I of the symposium, Wilson will discuss “Inspirations: Musing on What Monuments, Memorials, Public Art, and Public Space Inspire Me,” at 8:45 a.m. Mindy Taylor Ross, curator and public art project manager for the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, will discuss the “Selection and Outreach Process,” and Indianapolis Radio One talk show host Amos Brown will present “Community Viewpoints.”

Other symposium speakers include:

Renee Ater, associate professor in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at the University of Maryland. Ater, author of “Keith Morrison, the David C. Driskell Series of African American Art, Vol. 5,” who will present “Communities in Conflict: Memorializing Martin Luther King Jr. in Rocky Mount, North Carolina."

Paul Mullins, chair of the Department of Anthropology at IUPUI, who will present “Racializing the City: An Archaeology of Urban Renewal and Black Indianapolis.”

Dell Upton, professor of architectural history in the Department of Art History at the University of California Los Angeles. Upton, whose research interests focus on the landscapes of African-American urbanism in 20th-century Los Angeles and the American South, will present “Critical Urban Spatial History.”

The symposium is free and open to the public, but advance registration is required. Registration is available online. For additional information and to register, visit the symposium website.