The University of Louisville’s Hite Art Institute currently is displaying “Organize Your Own: The Politics and Poetics of Self- Determination Movements,” a traveling exhibition of contemporary artwork that considers historic questions from the civil rights movement.
The Schneider Hall Galleries on UofL’s Belknap Campus will host the exhibit through Feb. 22. Although the show opened on Monday, the Hite will host an opening reception on Thursday, Jan. 10, from 6 to 8 p.m.
“Organize Your Own” features new work by artists and poets that responds to archival materials related to the history of white people organizing their own working-class neighborhoods in Philadelphia and Chicago in keeping with the mandate from the Black Power Movement to “organize your own” community against racism.
The exhibit was curated by Louisville native Daniel Tucker, an assistant professor and graduate program director at Moore College of Art & Design in Philadelphia.
Tucker told Insider his interest in the social justice movement started after the noted activist Anne Braden gave a talk in his elementary classroom at the Brown School.
Braden and her husband, Carl, both of whom were white, gained national fame in 1954 when they tried to desegregate a Shively neighborhood by purchasing a home for an African-American friend named Andrew Wade.
After the neighbors learned there was a black family living in the community, Wade’s family had their windows shot out and their home was later firebombed.
Instead of looking for the people who destroyed the Wade home, authorities put Carl and Anne Braden on trial for sedition, insurrection against the established order. The charges against Anne were dropped, but Carl served eight months before a U.S. Supreme Court decision invalidated state sedition laws.
Anne Braden related the story in her 1958 book “The Wall Between.” Tucker said the Bradens’ courage continues to inspire him to this day.
“I always joke with my friends that I went to this school that basically taught more about the civil rights movement than any moment in history,” he said. “On some level, I had no choice but be engaged with projects that were in dialogue with that history as an adult.”
Tucker explained the “Organize Your Own” exhibit started in 2012 after he was visited by members of the Young Patriots Organization who were familiar with his past projects.
The Young Patriots were a white, working-class organization focused on the Appalachia region. Members of the group moved to Chicago in the 1960s and partnered on projects with the Black Panther Party.
Tucker said the former Young Patriots members felt he would understand their movement because of his Kentucky roots. They wanted his help in publishing some of their poetry from the 1960s, but Tucker said he saw the potential for a larger project dealing with the forgotten role of the white working class in the civil rights struggle.
“I was initially excited about the idea, but I also felt their poetry would be more meaningful if it was in a context that was more about present, contemporary issues than if it was just about reissuing something from the ’60s,” he said.
The October 4th Organization was a group of whites from Philadelphia who joined with black activists to deny the racist Mayor Frank Rizzo a third term in office.
In 2015, Tucker got funding to put together a show that would allow contemporary artists and performers to respond to the work done by the Young Patriots and the October 4th Organization.
“Organize Your Own” was featured in Philadelphia and Chicago at the beginning of 2016. Tucker thought those exhibits would be the end of the project, but then Donald Trump was elected president in November, he said, in large part by critiquing the social change ignited by the civil rights movement.
“The election happened and there was a resurgence of interest, basically from university art galleries around the country that were like, ‘We really need programming to grapple with racial justice and the ‘white working class.’ All of these things that felt so urgent in the 2016 election,” Tucker explained.
Chris Reitz, UofL gallery director, said the university does not host traveling shows often, but he responded to “Organize Your Own” because of Tucker’s background and the fact that it fit the university’s mission of research and education.
“What is particularly interesting about this is that it’s a very teachable show,” Reitz said. “One of the questions it asks is, ‘How do artists, do art audiences, does anyone organize themselves?’ Whether that means as an individual with self-awareness of their place in the world, or as a community against racism and for a more inclusive society.”
Louisville is the ninth city on the exhibit’s tour. Tucker said he tries to tailor the experience at each stop.
For the current show, UofL’s Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice Research worked with the community group Showing Up for Racial Justice to create two digital stories that examine the ways that the call to “organize your own” infused racial justice work in Louisville.
Tucker said the Anne Braden Institute and the Schneider Hall Galleries will host a community conversation in early February on the subject. He plans to be in town for a closing reception at the gallery on Feb. 20 as well.
“I knew Louisville will be a significant stop for the exhibition,” said Tucker. “Not only because it’s my hometown, but because of the civil rights history there. I’m looking forward to visiting.”
“Organize Your Own: The Politics and Poetics of Self- Determination Movements” will be in the Schneider Hall Galleries on UofL’s Belknap Campus through Feb. 22. It is free and open to the public. The gallery is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The opening reception will be held Thursday, Jan. 10, from 6 to 8 p.m.
This post has been updated to fix a typo.