I found the connection between the National Summit on Education and the art at Utah’s museum of Art seasonable.
While at Utah’s Museum of Art, I came across a huge electrical wall panel created by Elias Sime from Ethiopia.
The plaque next to the ‘ Tightrope: Noiseless 1’ (it’s title) reads: Sime buys his materials at the Merkato In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the largest open- air market in Africa. It can take years for him to accumulate the necessary discarded computer parts to construct an individual work. In this series, Sime recognizes the uneasy balance between the advances made possible by technology and the impact those advances have had on humanity and the environment. Sime says, ” My work reclaims these machines in a tender way, as I am not in opposition to technology. It’s about how to balance it with “real” life. We’ve become off-balance. My title for my series of collages, “Tightrope,” has a double reaming, It’s about this equilibrium, but I also wanted it to evoke a string: if you pull it too tight, it will break.”
The installation connected strongly with the keynote speakers at the conference. While looking at it, I had no questions, nor did it bring me peace. It was just about being in the moment while also thinking about the future.
Earlier that day, I sat in the Grand America Hotel and listened to Code.org founder Hadi Partovi, finance expert Tim Ranzetta and Professor of Applied Mathematics Dr. Steven Strogatz, map out critical skills for every 21st-Century student’s success.
Dr. Strogatz encouraged us to introduce our learners to Data Science which he said was the “modern version of statics, a fusion of many disciplines that give us opportunities touch every field.” Mr. Partovi pushed for us to teach finical literacy, especially to students in high school. As a true educator, he provided curriculum and even offered ways to teach others how to teach the topic. Tim Ranzetta also pushed technology – telling us that the vision of Code.org is that every student learn computer science.
At Utah’s Museum of Fine Arts on the second floor towards the back is a room labeled Arts of Africa. It looks like a period room. Quite honestly, period rooms can be boredom rooms. But this one was intriguing because almost all of the art in there had no name on it. The artist was unknown for each artifact. Why?
The Utah Museum of Fine Arts is concerned about air, as we all should be.
Visitors walk into a spacious foyer and after check-in, education about Salt Lake City’s poor air quality begins.
The exhibition, curated by Whitney Tassie, is a community cry. The art lifts up the voices of people from all over Salt Lake and beyond.
The first room is filled with air and three murals. Each mural by the local artist evokes memories from the beginning of the Pandemic. El Sol Sale para todos, which translates to The sun shines for everyone is by Zully Davila and Evelyn Haupt, celebrates the transformation of Latina women during the pandemic. Blackness Brings Forth Life is by Vaimoana Niumeitolu, a social activist from Tonga who also resides in Utah. It seeks to tell the narrative of Utahns during the pandemic and food access. The last mural, Mokopuna, (which translates to grandchild or descendent) is by Bill Louis. It speaks about human protection during the pandemic.
There are four more rooms, each one adds a layer of community concern. Will Wilson, photographer and trans-customary artist who is a citizen of the Navajo Nation, shares a triptych that conveys a traumatic history of people and land. The wall panel teaches the history of the ‘racist energy production that continues to…harm the…Diné people’. The history dates back to the 1940’s with Uranium mining on the Navajo Nation land. The energy companies tested their bombs and after the cold war, left ‘toxic material to disperse in the air, soil and water.’ Till this day, the people are dealing with this issue.
There is an AIR lab (Autoimmune Response Laboratory) also created by Will Wilson that sits in the middle of the first main room. AIR Lab is a futurist idea mixed with sankofa implications. It’s a replica of a greenhouse, taken from the sacred Diné dwelling, which shows how to remove heavy metals and toxins from the soil (grow the Four Corners potato and certain plant species) .
Across the room, the voices of politicians are heard.
The exhibition builds and tells the viewer how this problem isn’t only Utah’s problem but also an international problem.
There is a Smog Map next to plates created by Kim Abeles of California.The map and the plates are hosted on a grayish wall (as opposed to the previous art which is on a white wall). Each plate has a world leader (covered in smog) and one quote about the environment. Pictured here are Indian Prime Minister, Modi, Brazilian President, Rousseff, President of South Africa, Zuma and President Trump.
Prime Minister Modi quote reads, “Ultimately, for success, moderating our lifestyle is necessary and possible, for a low carbon future…”
President Rousseff says, “Brazil is one of the few developing countries to commit to an absolute goal for emissions reduction. In spite of having one of the world’s largest populations…”
President Zuma’s quote reads ” Various regions of the world have different views on the issue, simply because they are affected differently by climate change. However, for most people in the developing world and Africa, climate change is a matter of life and death. We are always reminded by the leaders of small island states that climate change threatens their very existence.”
President Trump’s quote reads: ” The United States…will continue to be the cleanest and most environmentally friendly country on Earth…We’re going to have the cleanest air [and the] cleanest water.”
The next three rooms are interactive. In one you look up and see clouds created by UMFA Community Members and below positioned neatly against the wall are books with titles like Some Days I breathe on Purpose: Learning to be a Calm, Cool Kid by Kellie Doyle Bailey and William Bryant Logan’s, Air. There is a room for meditation and Yoga. There is more installation art like lithographs by Diego Romero and Merritt Johnson’s sculpture of an oxygen tank,
In the middle of both rooms is a film by Julianknxx entitled, Black Corporeal (Between this Air). The room is extremely dark and something about the atmosphere is frightening but sweet. There is a choir that fades in on the huge screen singing one word, breath, mingled with moving images of lovers breathing with and into one another. Without knowing you are thinking about Mr. George Floyd, your mind wanders to memories of the summer of 2020 and the events around ‘I can’t breathe’ cries.
The last room is also empty except for one tremendous plastic sculpture which highlights the housing situation in America. The Chicago based artist, Michael Rakowitz, turned his focus on the impacts of the health of ‘houseless community members.’ The plaque read ” A 2020 University of Utah study found that nearly 90% of individuals without housing in Salt Lake County had sought medical attention for a condition related to air pollution.” With instructions of how to make one at home…or in the classroom. It tells the viewer, you have read our story and you see how you are intertwined in it, now go back to your community and do something about it.