Thursday, October 23, 2014

Who's in the Room?

While interning for the Education Department at Levine Museum of the New South this summer, I've heard community members time and again comment, “Now, the Levine Museum does history the right way.”  Over the course of this summer, I've increasingly understood what it means to “do history” the “right way.”  

Growing up in small-town North Carolina, I had a very limited understanding of history—especially when it came to the history of the South.  Like many other Southern children, I was taught to believe and accept that Stonewall Jackson was a great leader and that the Confederate flag was an acceptable symbol of Southern identity.  It was not until I started studying Anthropology in college that I started to ask myself questions about how history is made, published and taught.  

Traditionally, history has been fabricated based on limited perspectives and the loudest voices in the room.  In other words, power plays a major role in the shaping of history.  Just as the accumulation of power has depended on socially constructed factors-- race, skin color, displays of wealth—the ability to write and tell history has been centralized along similar constructs.  As a result, what we know of events, people, culture and places are really objects of partial histories and partial truths.  These are problematic in that they are only a sliver of the many perspectives that actually exist. 

Levine Museum has sought to break away from the classical museum model by employing a bottom-up approach.  It seeks to allow community members to speak for themselves and tell their own stories.  Ranging from the use of listening sessions to collect community input on exhibit design to programming pop-up sessions to collect oral stories, Levine Museum is inclusive of narratives across the spectrum of race, socioeconomic class, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion and more.  Emphasis is placed on self-representation and the multiplicity of voices and perspectives.  

Last spring the Museum hosted Out of the Shadows: Undocumented and Unafraid, an artfully crafted exhibit from artist Annabel Manning and curator Carla Hanzal, which featured names, photos and narratives of undocumented students around North Carolina.  The exhibit was particularly exemplary of the museum’s approach as it empowered and gave voice to a population of students who have been systematically disfranchised and disempowered.  In July, the Museum opened LGBTQ: Perspectives on Equality which also took on the approach of having visitors and community members tell their stories and influence what direction the exhibits and programming should take. 

Such exhibits not only make what we do authentic so that it resonates with visitors and their thinking we did the history “right;” but more importantly, they serve as community safe space where stories are validated and appreciated as threads of a richer community fabric.  

~Yeeva Cheng, Education Intern

What other stories would you like to see told? 

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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Ask an Artist: Nancy O'Neil, Looking Forward/Looking Back

Levine Museum is excited to host Looking Forward/Looking Back, an exhibit of the public art to be integrated into the first phase of the CityLYNX Gold Line streetcar project. The exhibit of collages by artist Nancy O’Neil is on display now through March 30, 2015. 

Please meet artist Nancy O'Neil

What inspired you to work on such a massive project?

I wasn't afraid to take this on because I had experience with large projects —in 2000 I did a huge glass curtain wall for the Sam Nunn Atlanta Federal Center.  And I had one prior experience with windscreens a couple of years ago in Salt Lake City. Check out my website,

My work is very much about place, so a transit job with lots of stations is great for me.  Each station has its own story to tell.  I get to find out about all the different neighborhoods —history, culture, natural features, etc. And I get to use old maps, which I love. This kind of project provides me with a lot of good material for my collages. It’s the kind of work I like best.

I especially like making unexpected connections and weaving things together.  I have respect for the past, how it affects us, and propels us into the future.

What feelings, thoughts, emotions do you want your artwork to invoke on Charlotte’s riders?

Some of the panels are more emotionally powerful than others but I think every station has something for people to think about. We will have to wait and see.

How was it working with many individuals and their passion for Charlotte’s history?

Everyone I worked with was extremely knowledgable and people were very generous with their time. All of the archives people really went the extra mile for me, and I am grateful.

What challenges did you face creating the artwork?

At times I wished I lived closer —there was an awful lot of research to do long distance!

What can riders expect?

I think people will like the colors and the overall designs. People tend to spend a lot of time looking at the photos and many people are intrigued by the maps and like to study them closely. Based on my recent experience with a series of windscreens I installed in Denver, lots of people will want to know more about what they are looking at.  Once these windscreens are in place I will photograph them and put  a complete Key to all of the imagery and sources on my website so that people can learn more.

What do you think of the new CityLYNX line and the artwork that will be incorporated? Tell us below and share with your friends. 

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