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Block Museum Hosts Conference About Socially Engaged Art

By Leslie Zhu

The Mary and Leigh Block Museum in the Arts Circle at Northwestern is always my secret place to rest and learn in between my busy study schedule. I immerse myself a lot in their different exhibitions and screenings each quarter. I always see visitors other than students and faculty coming to the museum.

As a campus art museum, though, how can they have visitors from outside the campus? The answer was revealed in their Open House workshop for Open Engagement on April 2.

Open Engagement (OE) is an annual artist-led conference dedicated to expanding the dialogue around and providing a platform for the field of socially engaged art. This year’s topic for OE is Justice. The current exhibition, “If You Remember, I Will Remember,” at the Block Museum is a great response to the social justice issues of today. It is an invitation to reflect on the past while contemplating the present, with themes of love, mourning, war, relocation, internment, resistance, and civil rights in 19th and 20th century North America.

During the conference panel, Block Museum Curator Janet Dees and Associate Director of Engagement Suzy Bielak both mentioned that the focus of the museum is to connect art to life, present a state of mind, and provide experiences of human activity that change the way of thinking. This broad and deep mission is the foundation for the Block to reach out to communities in Evanston, Chicago and beyond.

For the implementation stage of this mission, Engagement Manager Lauren Cochard Watkins brought up many examples to prove there is so much for a campus museum to do. For example, associated with the “If You Remember, I Will Remember” exhibition was a sewing circle with one of the featured artists, Marie Watt. Over 200 local participants came to sew fabrics with any expression they want, from which, at the end, Marie will create into a blanket. This blanket is now on display in the museum. The Block has worked very hard to get partnerships and spread the word beyond the small campus community and unbelievable engagement has been achieved.

All the practices at the Block Museum relate a lot to what we have learned in the MSLCE non-profit organization class and their commitment and efforts are a big inspiration.