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Arts events make connections to 'The Bias Inside Us' exhibit at Pablo

| Denise Olson

Photo caption: Emily Popp (left) and Allison Buchli work as design interns with UW-Eau Claire's Activities, Involvement and Leadership office, and both women welcomed the opportunity to incorporate a strong focus on education into their designs for this project. (Photo by Bill Hoepner)

In connection with the Smithsonian Institution visiting exhibit "The Bias Inside Us" at Pablo Center at the Confluence, dozens of students across various academic disciplines at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire are engaging in creative projects that address topics of bias, discrimination and other themes.

Through graphic design, visual arts displays and a mainstage theater production, Blugolds are examining the complex and layered societal impacts of current and historical bias and discrimination.

For Jodi Thesing-Ritter, director of the Center for EDI Training, Development and Education at UW-Eau Claire, the rare Smithsonian exhibit visit to Eau Claire is a perfect opportunity to expand options for building on cultural literacy development in unique ways.

"The opportunity to weave these themes through a variety of music, theater and arts media has allowed many of our students to think about the issue of bias," she says. "It is our hope that using this critical lens today will serve them well as they pursue their careers and passions."

Powerful graphic design

One major project has involved graphic design students creating poster displays across campus, a series of marketing materials to both promote "The Bias Inside Us" exhibit and educate on the themes and topics it presents.

Currently on display in all residence halls, McIntyre Library breezeway, Hibbard and Brewer halls and Davies Center, the posters were created by student design interns representing the units and offices of Activities, Involvement and Leadership (AIL); Housing and Residence Life; and Peer Diversity Educators.

Project advisors were Thesing-Ritter; Linda Pratt, assistant director of Housing and Residence Life; and Joann Martin, student affairs programming specialist for AIL.  

"Students were assigned one of the following six themes to research and develop their materials around: homophobia, classicism, religious bias, racism, ageism or ableism," Pratt says. "We asked for multiple panels defining the bias, examples and/or related statistics, and prompts to promote self-reflection and behavior change. Our students did not disappoint — they provided creatively designed, thoughtful posters that accomplished all of that."

The six interns selected for this project are:

  • Kelli Bergmark, a senior marketing major from Orland Park, Illinois.
  • Allison Buchli, a senior graphic communications major from Rice Lake.
  • Esabelle Hutchison, a sophomore graphic communications major from Wausau.
  • Emily Popp, a senior graphic design major from Lodi.
  • Daniel Reich, a senior graphic design major from De Pere.
  • Alexis Zellmer, a senior graphic communications major from Poynette.

For Zellmer, an intern with Housing and Residence Life, the project was valuable in more ways than one.

"When I was first assigned to design about term classism, I was nervous, as it wasn't a concept that I was very familiar with," she says. "Through my research of many scholarly articles and the Smithsonian exhibit itself, I learned a great deal about this type of bias and how we can prevent it from corrupting how we view others."

Zellmer points out that in addition to the valuable learning opportunity this project provided, each of these students now has a collaboration with the Smithsonian to add to their student portfolio, as all final designs were approved by the institution to ensure that the pieces appropriately represent the exhibit goals.

For Daniel Reich, the project had a practical aspect that challenged him as a graphic designer.

"I wanted people to appreciate the color, layout and structure of the typography, but the purpose was to teach readers how homophobia affects people in the real world," Reich says. "These exhibits are extremely accessible, legible and require just minutes to take in. For busy students, myself included, these quick additional 'mini lessons' make 'The Bias Inside Us' a really unique and appreciated exhibit."

Visual arts, music and theater projects

The following projects and events have been planned by students and faculty to reflect, connect with or build upon the issues and questions raised by “The Bias Inside Us” Smithsonian exhibit:

March 2: Opening reception for "Take a Stand," 2 p.m., Ojibwe Ballroom, Davies Center. Exhibit of posters prepared by fall 2021 ART 108 students of Cedar Marie, assistant professor of art & design.

The posters in this exhibit address the topics of climate crisis, the environment, COVID-19 pandemic, economic privilege, food security, human trafficking, race equality/inequities and trans rights. Many posters provide an active QR code that links to current information on the social justice topic.

March 4-6 and March 9-13: Theatre production "Silent Sky," Riverside Theatre, Haas Fine Arts Center. Directed by Jennifer Chapman, professor of theatre arts. See ticketing site for show times.

The play is based on the true story of Henrietta Leavitt, whose scientific and mathematical research in the early 1900s made important contributions to the understanding of the universe today. Her groundbreaking work was primarily and erroneously attributed to her male colleagues in astronomy at Harvard.

"One of the great things about theater is that we can turn history into a lived experience for the audience," Chapman says. "'Silent Sky' reveals the important work of a group of women at the Harvard Observatory Laboratory in the early 20th century. For so long their story remained untold, their contributions a silent shadow in the background of science. 'Silent Sky' gives a voice to the story and asks the audience to consider how gender bias through history has shaped the world we know today. The Department of Music and Theatre Arts is so pleased that this important production can be part of "The Bias Inside Us" event series and the broader context of these issues."

March 10: Opening reception for "Internal Interior," 4:30 p.m., Ojibwe Ballroom, Davies Center. An exhibit of sketches by students in ART 342:Illustration Editorials with professor Ned Gannon.

Students have created pieces depicting physical spaces they find to be "comfortable and uncomfortable," drawing from experience with any of the issues and themes represented in "The Bias Inside Us." 

March 14: Window clings displayed in exterior windows of buildings across campus

Students in classes with Mykola Haleta, assistant professor of art & design, will display vinyl window clings created to fit specific window grids across campus. Several displays will be installed in Haas Fine Arts Center, and others will be scattered across campus. Asked about creating art in connection with "The Bias Inside Us," Haleta says he sees this type of cross-pollination as central to the vision of UW-Eau Claire.

"Since moving to Eau Claire, I've quickly realized that collaborating is paramount within the ethos of campus. It runs throughout the veins of the school, helping to develop new intersection points and creative entanglements which help new concepts, channels of communication and skill sets to thrive."

These window displays will be shared on department social media sites, along with a map of the installation locations, which are yet to be determined.