Civil rights movement inspires art show

A Willison Hall residence life staff are collaborating with an artist to showcase a gallery of approximately 25 pieces inspired by the civil rights movement, Luke Payson, its residence director, said.

The artist of the upcoming gallery, Peter Newitt, had previously worked alongside Payson at Eagleville Hospital in Montgomery County as a full-time painter.

After painting Payson’s office and offering to lend him some of his work, the two developed a bond. Over the course of a few years of friendship, Payson identified Newitt’s fascination with remembering and commemorating the civil rights movement.

“[Newitt] was born and raised in England until he was age eight,” Payson said. “He moved to the United States in the 60s and remembered as a kid trying to figure out why black people were so mistreated.”

Payson saw Newitt’s first civil rights movement display inside the cafeteria at Eagleville during Black History Month. Additionally, Newitt had won the Martin Luther King Jr. art competition at George Washington University last spring, Payson said.

“We were staying in touch,” he said.. “I thought that was incredible that he won the competition for MLK Jr. Day… it led me to think, Waynesburg would be honored to have such a great display on campus.”

A central image of the gallery, Newitt said, is his first ever portrait: a painting of former president Barack Obama. During a visit to Newitt’s hometown of Norrisville, PA, Barack Obama personally signed the painting while extolling him for his work, Newitt said.

For Newitt, remembering the events that occurred in the 1960s still choke him up and further his desire for this generation to experience empathy.

“You have to educate people of what really happened in this country,” he said. “America wasn’t really the home of the free.”

For Payson, the goal of residence life is to create programming that will better the community, as well as, having opportunities to challenge, encourage and inspire creativity. He hopes hosting this artist will achieve those aspirations.

“Everytime you see original art in person, regardless of the content, it’s pretty powerful… it’s very moving to the soul,” Payson said. “Anytime we can host art that leads to discussion and hopefully deeper appreciation and empathy for the value of human dignity, and the value of understanding people’s struggles, and the inequality… also the current process for equal rights.”

Payson said there could be more done on-campus to celebrate and develop a discussion about Black History Month to further commemorate and elaborate its historical understanding for the students.

“We should have something to develop empathy, discussion and emotional response,” he said.  “Although this would be just as fantastic in another month… There’s not a time period to celebrate equal rights. I think there’s value in recognizing we don’t just celebrate unity in diversity just when it’s Black History Month.”

Payson said the prospect of having a gallery for Black History Month annually would be optimal, whether it be Newitt’s work or another creative outlet that inspires thought in the student-body.

“The purpose of having black history month is to say, hey, let’s spend time being intentional,” Payson said.

The gallery will be open all day Feb.25 for viewing, from 8:30 a.m. to 7:00  p.m. in Stover 301.

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