The contest only has one rule: you have to tell the judges how your art shows diversity. In Kellogg Community College student Brandi Smith’s drawing, bird-like people sit gracefully on clouds.
“Like the saying goes, ‘Birds of a feather stick together.’ This piece is supposed to represent the diversity that can be found within a community of people, a melting pot of sorts," Smith reads off her drawing's footnote. "Every bird is different and represents many different things that can be found in a community: different sexual orientations, different race, different skin-color…and the list goes on. Even though each bird is different, they all live harmoniously.”
KCC English professor Elizabeth Kerlikowske helps organize the contest. She says students have submitted all kinds of art over the years: paintings, drawings, poems, stories. The first year’s winner did a dance video.
“He’s a big man. And it was called ‘Short, Tall, Big, Small: Everybody Can Dance,’" Kerlikowske says. "And he talked about how he’s really shy about dancing, but he does this whole dance. And it was so great.”
KCC student Joel Newsome took a more personal approach to diversity by sharing his own experience as a transsexual. Here's an excerpt from his memoir:
Before I had a flat chest. Before my second puberty, in the midst of my first. Almost fluent in estrogen, I am perceived as male. Old wiry-haired, heavy-walking women confront me in movie theater bathrooms. I’m accosted by embittered school teachers in sex ed. classrooms. Every time I am forced to utter the same silly lie ‘I’m a girl.’
Unlike many art pieces on display at the Davidson Gallery, Newsome’s memoir is not about different cultures and genders coming together. But he says his story could help the people who read it.
“Other people will read this and maybe other kids who are struggling with gender issues and see that, ‘Ok, you know, this guy grew up and he’s fine.’ So, find a way to make it work for them,” says Newsome.
At first glance, you wouldn’t think KCC student Taylor McCoy’s abstract pieces were about diversity. In each of the four square paintings, she splattered paint in a circle pattern. The first two paintings are black and white. McCoy says they represent the separation of cultures in the U.S. and the pressure to conform. McCoy explains the last two paintings:
“The red painting is just, you know, the sacrifices and the determination that we really have as a people to break from that—those social norms. So that’s what’s depicted in the red piece," she says. "And the last piece is just color, just representing that everything is now unified. So it’s just not social norms anymore you know, we have African Americans with Caucasian Americans. We have same sex genders getting married and stuff like that. So I really just wanted to abstractly show that in this painting.”
In an e-mail, visual artist and KCC non-traditional student Brian Noell said he has mixed feelings about this art show being labeled a 'contest'.
"This is not a contest," he wrote. "This is about local artists of all ages, levels of ability, and differing ideals to come together and present those feeling to the public. That is true diversity, and I am honored to be one of those artists whose work has been chosen to be shown and recognized as multicultural and diverse."
On Monday, February 4th, the judges will announce the winners of the Diversity Art Contest. No matter who wins, Kerlikowske says the contest teaches us an important lesson.
“I think the interesting thing to me about running a diversity contest is that, in some ways, it ends up being about commonality. Because through the diversity we come to commonality.”
Art entered in the Kellogg Community College Diversity Art Contest will be on display at the Davidson Gallery until Monday.