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Fighting Academic Censorship with Public Art

Artist Ruth Henry challenges censorship in public schools with her piece "Free to Learn"

By Jewish Arts Collaborative

Published Jul 25, 2023

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Collection

This Curation is part of Be the Change.

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Free to Learn

Above: Artist Ruth K. Henry sitting inside her piece Free to Learn on view in the Fenway neighborhood of Boston, August 2023.

 

How do we protect and expand teachers’ and students’ freedom to learn/teach about injustice and become upstanders within our public schools?

 

TAKE ACTION:

  1. Support Local Action through the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute.
  2. Sign the ACLU’s National Pledge.
  3. Share Your Story.

 

ARTIST STATEMENT:

“We must struggle together to create the schools we are taught to believe are impossible; schools built on love, joy, justice, and antiracism.” – Dr. Bettina Love.

A human-sized birdcage stands open; a school desk sprouts from a garden in its center. “What do you want the freedom to learn?” asks the desk. Sharpies hang below. Chalkboards and chalk add the question: “What do you want the freedom to teach?” Birds built of pencils perch atop the desk and the cage, stories refusing to be silenced or confined. As our nation undergoes a new and frightening wave of censorship in public education, this sculpture invites viewers to add their own stories- and hopes- to this collective envisioning of what is possible when we embrace our freedom to learn and teach with love.

Materials: Mixed media.

 

Click here to access the Free to Learn Story Guide.

 

ABOUT THE ARTIST:

Ruth K. Henry is a mixed-media artist who layers colors, texture, and lyrics into intricate reflections on community, conflict, and possibility. In their installations, murals, and music they weave together the art and stories of surrounding communities. Ruth’s belief in art’s power to unite people across painful divides is born of lived experiences as a socially engaged artist, both locally and globally. Ruth has exhibited and performed locally at venues such as Boston Center for the Arts, Harvard University, Center for Latino Arts, Piano Factory, and many others, and has also exhibited and performed internationally in venues such as the Palacio de Inquisición in Cartagena, Colombia, the Srishti Institute in Bangalore, India and the Partners of the Americas Convention in Florianopolis, Brazil. Ruth received a BA from Hampshire College, continued studies through a Fulbright grant to Colombia, and received my MFA from Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Ruth currently works as a teaching artist-in-residence at both I Learn America and the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute.

 

LEARN MORE about Be the Change.

 

👁️ Look above to watch 4 Questions with Be the Change Global Ambassador and President/CEO of Keshet Idit Klein, former President of American Jewish World Service and Co-Chair of Be the Change Global Ambassadors Ruth Messinger, and artist Ruth K. Henry. 

Be the Change Walking Tour: Ruth K. Henry

(3 min) Listen to Ruth K. Henry describe her piece for the Be the Change Walking Tour.

 

LOCATION: 

Located across from Tasty Burger.

 

Find it in the Fenway! Click here to see the full Be the Change Boston 2023 map.

 

NEXT UP:

In Other Eyes by Wen-hao Tien

Searching for Home by Chanel Thervil

Wishing Well by Cicely Carew

The Power of the Vote by Dana Woulfe

Transcending Borders by Julia Csekö

I Am My Sister’s Keeper by Caron Tabb

 

👁️ Look above to watch 4 Questions with Be the Change Global Ambassador and President/CEO of Keshet Idit Klein, former President of American Jewish World Service and Co-Chair of Be the Change Global Ambassadors Ruth Messinger, and artist Ruth K. Henry. 

Free to Learn

(4 min) Artist Ruth K. Henry talks to Be the Change Global Ambassador Idit Klein, President and CEO of Keshet, and Ruth Messinger, former President and CEO of American Jewish World Service about the “why” behind her piece for Be the Change Boston 2023. In this video, she tells her personal story as an educator and how it is really a collective story, in which over 44 states have introduced bills limiting teaching abilities.

L'dor V'dor

(3 min) Artist Ruth K. Henry in conversation with Be the Change Global Ambassador Idit Klein, President and CEO of Keshet, and Ruth Messinger, former President and CEO of American Jewish World Service, about the Jewish tradition of “passing the torch”.

Planting the Seeds

(5 min) Artist Ruth K. Henry talks about Generation Peace, the local and national calls for action in her piece Free to Learn, and her vision of the future with Be the Change Global Ambassador Idit Klein, President and CEO of Keshet, and Ruth Messinger, former President and CEO of American Jewish World Service.

Art with Purpose

(5 min) Be the Change Global Ambassador Idit Klein, President and CEO of Keshet, asks Artist Ruth K. Henry about why she wanted to be a part of Be the Change and how she plans to engage the community in her work.

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JArts’ mission is to curate, celebrate, and build community around the diverse world of Jewish arts, culture, and creative expression. Our vision is of a more connected, engaged, and tolerant world inspired by Jewish arts and culture. Learn more at jartsboston.org.

Reflections

How does the imagery in the artwork symbolize the concept of academic censorship and its impact on the freedom to learn? In what ways does the inclusion of the question on the desk, "What do you want the freedom to learn?" invite viewers to reflect on the importance of educational autonomy and personal growth?

2

The sculpture incorporates elements such as Sharpies, chalkboards, and chalk to encourage viewer participation and engagement. How does this interactive aspect contribute to the artwork's message about resisting censorship and embracing the freedom to teach? How can the act of adding personal stories and hopes to the sculpture foster a sense of collective envisioning and empowerment?

3

How does the artwork promote the idea of liberatory education and the exploration of diverse perspectives? How can the provided QR codes to liberatory education resources further enrich the conversation and lead to additional stories around academic censorship and the pursuit of a more inclusive education system?

BONUS:

Click here to access the Free to Learn Story Guide, an opportunity to explore the stories tucked within the sculpture and reflect on the questions that link them.

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