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2017-18 Experience UWF Downtown Lecture Series stimulated critical thought on art’s role in society

June 18, 2018 | By: Jordan Ardoin |

UWF students take part in Cubed Mural Exhibition in Downtown Pensacola.
Public Art such as the Cubed Mural in downtown Pensacola was one of the many topics discussed in the recent downtown lecture series.

From October 2017 to June 2018, the University of West Florida’s College of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities presented seven installments of the Experience UWF Downtown Lecture Series. The series, made possible by generous donors and the PACE funding promotes the value of liberal arts in building and sustaining contemporary culture. The 2017-18 installments did so by opening thought-provoking dialogues about how public art operates in the current social and political moment.

The 2017-18 series started with a discussion from sculptors Valerie George, UWF associate professor, and Carrie Fonder, UWF assistant professor. The talk explored what it means for a work of public art to be contested.

George and Fonder spoke about the legacy and power of public art that has been rejected, disputed or removed. Their presentation invited the audience to consider the social and political motivations behind contesting public art, as well as how the community’s relationship with controversial public art reveals collective values.

The next installment of the series was a panel discussion on controversial memorials in Florida and their place in civic space. The panel included UWF faculty of various expertise, which included government, philosophy and archaeology.

Each panelist provided a unique angle from which to examine the topic of controversial monuments in public space. The panel encouraged community members to analyze and discuss controversial memorials from new perspectives at a time when such memorials sparked debate on a national stage.

The Downtown Lecture Series then brought UWF professor of English Dr. Robin Blyn together with the co-creators of The Typewriter Project, Stephanie Berger and Nicholas Adamski, to discuss how their project turns poetry into public art and brings communities together.

During The Typewriter Project’s installation in Pensacola, members of the community were invited to sit down at one of several typewriters placed in public spaces around the city and add a few lines to one massive, digitally compiled poem authored by the community as a whole. Pensacola’s poem demonstrated how diverse perspectives and manners of expression coexist in one shared piece of art and one shared community.

The following downtown lecture analyzed society and politics within museums. Professionals from different corners of the art world discussed the concept of a museum as public space. Amy Bowman-McElhone, Assistant Vice President of the UWF Historic Trust Museums and the Director and Chief Curator of the UWF Pensacola Museum of Art, Nick Croghan, Director of The Art Gallery at UWF and John Markowitz, artist and lecturer at UWF, contributed. Each panelist represented a different component of the art world: academic curator, artist-curator and artist. They examined the socio-political frameworks that influence all sides of the museum experience. The panel invited the community to question a simplified perception of museums and consider whether or not anyone has true agency in these cultural institutions generally believed to foster free thought and interpretation.

In March, the Downtown Lecture Series hosted acclaimed New Orleans printmaker and activist Katrina Andry. Andry’s lecture coincided with her exhibition at the Pensacola Museum of Art, “Katrina Andry: Depose and Dispose (of).” She discussed the role of art in activism.

Andry’s own work focuses on stereotypes perpetuated against people of color. She explores the historical context of stereotypes and exhibits the negative effects they have on people of color. During her talk, Andry shared how she uses art to spread her message of social change. The lecture challenged community members in attendance to think critically about the specific social issue of how stereotypes are damaging to people of color and the broader potential of art as an agent of social justice.

The series next hosted Quinn Bauriedel, co-founder and co-artistic director of Pig Iron Theatre Company. Bauriedel shared his observations of Russian public theatre, which he studied during an Eisenhower Fellowship. His lecture included analysis of how Russian theatre communicates messages of dissidence to its audience using coded, layered language. Bauriedel also discussed the responsibility Russian directors and actors have to amplify the voices of people who go against the status quo.

Bauriedel’s examination of Russian theatre as a revolutionary tool encouraged community members to consider how art might be used in their own society to speak out against injustice and uplift the voices of marginalized people.

The final installment of the 2017-18 series took place in June and focused on the concept of murals in city space. Professionals from the worlds of art and history contributed to a panel discussion about the historical purposes of murals, from cave paintings to outdoor advertising in the 1800s to graffiti used to communicate messages in modern communities.

These panelists analyzed the role of murals as a rhetorical and social tool throughout history and into the modern day. They invited the community to question the very meaning of “public” art, who can create it and how it can be regulated.

As a whole, the 2017-18 Experience UWF Downtown Lecture Series analyzed varying facets of public art and worked to get the community thinking about how art is affected by society and can have its own effect on society in return.

The 2018-2019 series will consider the impact that the arts play at the intersection of discourse centered around geographical, political and cultural borders. Visit to learn more about the upcoming season.