As Charlottesville commemorates Freedom and Liberation Day this week, area teachers worked to put up a gallery filled with art of how students interpreted the holiday.
“They captured things that are more emotional than sometimes reading about it or seeing a movie,” said Mindy Moran, fine arts coordinator for the Albemarle County school division.
The Freedom and Liberation Day gallery, located in The Shops at Stonefield community room, across from the movie theater, is new to Albemarle County’s annual visual arts festival. About 300 county students submitted work for the exhibit; it also includes work from Charlottesville students.
The shared exhibit grew out of a meeting with the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center to discuss how students could thoughtfully engage in Freedom and Liberation Day, Moran said.
To help students, schools brought in speakers and took field trips to Vinegar Hill and the University of Virginia. Librarians pulled primary resources for students to research.
The result was a thoughtful project that involved teachers across subject areas and produced stunning artwork, Moran said.
“I was stunned by the depth and complexity that the kids were able to communicate, not only through the different media but also through the artist statements,” she said. “I sometimes think kids handle complexity and nuance better than adults, honestly, and this is really evidence of it.”
In addition to displaying the artwork, the school systems reprinted 12 pieces on exhibit cards that attendees can take with them. On the back of each card, the student artist discussed their work.
“I was super impressed by how they were inspired by the primary sources and translated those into emotional communication,” Moran said. “When people come into this gallery, they will feel the ideas.”
Kyle Lee, a junior at Monticello High School, was inspired by the Rufus Holsinger portrait collection and the serpentine walls at UVa, which shielded the quarters of professors’ slaves from view.
“It shows that people don’t know about the history and they just walk by, thinking it’s just another wall,” he said.
Lee learned about the walls while researching for his project, adding that he liked having the space to talk about the holiday.
“It’s nice that we have an outlet to talk about how we’re seen and how we’re viewing it and show what it means to us,” he said.
Molly Foster, the art teacher at Hollymead Elementary, used the Holsinger portraits for a project across fifth grade classrooms. Each student selected a portrait and made a print of it using ink and foam board.
Before making the prints, Foster talked with her students about Freedom and Liberation Day and what it means to be free, and played audio recordings of Charlottesville residents who were enslaved.
For David Preston, a fifth-grader at Hollymead, those recordings stood out.
“To know that somebody still was alive so they log their voice and what they said,” he said.
The Hollymead fifth-graders were the only elementary class to participate in the exhibit.
“I was so impressed with the time and detail they put into it,” Foster said. “They were so amazed with their own work to see that they were able to create pretty good renderings of these people who lived in this community to commemorate them.”
She said she hopes her students leave the project with historical knowledge and some empathy.
“I felt like it’s an important topic, especially because this is where we live and this is our history,” she said. “To give them that knowledge is pretty invaluable.”
The gallery at The Shops at Stonefield opened Thursday night and will be on display during business hours until March 29. Artwork for the Freedom and Liberation Day collection also is on display at the Martin Luther King Jr. Performing Arts Center.