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Join the Lender Center Conversation: ‘Creative Activity as a Human Right’

For James Haywood Rolling Jr. ’91, the upcoming “Creative Activity as a Human Right” event is two months in the planning but decades in the making.

James Haywood Rolling Jr.

Rolling, a dual professor of arts education in the College of Visual and Performing Arts and teaching and leadership in the School of Education, is the new co-director of the Lender Center for Social Justice. Marvin Lender ’63 and his wife, Helaine Gold Lender ’65, created the interdisciplinary Lender Center to fulfill their enduring mission to develop ethical and courageous citizens.

The center provides research support, faculty and student fellowships, and symposia such as the upcoming Nov. 11 Lender Center Conversation, which this fall is focusing on the “Creative Activity as a Human Right” theme that was first advanced in a special issue of Art Education Journal that Rolling published in July 2017, when he was the journal’s senior editor.

Art Education is the official journal of the National Art Education Association, which Rolling currently leads into its 75th anniversary next year as the organization’s president. As he was contemplating that issue in 2017, two main questions ran through his mind.

“What would it mean for artists, art and design educators, and arts institutions to reconceptualize creative activity as a universal and inalienable human right?” Rolling says. “How might it change our conception of the visual arts and design in practice and in education?”

Those questions will be at the heart of “Creative Activity as a Human Right,” which is co-sponsored by  Hendricks Chapel and the Humanities Center. The public is invited to attend. Register for the “Creative Activity as a Human Right” virtual event.

The event will feature “interdisciplinary artists, activists and educators with expertise in the arts, humanities and social sciences joining together to examine what it might mean to rethink creativity as a universal and inalienable human right, a remedy for complicated histories of inhumanity and carelessness, and a change-making, emancipatory form of social intelligence.”

Art Education JournalThe event includes keynote speaker Amelia Kraehe, panel discussions and a spotlight conversation with celebrated contemporary artists, Helen Zughaib ’81 and University Artist in Residence Carrie Mae Weems. Registration is required to attend the virtual event.

Rolling has spent his entire career as an educator focused on developing the next generation of diverse, creative leaders who travel paths of self-evident worth they weren’t at first aware they could trailblaze. Here is what he says about the history behind “Creative Activity as a Human Right”:

“Social justice has a long history in the arts and education. As W. E. B. Du Bois, Alain LeRoy Locke, John Dewey, Maxine Greene, bell hooks and other pioneers of emancipatory philosophy understood, there is an essential relationship between participation in creative cultural production and the making of a free, democratic society.

“Creative activity opens up alternate possibilities for thinking, feeling and doing. In its most hopeful form, it enables us to adapt, connect, relate, join forces and pool our resources in new ways so that we are all less alone, less vulnerable and less unable.

“Creative activity and invention have been the collective fuel necessary for human survival, the evolution of social relations, and our creative leaps as a civilization along the way. Indeed, repressive social systems are quite effective, at least in part, because they restrict creative activity as an agency for defining individual identity while curtailing and controlling access to the shaping of cultural content and currency.”

As the Lender Center formalized plans for the event and lined up its prominent panelists, Rolling has posed the following key questions for all participants and audiences to consider:

  • What happens when we boldly proclaim that creative activity—or creativity, for abbreviation—is a human right, and not merely a privilege?
  • How do avenues for creative response open up space for individual fulfillment and higher achievement, interrupting the systems and structures of social inequity?
  • What are the benefits of centering our art and design practices and culture creation through a social justice lens?
  • What practice-based research, philosophies and histories help to animate a human rights discourse promoting creative, critical citizenship for the public good?
  • What practical instructional tactics and partnering strategies are essential in promoting an equity-oriented ecosystem of creative activity, education and social entrepreneurship?
  • How can we better coordinate our commitments to creative activity as a tool for self-actualization and the address of generational and collective traumas—especially within marginalized and under-resourced local communities as we enter the post-pandemic era?

Here is the schedule for the Lender Center for Social Justice Conversation “Creative Activity as a Human Right” on Nov. 11:

Amelia Kraehe

Keynote speaker Amelia Kraehe

  • Keynote and Q&A, 1-2:15 p.m.: Opening the day’s proceedings with a talk titled “Joy, Justice, and Creative Futures,” the keynote speaker is Amelia Kraehe, the inaugural associate vice president for Equity in the Arts for Arizona Arts at the University of Arizona. She is also co-founder and co-director of the university’s Racial Justice Studio, which serves as a transdisciplinary incubator for the study and practice of intersectional anti-racism in and through the arts.
  • Panel discussion on equity, 2:30-4 p.m.: The panel of national leaders in art and design education includes Kraehe; Injeong Yoon-Ramirez, Endowed Assistant Professor of Art Education and affiliate faculty in Gender Studies at the University of Arkansas; Sara Scott Shields and Rachel Fendler, associate professors in the Department of Art Education at Florida State University; and Shyla Rao, principal of City Neighbors Hamilton K-8 charter school in the Baltimore City Public Schools.

Rolling will moderate this discussion.

  • Panel discussion with local creative leaders on youth and civic engagement, 4:15-5:45 p.m.: The panel discussion with local creative leaders includes Cjala Surratt, member of Everson Museum of Art’s equity and engagement committee, board member of Community Folk Art Center and communications coordinator of Light Work; Sarah Gentile, director of fine arts in the West Genesee School District and former supervisor of fine arts in the Syracuse City School District; Kimberly McCoy, community engagement organizer at ArtRage Gallery; and Rochele Royster, assistant professor of art therapy in the Department of Creative Arts Therapy at Syracuse University and former learning behavior specialist for Chicago Public Schools.

Tanisha Jackson, professor of practice in African American Studies and executive director of the Community Folk Art Center at Syracuse University, will moderate this discussion.

  • Spotlight event, 6-7 p.m.: A candid conversation between prominent contemporary artists Carrie Mae Weems and Helen Zughaib. Weems is an American artist working in text, fabric, audio, digital images and installation video who is best known for her photography. Zughaib is a Lebanese American painter and multimedia artist who graduated from Syracuse University in 1981 and now lives and works in Washington, D.C.
    Carrie Mae Weems, Artist in Residence at Syracuse University

    Carrie Mae Weems, Artist in Residence at Syracuse University

Kendall Phillips, co-director of the Lender Center and professor of communication and rhetorical studies in Syracuse University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts, will moderate this discussion.

Featured throughout the day will be a series of small original drawings about the human condition by Jewish American artist Audrey Frank Anastasi. Her three-year study of refugees across people groups, man-made crises, wars, persecutions and social traumas offers a profound visual argument for why creative activity is essential in the address of the acts of inhumanity that have erased and displaced so many lives.


Join the Lender Center Conversation: ‘Creative Activity as a Human Right’