The Rockwell Museum in Corning introduces a new way for visitors to explore more about artworks through the Artists as Activists Audio Tour. The Artists as Activists tour incorporates several works from The Rockwell’s permanent collection along with two artworks on loan from Art Bridges.
The tour investigates a wide range of media and decades that demonstrate different forms activism can take. The tour includes artists who lived well over 100 years ago through today, whose basketry, oil paintings, photography, sculpture and more give us a glimpse into what being an activist has meant in different periods of American history. Topics include animal treatment, humanitarian issues of representation, race and prejudice, feminism, intellectual property, LGBTQ+ activism, systems of religious oppression and more.
“It sometimes feels like we are living through times that are more divided and tumultuous than ever before,” says project lead and Interpretation and Public Engagement Educator Kate Swanson. “Reflecting on our past can help us to find points of connection to previous struggles that have been fought and won through activist causes.”
The tour aims to highlight the many forms activism can take, and some quiet ways people and artists have advanced causes throughout history, before social media. For example, perhaps because of the ease with which his minimalist style could be imitated and replicated, Frank Stella was an outspoken advocate for copyright protection of artists. His large geometric painting, Cinema de Pepsi, is featured in the tour alongside a Keith Haring self-portrait, known for his bold lines and patterns, commitment to accessibility in art, as well as LQBTQ+ activism and AIDS awareness. Both of these works are on are loan from Art Bridges, and served as inspiration for this new tour. Additional featured artists from The Rockwell collection include Susan Waters, Cyrus Dallin, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Gail Tremblay, Elizabeth Catlett, Martine Gutierrez, Luis Tapia and Virgil Ortiz.
“We are always looking to offer alternative perspectives for visitors to view their favorite artworks. We hope it also inspires guests to find their own voice in working toward positive changes that are most important to them. What stories can you uncover by looking at art through a new lens?” says Swanson.
Swanson connected with four regional community members to narrate the audio tour stops, inviting them to choose artworks that sparked their personal interests. Following an introduction from Executive Director Brian Lee Whisenhunt, listeners will hear from Sharon Bryant, Molly Bierman, Alex Dell and Anjanette Lecher.
Sharon Bryant is an Associate Professor in the Decker College of Nursing and Health Sciences at Binghamton University. Bryant is also a poet and has even composed a poem about another work in our collection not featured on the audio tour, William Aiken Walker’s Cotton Picker. Alex Dell also balances creative pursuits with his day job. He works as an engineer and is also an author and actor. Anjanette Lecher has worked at Corning Inc., for 24 years; she currently works in the Law Department as the Director of Intellectual Asset Management. Lecher is a member of the Choctaw Nation and was born and raised on the Tuscarora Indian Nation in Upstate NY. Molly Bierman is a student at Corning-Painted Post High School and narrates stops six and eight. Visitors will also see Bierman’s work in our upcoming International Baccalaureate student art exhibition in April.
Anjanette Lecher narrates three stops of the tour. “The team at Rockwell was great to work with,” she says. “What was memorable for me was being able to narrate and learn more about my favorite piece in the museum by Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, NDN (For Life). I hope that visitors walk away from the audio tour with a better appreciation for the role art can take in activism.”
While the tour script was written by Rockwell staff, community members were asked to choose works that spoke to them for the narration. They were also invited to give feedback on the scripts before they were finalized, many providing thoughtful input that led to significant script edits.
Sharon Bryan, who narrates three stops, says, “I first learned about Elizabeth Catlett when I was an undergraduate at Howard University. Her Seated Mother and Child speaks to me as a mother of an African American son who is a teenager. The way that this mother embraces her child reminds me of when I would cuddle with my son as I nursed him.”
To access the tour, visitors can use their own mobile device, scanning QR codes as they go. Alternatively, visitors can borrow a listening device and headphones from the Museum’s Admission Desk free of charge. The tour is designed with an easily-navigable landing page to encourage visitors to engage with the work in any order, at their own pace.
Each audio segments begins with a detailed visual description of the work. Features such as a raised, textured QR code to access the tour on the informational card and textured grip tape on the floor in front of the featured artworks are designed to provide access to sight-impaired visitors. Access the tour from anywhere by visiting rockwellmuseum.org/audio.
As a next step, The Rockwell Education Department is developing an Artists as Activists school tour program for high school students as a companion to the audio tour. The school program will encourage students to consider how to best use their own personal strengths and interests to put their voices to work for causes they care about.
Generous support for this project provided by Art Bridges. Rockwell Museum programs are made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.