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Higher Education Thought Leadership

Emory faculty, students join forces with Atlanta artists to explore social justice

Featured Image: The new Emory Arts and Social Justice Fellows program allows Emory faculty and students to collaborate with Atlanta artists to explore racial injustice and other inequities. Participating artists (clockwise from left) are Olivia Dawson, Shanequa Gay, Ash Nash, Garrett Turner, Fahamu Pecou and Okorie “OkCello” Johnson.

By Emory University

Amid a groundswell of national attention to racial and social injustice, Emory professors and students will come together with Atlanta artists this fall to explore how creative thinking and artistic expression can inspire change.

The new Emory University Arts and Social Justice (ASJ) Fellowship pairs artists with six classes ranging from business to biology, including courses in Emory College of Arts and Sciences, Oxford College, Goizueta Business School and the Rollins School of Public Health.

The project is a partnership between the Emory College Center for Creativity and Arts (CCA) and the Emory University Center for Ethics.

“The idea for the ASJ fellows came together this summer out of conversations between the Ethics Center’s Carlton Mackey and myself,” explains Kevin Karnes, executive director of the CCA and associate dean for the arts in Emory College. “We talked about how Emory can engage meaningfully with our city in an unfolding moment of crisis, and about what we at Emory can learn from Atlanta’s artists, many of whom have been working tirelessly towards racial and social justice their whole careers.”

Selected from a pool of more than 70 applicants, the inaugural cohort of Arts and Social Justice Fellows showcases some of the most celebrated and vibrant threads of artistic creativity in the city. The cohort consists of Olivia Dawson, visual artist Shanequa Gay, cellist and composer Okorie “OkCello” Johnson, arts advocate and administrator Ash Nash, visual artist and Emory alum Fahamu Pecou, and actor and Emory alum Garrett Turner.

“This inaugural cohort centers the voices of Atlanta’s Black creatives and highlights the spectrum of offerings of this vital network to the national movement for social justice and racial equity,” says Mackey, director of the Emory Ethics & the Arts Program. “We are so fortunate to welcome such a premiere cross section of the Atlanta art scene and for our cohort to include not only visual and performing artists whose art serves as a vehicle for their activism, but also a highly effective arts administrator with a reputation for connecting artists and organizations to affect positive social change.” 

Participating faculty members will work alongside their partnered ASJ Fellows to design creative projects that reflect on racial or other inequities. The projects will be embedded into existing courses taught by the faculty members and brought to fruition by students within the framework of their classes. 

Each month throughout the semester, the full cohort of six faculty, six ASJ Fellows and their students will gather to learn about each other’s work, and to exchange ideas across the university about the arts and social justice. The semester will conclude with a public unveiling and citywide conversation to consider collectively the completed projects and the questions they raise.

“Bringing these ASJ Fellows together with a group of scholars representing the undergraduate and professional schools — whose courses challenge traditional thinking about the intersection of race, public health and business — will advance and offer critical nuance to the public dialogue about these issues, as well as prepare college students to face these issues with courage and compassion as they encounter them in the real world,” Mackey says.

Karnes and Mackey are now working to identify funding sources to enable the program to continue and expand into the future.

“What drew us together is our shared faith in the power of art to open spaces for conversation, community-making and collective action,” says Karnes. “We believe that those things are urgently needed if we are to emerge from this moment in a way that is whole, and, we hope, better than how we lived together before.” 

Visit the Arts at Emory calendar for public events related to the Arts and Social Justice fellowship as they are announced throughout the fall. More information about arts initiatives on campus can be found on the Ethics Center and CCA websites. 


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