New Art Installation Celebrates West’s Black Professionals

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New Art Installation Celebrates West’s Black Professionals

By Sarah Waters, Staff Writer

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Outside the gym near the art wing, a new art piece honoring Niles West’s black teachers and professionals demonstrates both fine arts brilliance and the necessity of pursuing positive community and social change through artistic mediums.

The art piece features black professionals and teachers at Niles West, each with a unique primary color background of their choosing. The piece aims to increase awareness of how few black teachers and professionals are in the building while showing the need for diversity in faculty.

During Black History Month, the Niles West art department aimed to create a similar project that was installed at Niles North. The piece was widely acclaimed and laid the groundwork for a similar installation at West.

“This year, we wanted to do something new and develop a project to teach to students as well, so we decided on a piece that taught how colors can convey different emotions. We asked people which colors would tell their story, so they got to choose the backdrop and lighting. Our job was just to do the technical part,” art teacher Alethea Busch, the artist behind the piece, said.

“We wanted to do something that would help our faculty, staff and students who identify as black or African-American feel more included in the community.”

The piece aims to increase visibility of West’s outstanding black professionals, and to raise awareness of just how few we have. To many, it’s been a needed voice in the cause of making our faculty represent our students.

“We don’t have a lot of teachers or staff who are black or African-American, and it’s really important for students to see someone who looks like them represented in the community. It’s been great seeing those students glad their teachers are being recognized in the school community. The students also did the project’s technical work themselves, in [the digital photo class]. It’s important because they’re learning to have conversations about race,” Ms. Busch said.

Biology teacher Jason Foster is featured in the piece and has already seen its positive impact on the school community.

“It’s been nothing but positive for students to see the professionals of color that are in the building, and to see an artistic expression of those people of color,” Foster said.

He would like to see the piece start a conversation that leads to tangible changes within the school, and he sees the piece as a gateway to more conversations about inclusion in the building.

“Realistically, I don’t expect anything to happen in more depth. To go deeper, I’m hoping that the majority of white professionals in the building will see how few people of color, specifically black teachers and black professionals we have, and question, ‘why is that the case?'” he said.

Physical Welfare Administrative Assistant Carl Alexander, who also has experience with the Fine Arts department,  was also featured in the piece. He’s already seen positive reactions from students of all backgrounds, which to him proves that representation is crucial in a school environment.

“It was really interesting that the art department had the idea to capture the faces and experiences of black bodies in this building,” Alexander said. “To see the figures of adults in the building reflecting black students’ faces is really powerful.”

Alexander sums up the reaction from students as one of joy.

“I’ve already seen students of all colors, races, and expressions find joy in seeing people they love in this building [in the art piece]. That’s awesome to see that joy. Very often, I see our black students come by and say things like ‘everyone looks so good,’ and be able to find a sense of pride this month in a space that represents them,” Mr. Alexander continued.