WNESU Diversity Committee Collaborates with Downtown Businesses in Student Art Show

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Stuart Strothman, Staff Writer

On the third Friday in May, a fantastic display of artwork could be found on Main Street in the village of Bellows Falls, the result of a collaboration between the Bellows Falls Downtown Development Alliance, and the Windham Northeast Diversity and Equity Committee. 

This was an idea taken from the Windham Southeast committee, where they have had a Diversity Committee for about 20 years. The Windham Northeast district has only had one for three years. So they have a lot of experience bringing respect for diversity into their communities. Stuart Strothman, co-chair of the WNESU Diversity and Equity committee, was on the Brattleboro Committee for many years, and he said, “The art display idea has been an easy way to connect schools with businesses in town, and we wanted to recreate that in Bellows Falls.”

The district art teachers met to collaborate on the idea, and Westminster contributed a large 4 foot by 8 foot panels covered with small squares from the students with messages of love and peace. This huge piece was prominently displayed at the Flatiron Building, lit up with a message of “Grow Love” for everyone driving by to see for a full week!  At the Bellows Falls middle school, Mary Lou Massucco worked with the students to create art with Australian aboriginal influences, with pictures made from dots, and also contributed African masks which were displayed at the Village Square Booksellers. Also participating were Halladays Flowers, the Rock and Hammer, and the Windham Artisans Cooperative. Central and Saxtons River contributed 4×4 panel collages recreating a painting from the Harlem Renaissance, and the high school gave stunning portraits of people from other countries. Anna Macijeski at the high school explained that “AP Art students at BFUHS participated in the Memory Project this fall. The Memory Project is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting intercultural understanding and kindness between children around the world through school-based art programs.  

They invite art students skilled in portraiture to make special gifts for children facing substantial challenges around the world.  The portraits help the children feel valued, show them that many people care about their wellbeing, and provide them with a special childhood memory for the future.  Since 2004 the Memory Project has coordinated the delivery of 180,000 portraits to children in 55 countries.” Also, Ms. Macijeski contributed another series of portraits, explaining that  “For her final series in Intermediate Drawing and Painting this spring, Kaitlyn chose to create a series of watercolor paintings highlighting the racial prejudices facing many people in the world today.  Each piece portrays a woman of a different ethnicity wearing a pandemic face mask bearing a message related to a stereotype that causes them to face discrimination because of their race.  The contrast of the women having their mouths covered by the masks as they silently speak out against prejudice through the messages written on them is a powerful juxtaposition.”

Last October, the WNESU Diversity committee organized a display with the help of Anna Macijeski and high school artists,  These were displayed at the Village Square Booksellers. This new collaboration was be bigger, with more art and more locations, and the D&E Committee appreciated the support of the Bellows Falls Downtown Development Alliance.