Art Responders

CULTURAL ENGAGEMENT FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE

VIRAL:RK25

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VIRAL: 25 Years from Rodney King is an immersive multimedia exhibition featuring artists' responses to police brutality THROUGH the past quarter century.

Using visual art, music, video, and games and virtual realitY, the show delves into the cases and causes ofexcessive force in U.S. law enforcement, targeting culturally underserved communities of color most affected by the elements of our criminal justice system that allow this phenomenon to continue.  

Framed around a graphic timeline and using extensive text and data visualizations, VIRAL: RK25 tells the story of this ongoing American tragedy through more than 100 works by over 50 U.S. artists, inspiring a deeper understanding of the complex layers underlying the issue, and inspiring concrete action to create a future without fear of law enforcement.  

VIRAL:RK25 launched in Venice, California, at the Social and Public Art Resource Center’s (SPARC) Duron Gallery in April of 2016.  One of L.A.’s most respected non-profit galleries, the space is housed within the Old Venice Jail, and still features  pre-existing structures, including a holding cell.  As part of the exhibition’s programming, a speaker’s panel, “Voices for Change”, was held at veteran L.A. literary venue Beyond Baroque, featuring Black Lives Matter activist Shamell Bell, an original member of the #blacklivesmatter movement and a core organizer with Black Lives Matter Los Angeles; Dr. Aquil Basheer, founder of The Professional Community Intervention Training Institute and the BUILD Youth Empowerment Academy based in Los Angeles, CA; and exhibition advisor Paul Von Blum, Senior Lecturer in African American Studies and Communication Studies at UCLA.  

In September, 2016, the exhibition traveled to Northern California during September and October dates at the award-winning Betti Ono Gallery in uptown.  An experimentally minded space for art, culture and community in Oakland, California, Betti Ono is a black women-led-and-operated organization dedicated to amplifying the work and voices of under-represented artists.VIRAL curator D.E. Stenvoll-Wells created a custom curriculum for five high school students who were brought on as Youth Fellows to assist with gallery tours, event planning, and media facilitation, and events culminate in an all day Youth Summit featuring advocacy and activism training, art and music workshops, and a spoken word poetry slam held on October 22, the National Day of Protest against police violence.  

There are plans to bring the show in early 2017 to culturally underserved communities including inner city venues in California's Central Valley and Sacramento, and several pop-up exhibition events in Los Angeles commemorating the anniversary of that city's uprisings in April 1992.  Interested venues and partner organizations in cities such as Baltimore, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and more have expressed the wish to keep VIRAL:RK25's powerful approach to community arts and activism alive.  

For the Oakland exhibition, five youth local fellows, juniors and seniors from local high schools, committed four hours per week to participate in the show, including education, docent training, outreach, and event planning. Here youth fellow Celeste reflects on her response to the show's sidebars.