A large, wide-ranging exhibit of artist Robert Shetterly’s Americans Who Tell the Truth (AWTT) portraits (from Samantha Smith to Sojourner Truth) opened on Nov. 14th at the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro, NC. Those who attended the opening of the 44-painting exhibit, were treated to performances by local actors portraying Muhammad Ali, Harriet Tubman, Samantha Smith, Claudette Colvin, Malcolm X, Mark Twain and Woody Guthrie. These actors/historical figures then led the audience in a spirited, interpretive rendition of “This Land Is Your Land.”
In conjunction with the AWTT inauguration, a youth exhibit called Truth Tellers Speak opened at the same venue. Art teacher and exhibit organizer, Tawana Maryland turned local art teachers on to the potential of the project. Steve Cozart and Nathan Street helped with outreach to the Guilford County Schools, inviting teachers to use the portraits to engage their students in an exploration of their personal role models, heroes, and local truth tellers.
Middle and high school youth artists responded by creating over 240 of their own portraits and accompanying biographies. Inspired by Shetterly’s work, the young artists depicted a richly diverse cross-section of Americans selected for their courage and character. Says Tom Daugherty, the Social Studies Curriculum Coordinator of the Guilford County Schools, “We are excited that students will have the opportunity to dive deeper into the contributions of individuals who worked to make our nation what it is today. Through the Americans Who Tell the Truth exhibit and website, students can see the impact one person can make when they stand for something greater than themselves. The individuals featured in the exhibit are often overlooked in history classes, so it is exciting to be able to highlight them and their contributions to our society today.”
Prior to the event at the ICCM, Robert Shetterly thanked the student artists for their valuable contribution to the exhibit, which reminds us that there are indeed many fine citizens in our midst, making valuable — and daily — contributions in our communities in a variety of ways. Said Shetterly, “Nowhere have the portraits been received with more purpose than in North Carolina. From young people inspired to make portraits of truth tellers in their own lives — to older people employing them to confront critical, ongoing community issues — the reception has been terrific.”
The two exhibits will continue to inspire community action and provoke self-reflection until February 13, 2016, when it comes down from the ICCM.
Videographer, Amelya Black had this to say about her experience making the video at the opening:
“Making a video for the Americans Who Tell The Truth opening in Greensboro excited my spirit. It is not everyday one gets to be a part of such an inspiring community engagement experience. The invited youth blossomed with proud hearts, showing off their truth-teller artwork to family and friends. Robert Shetterly and the rest of the event participants radiated with grateful smiles. While I did not have a big crew or all of my gear for the shoot, I felt connected to the moment and to the filming. At times it felt somewhat invasive capturing the portraits and the peoples responses to the powerful collection as all of the pictures beam with such a personal courage and deep call to action vibe. I am honored to have been involved and look forward to seeing the exhibit again and again while it is here in Greensboro.”