Writer, Ester Barkai, features Oregon State University's latest exhibition, Cultural Conversations, in the latest issue of Eugene Weekly and delves into what it really means to "appreciate diversity."
Have you ever tried to repeat a phrase until it loses its meaning? Take “appreciating diversity,” for instance. It’s one of those phrases repeated so often, especially on college campuses, that people become indifferent. It’s discussed as a requirement rather than what it is.
So what does it actually mean to appreciate diversity? Oregon State University is attempting to give students and the public an opportunity to find out for themselves by installing the work of five contemporary artists with different backgrounds and interests in five different cultural centers on campus.
The idea that we can have a conversation using art — that art can speak to us — is the framing concept for Cultural Conversations, a sprawling exhibit of prints from Portland philanthropist Jordan Schnitzer’s collection running through May 3 at OSU. The artists are Mildred Howard, at Lonnie B. Harris Black Cultural Center; John Baldessari, at Fairbanks Gallery; Hung Liu, at Asian and Pacific Cultural Center; Joe Feddersen, at the Native American Longhouse; and Eena Haws and Enrique Chagoya at Centro Cultural César Chávaez.
The art is displayed at places where students spend time, where they socialize and where they study. At the crowded opening reception for Cultural Conversations, OSU President Ed Ray said that in order to be a good university, an institution has to celebrate the arts and integrate them with other subjects. He suggested that though we may go to school to learn math and literature, art allows us to express how we feel and think about what we learn.
Sometimes a phrase or even a word such as “diversity” is said so often it loses its meaning. That’s why it’s important to, as a teacher might say, put it in your own words.
This is what Cultural Conversations does, though not with words (or hardly any). Each of the artists approaches, examines, satirizes and illuminates, presenting culture from their own perspective and continuing the conversation anew.
The map for locations of Cultural Conversations exhibit on campus at OSU can be found at liberalarts.oregonstate.edu.