Civil Rights in American Art

We've done plenty of remote scribing work over the years for the Smithsonian Institute in the US, through our friends at Learning Times who produce, spectacularly well, all of their online conferences. Such is the breadth and depth of the Smithsonian's interests - it's not known as 'the nation's attic' for nothing - we've been fortunate enough to scribe on topics ranging from ethnomusicology to rainforest beetles. It's invariably a privilege to be paid to listen to such engaging experts talk about niche specialisms that might otherwise have passed you completely.

Oh Freedom! is a recent educational initiative, utilising the vast Smithsonian collections to tell the story of the long struggle for civil rights, justice, and equality to a new generation. A website featuring lesson plans for teachers and study guides for students was launched late last year, and tied into that was an online conference.

I was asked to scribe the keynote given by Richard J. Powell, Professor of Art and Art History at Duke University, and as a former art historian myself it was one I was looking forward to. I didn't give a lot of thought in advance however, to the problem of scribing a talk entirely based around pictures, and not just any pictures - great, iconic pictures. A talk like that doesn't really leave much room for independent imagery. I wasn't working live, so I had the time to recreate some of the key images in a fairly loose, sketchy way. Freed up from thinking so much about my own imagery I could focus on making some interesting connections and juxtapositions, looking for ways to tell the story through the visual vocabulary the artworks, and the subject matter, gave me. I particularly enjoyed displaying the portraits of Professor Powell's 'Civil Rights Hall of Fame' in the placards of the protest march.

So, a very different kind of scribe, but a worthwhile one in the end.