Museum exhibit focuses on Vermonters of color

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BENNINGTON — Visible in Vermont: Our Stories, Our Voices is an exhibit opening Saturday, Sept. 14 at the Bennington Museum, providing a platform for people of color to tell their own stories and convey the impact of racism on their lives.

Images in the exhibit will highlight the intersectionality of communities of color and their many stories.

Included will be photographs of 17 Bennington area residents, as well as a similar number of images that are part of a continuing exhibit at the Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier, which is updated every two years and also periodically displayed around the state with photos of local residents.

"The photos in Visible in Vermont: Our Stories, Our Voices aim to help viewers develop a relationship with people of color in their communities," said Sha'an Mouliert, co-coordinator of the project and exhibition.

She credited Mia Schultz, of Bennington, with much of the work in organizing the three-month exhibit at the museum, including identifying local residents whose photos and words will be displayed.

"She was crucial and instrumental at the local level," said Mouliert, of the Root Social Justice Center in Brattleboro, which organizes the permanent Statehouse exhibit and plans regional exhibits around Vermont.

She said the photos of 16 area residents were chosen for the Bennington exhibit, and one photo in the permanent exhibit is of former Bennington state Rep. Kiah Morris.

Visible in Vermont: Our Stories, Our Voices will be on view at the museum on West Main Street through Dec. 30.

Forum planned

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Displayed with the framed photos are quotations that are either terms that have been conveyed to the individual of color since they've lived in Vermont, Mouliert said, or responses to terms, questions or statements made toward the person that undermine them as a people.

The photos and accompanying statements focus on the experiences of people of color throughout Vermont, challenging aggression, racist acts and behaviors that often go unchecked, the organizers said in a release.

The project is seen as an opportunity for dialogue and reflection for people within communities that are majority white, who are unaware of the impact their racial micro-aggressions have on their community — actions that can have a significant impact on one's sense of self and place in a community.

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Vermont is the second whitest state in the nation. Structural racism and widespread racial bias continue to exclude people of color from cultural, economic and social spheres.

On Sept. 28, the museum's annual Community Day, when admission is free, a reception and panel discussion on the subjects raised by the exhibit and other events are planned. The discussion will include Mouliert and some of the participants whose work is in the exhibition.

During the afternoon, the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity will present "Vermont Vision for a Multicultural Future." Participants will discuss building inclusive and equitable communities.

The photographic exhibitions and discussions strive to create a forum for communication around challenging conversations and questions, including: What does it mean to be a Vermonter? What does it mean to be person of color in our state?

Also: What are the unique threads of experience that weave together to create the cultural fabric of the places and spaces we call home? How can we build more supportive and collaborative social and cultural structures that uphold a diversity of experience?

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Project history

The "I Am Vermont Too" project was introduced in 2014 by Shanta Lee Evans-Crowley and Shela Linton after the "I, Too, Am Harvard" initiative, which was designed around people of color sharing their experiences of racism and racial micro-aggressions at Harvard University.

Grace Lee Boggs, a prominent person of color American author, social activist and feminist, said that "Creativity is the key to human liberation." By providing a medium for human expression, exhibit organizers said, art liberates people and validates the joys, challenges and struggles of their everyday experience, allowing them to expand into their fullest potential.

Visible in Vermont: Our Stories Our Voices uses art as a medium to envision social change. The use of artistic and creative expression and the upholding of people of color artists and voices, cultivates a forum in which people can connect over their experiences, living and working in Vermont.

The Root Social Justice Center, founded in 2013, provides accessible organizing space for social justice groups and serves as a local resource for social justice education, community, and actions.

Mouliert, of St. Johnsbury, serves on the advisory board for the center.

The Vermont Humanities Council has supported the Root Social Justice Center of Brattleboro for "Visible in Vermont: Our Stories Our Voices."

Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont, including the Bennington Banner, Brattleboro Reformer and Manchester Journal. Twitter: @BB_therrien


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