WVPA Sharing

Listening for Racial Understanding reflects how conversations lead to healing

Art interpretations of the project will be on display from Sept. 9 through Sept. 30 at the Morgantown Public Library

WV Press Release Sharing

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – What happens when people from one side sit down to talk with and learn about people from the other side?

Two Morgantown residents, inspired by the wonderings of a nonagenarian who is still working for reconciliation, have created Listening for Racial Understanding, an art and recording project based on one-on-one conversations of individuals from a cross-section of backgrounds.

“People have some mighty powerful, moving, heartbreaking, terrifying, loving, compassionate stories to share about their lives and experiences in this world,” said Susan Eason, one of the project’s authors. “And when we take time to listen to and connect with one other, we can really see the beauty and humanity of each person.

“The artwork transforms the oftentimes hour-long conversations and brings them into yet another realm to be experienced.”

Art interpretations of the project will be on display from Sept. 9 through Sept. 30 at the Morgantown Public Library, 373 Spruce St. An opening reception, featuring some of the project’s participants, will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. that evening.

Since January when the project began, coordinators Eve Faulkes and Eason recruited 46 individuals of differing racial and/or cultural backgrounds and recorded 23 interviews following a guided, approach using five questions and active listening techniques.

Artists were then invited to listen to one of the conversations, working to render a piece of art, paying particular attention to moments that stood out to the pair. The 23 pieces of art range in form from poetry to digitally generated art, to quilted fabric, oil on canvas, video, and more. QR codes for some of the art will connect to portions of the recordings.

Faulkes said the overall project – interviewees, artists, and themselves –represent voices from eight states (mostly West Virginia) and three countries, with approximately 35 white individuals and 30 persons of color, including several refugees, all of whom have West Virginia connections.

The idea sprang from a long-ago conversation between Faulkes and 98-year-old Sarah Little, a black woman who said she wished she could just sit down with a white person and talk with them.

Little’s wish came to life when she and Faulkes spoke to Dismantling Racism Together, a Morgantown-based group dedicated to educating people about hidden aspects of racism. Recognizing that personal experiences provide the best chance of overcoming stereotypes, Faulks and Eason decided to make Little’s wish concrete, hoping it would help generate greater understanding, empathy and compassion. Listening was partially funded by a grant from First Presbyterian Church of Morgantown.

The exhibit eventually will travel to Lewisburg and Beckley with a goal of more counties hosting the project. In Morgantown, the exhibit will stay up during public library hours through Friday, Sept. 30, when a celebration will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. featuring more participants and poet Susan Truxell Sauter reading her work reflecting one of the conversations. 

CONTACTS:

Susan Eason

304-685-7186

[email protected]

Eve Faulkes

304-692-1116

[email protected]

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