Every member of the SUNY Cortland community has a unique story to tell, and the university is looking for people willing to share their true selves with the campus in pursuit of broader understanding.
SUNY Cortland’s Beloved Community Narratives Project seeks to visually explore the many individual differences among campus community members through artistic posters while underscoring our common humanity.
Students, faculty, staff and alumni interested in becoming one of the 24 people highlighted in a poster portrait for the project have until Friday, Dec. 6, to nominate themselves. You also may nominate someone else. That deadline is Wednesday, Dec. 4.
To nominate yourself or someone, visit the Beloved Community Narratives Project website, at cortland.edu/bcn.
Those accepted will meet with visiting artist Adam Mastoon, of Adam Mastoon Transmedia, in February. Mastoon will talk with each individual about their personal story and identity and photograph them with the idea of creating a piece of public art.
Each poster will tell its own story. Together the pieces can serve to deepen the conversations about diversity, inclusion and equality in communities nationwide.
The results will appear online and around campus as print posters of various sizes and digital images on the university’s website, a blog and via SUNY Cortland social media channels.
“His work makes you want to stop and pay attention to the people and the stories he’s captured in his portraits,” said James Felton, SUNY Cortland’s chief diversity officer. “Adam’s work reflects the type of community we wanted to reflect on campus.”
“We especially want to increase the number of student nominations, but it is open to faculty, staff and alumni too,” added Erin Boylan, executive director of alumni engagement and a member of SUNY Cortland’s Diversity Narratives Project committee.
Based on their unique stories, the committee will choose 24 project subjects to work closely with Mastoon to capture the images during three days of studio portrait photography and workshops to assist the subjects with writing their narratives at SUNY Cortland.
Mastoon, of Barrington, Rhode Island, describes himself as a socially engaged artist, author and educator driven by a desire to create work that addresses equity, inclusion and social justice. He collaborates with communities nationwide to develop distinctive storytelling projects that engender empathy and connection.
“I believe in the importance of telling our personal stories and in the healing, that happens between people when we participate in the shared experience of seeing one another and of being seen,” said Mastoon, the founder of The Shared Hearts Initiative, a non-profit organization that created an exhibition and school curriculum to amplify authentic, life-affirming stories of LGBT youth.
“The author James Baldwin said, ‘It is the role of the artist to make the world a more human dwelling place,’” Mastoon said. “I follow this idea with a focused sense of purpose in the work I create.”
Since 2010, Mastoon, recipient of the American Library Association’s Gay and Lesbian, Non-Fiction Book Award, has worked in academic communities making portraits and inviting people to share their personal stories in words and pictures.
Mastoon has captured the essence of 300 individuals to date in versions of the project at Georgia Tech, Swarthmore College, Rhode Island School of Design, Babson College, Gordon School and Washington State University. Examples can be found on Mastoon’s community narratives web page.
“Everyone has a story to tell,” Mastoon has written on his website. “Our stories are written from the deep reservoir of our histories and forged in the fire of our humanness. When we share authentic stories in community we build connection, a sense of belonging and the possibility of becoming that which we see around us.”
In Fall 2018, SUNY Cortland formed a Diversity Narratives Project committee to plan the project and members had an opportunity to meet Mastoon via Skype.
“Adam brought an immediate sense of synergy and energy to the campus during his visit last fall,” Felton said. “I believe this project will go a long way to promote a diversity of thought and experience to the SUNY Cortland Community.”a
Felton said the project originated with his office and Nicole Basile ’19, the former Student Government Association Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
“We wanted to develop a project that would not only be a conversation starter, but would passively and actively promote an inclusive environment for faculty, staff and students,” Felton said.
The project’s name comes from a quote by the Rev. Martin Luther King Junior that reflects the spirit of the initiative: “Our goal is to create a beloved community, and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.”
Felton had recalled Mastoon’s work from a 2015 diversity conference.
“I was immediately impressed with his talent and artistry, and I could see how his work helped transform the organizations that have contracted with him,” Felton said.
Committee members include Alexis Blavos, Health Department; Boylan; AnnaMaria Cirrincione, Multicultural Life and Diversity Office; Dan Dryja, Facilities Management; Evan Faulkenbury, History Department; Felton; Kaitlin Flannery, Psychology Department; Roman Rodriguez, Student Government Association; Szilvia Kadas, Art and Art History Department; Michelle LoGerfo, Web And Digital Marketing; Zachariah Newswanger, Facilities Management; Lauren Scagnelli, Health Promotion; and Joseph Westbrook, Facilities Management.