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Black Lives Matter mural unveiled

SUNY Cortland formally recognized the work of three students whose graphic design panels depict themes from the Black Lives Matter movement during an afternoon public unveiling ceremony on May 5 in the newly renovated Moffett Center Forum.

The installation, which resulted from a semester-long “call for student artists” to design a mural reflecting the movement as well as diversity related subjects, was developed by the university’s Institutional Equity and Inclusion Office in partnership with Dowd Gallery, the Art and Art History Department, and the Black Lives Matter Mural Committee.

Attending were the three student artists, from left, Shannon Delaney, Katherine Kressner and Vanessa Leon Basurto.

“The coordination of the creation of the mural was overseen by a committee of campus professionals and students, who have been anxiously waiting for this lovely piece of art to be installed on campus,” said Cyrenius Weagba Fitzjohn ’19, SUNY Cortland’s assistant chief diversity and inclusion officer, before the ceremony. More history and context of the project process was shared at the unveiling.

The students whose works were chosen for the Black Lives Matter panel series were present for the event. They are: Katherine Kressner, with two pieces represented in the installation; and Vanessa Leon Basurto and Shannon Delaney, with one artwork apiece.

The campus community gathered to celebrate the unveiling of the Black Lives Matter panel in Moffett Center.

The three graphic design and digital media majors were selected as project artists in December following a competition that attracted 21 online entries during the fall semester. A bold, four-panel BLM mural, created by the students to reflect the national struggle against racial and social injustice, was mounted in the newly renovated Moffett Center Forum during the spring semester.

A previous display of selected competition entries, titled the “Black Lives Matter Mural Submission Exhibition,” was on exhibit from Feb. 28 to April 1 in Old Main Colloquium. The winning illustrators also were honored at the time with a reception.

The installation is tied into recent national history.

“In 2013 Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi began the #BlackLivesMatter movement in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the case of Trayvon Martin’s murder,” said Fitzjohn, who offered remarks at the unveiling.

In the wake of the killing of George Floyd in the summer of 2020, the movement gained global recognition and momentum as the founders worked to affirm the lives of all Black people, queer and trans people, disabled people, undocumented people, people with records, women and all lives along the gender spectrum, noted Fitzjohn, citing Black Lives Matter literature.

The three art students pose beneath their joint graphic installation.

Tim Bennett ’07, a local business owner, entrepreneur, and SUNY Cortland Alumni Association board member, who suggested and personally funded the campus’ installation project and worked with the partnership of faculty, administrators and students to move it forward, offered remarks at the ceremony.

Bennett supports numerous local civic endeavors and funded a Black Lives Matter street graphic in downtown Cortland as the nation wrestled with racism in the wake of George Floyd’s death. He approached SUNY Cortland President Erik J. Bitterbaum about doing something illustrating the same concept on campus.

Lorraine Lopez-Janove, chief diversity and inclusion officer, created the BLM Mural Committee, which includes Bennett; Gia Greenidge, founding and current president of the NAACP chapter at SUNY Cortland; Taylor Hunter, president of the Student Government Association (SGA); Tatum Pittman, SGA diversity, equity and inclusion coordinator; SUNY Cortland graduate Shaneya Simmelkjaer ’21, a former campus NAACP president; Brianna Soogrim, the current Black Student Union vice president; Fitzjohn; Dowd Gallery director Jaroslava Prihodova; Martine Barnaby, professor of graphic design, Art and Art History Department; Zach Newswanger, associate vice president for facilities management; and Seth Asumah, SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor and chair of the Africana Studies Department.

Images courtesy of Francesca Frasco and Jaroslava Prihodova