Students taking an activist art class at Southern Oregon University hope to raise awareness of the severity of hunger and homelessness in Ashland by hosting a panel discussion and an art auction Friday to raise money for the local food bank.
Organizer Sarah Westover said there's a large gap locally between the wealthy and those who struggle for basics.
"Ashland has an interesting dynamic around income and status," said Westover, a senior majoring in political science. "A lot of people don't recognize it has a lot of low-income people with no good jobs, food or affordable housing. So, we're raising the awareness and letting people know the resources available."
The silent auction, open to the public, will be from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday in room 206 of the Marion Ady Art Building, next to the Schneider Museum of Art on campus, 1250 Siskiyou Blvd.
A panel discussion is planned in the same room at 5:30 p.m. featuring Mayor John Stromberg, Paul Giancarlo of the Ashland Food Project, Susan Harris of the Ashland Emergency Food Bank and Jody Waters, an SOU assistant professor of communications.
The auction will feature works by students in Jennifer Longshore's art history 345 class. Most of the works are paintings that focus on the human form or abstract images.
Other activists in the events are students in Waters' hunger and homelessness class.
"The art brings a different perspective to a poorly framed set of ideas around homelessness," said Waters. "These are issues that need to be dealt with. We're not seeing a systemic analysis about poverty and income disparity. It's more oriented to looking at homelessness as a problem instead of the problem of homelessness."
Activist art, Waters noted, "is an alternative expression searching for different sources of information."
Art sophomore Carolyn Tucker's series of monochrome studies, including a copy of "The Scream" by Evard Munch, will be included in the auction.
"Activist art is community-based art that can create political change," Tucker said.
"It's something that stimulates emotions for a cause," said sophomore Chemin Young, adding, "I love to help people and to get involved in the community."
"It should be called community-based art. It's done with the understanding it can create political change," said MaryAnn Carey, an art sophomore.
Abstract painter Emily Casilio noted, "You don't have to be an artist for a group to go into a community and make art with them and create social connections and make a broader community."
The participants, who volunteer at Uncle Food's Diner, a free Tuesday dinner at Ashland's First United Methodist Church, said the events will seek to address Ashland's lack of a homeless shelter — and to instill accountability in the progress toward that often-discussed goal.
"We don't have a shelter because there isn't the will to see it happen," said Waters. "A lot of folks would like to see a solution, but not in this community. They don't want to attract more homeless — and it's true, it gives permission for them to be here."
Westover said her contacts with the homeless community have been "eye-opening."
"While most of the population is genuinely in need of good jobs and affordable housing, some prefer a nomadic lifestyle and just want a place to pitch a tent, where they won't be bothered," she said. "I think that's reasonable."
Panelist Giancarlo said the door-to-door Ashland Food Project has been very successful in its first year, with 1,500 donors giving 14,500 pounds of food this month and mentoring other cities, including Talent, on starting their program.
Other donating artists include Robyn Janssen, Michael Rea, Josephine Gibbs, David Del Francia, Christy Fuller, Y-Monette Cabrera, Carolyn Tucker, Nicholas Shawn Newman, Mariko Thomas, Natalie Shabow, Kyle Peets, Levi Ross.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at email@example.com.