Published March 22, 2018

Virginia Humanities Collaborates with UVA Students and Professors to Install Power-washed Text Quotations

Charlottesville, Virginia—Following a critical reexamination of monuments and memorials in Charlottesville and nationwide, Virginia Humanities announces a series of public art installations in downtown Charlottesville and around University of Virginia (UVA) Grounds in conjunction with its 24th annual Virginia Festival of the Book.

Titled #UnseenCville, the project is a collaboration between Virginia Humanities and the UVA departments of art history, arts administration, and American studies, and community historians; and funded by a Faculty Research Grant for the Arts from UVA’s Office of the Provost and the Vice Provost for the Arts. It aims to engage students and community members with African American history and culture by power-washing quotes into sidewalks downtown and around UVA Grounds at sites of community significance.

Students in a spring course taught by professor Carmenita Higginbotham selected the installation sites. In choosing locations, students considered proximity to Virginia Festival of the Book programs, as well as the power of text in specific locations to comment on broader social experiences. “The intersection of art, identity, and place is a key concern in contemporary culture and was a guiding component of the student learning experience,” said Higginbotham.

The power-­washed quotes, also selected by Higginbotham’s students, are excerpted from The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race, the 2017 best-­selling collection of essays and poems about race by Jesmyn Ward. Three essayists from the book; Garnette Cadogan, Kevin Young, and Kima Jones; will speak in a free Virginia Festival of the Book program moderated by Higginbotham this Friday, March 23, at 4 PM at UVA’s Ruth Caplin Theatre.

“There’s renewed interest in the work of writer-activist James Baldwin, especially his 1963 classic ‘The Fire Next Time,’” said Justin Reid, director of African American programs at Virginia Humanities. “The Fire This Time reflects this modern-day reckoning. This project also references Baldwin’s belief that to love is to help make others conscious of the things they do not see, what he called the ‘things unseen’ beneath our visible reality.“

Reid collaborated with Higginbotham and UVA to direct stencil fabrication and will be monitoring the installation power-­washed quotes at up to ten sites over the coming days, beginning this afternoon (3/22/18) at 3 PM at the Water Street bus stop near the Omni Hotel Charlottesville. Information about each site and quote will be shared online.

“This collaborative project speaks to the power of art and literature as a means for human understanding and community building,” said Maggie Guggenheimer, director of external relations at Virginia Humanities and lecturer of Arts Marketing: Theory and Practice at UVA. “It has involved students at every phase of implementation, from historical analysis of sites to project marketing, and we hope it continues to engage students and the broader community in discussion, long after the quotes naturally fade away.”

Community members are invited to participate through an #UnseenCville Instagram contest. Instagram users can win a hardcover copy of The Fire This Time signed by the three writers and a handmade letter-pressed quote poster produced at the Virginia Center for the Book. The first two people to find five of the ten #UnseenCville quote installations and post a photo of each to Instagram tagging @vabookfest and #UnseenCville will be selected as contest winners. Learn more about the project online.


Here are some photos from #UnseenCville. View the whole gallery on Flickr.

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