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Bonnie Cohen, Terry Gilliam, and Central State University President Cynthia Jackson-Hammond at the Central State art dedication ceremony Feb. 8.

Heritage, Honor, and Hope: Central State University Dedicates Three Percent for Art Projects at Student Center

CSU senior Ebenie Ford, Student Government Association vice president, and  Akron-based artist Bonnie Cohen. Photo by Nancy Jehn, Central State University.“Words make you think, but art makes you feel.”

When Central State University (CSU) President Cynthia Jackson-Hammond shared this adage with the crowd assembled on the second floor of the CSU student center February 8, nods and passionate uh-huhs filled the room. After all, no one knows the truth of these wise words better than the students of CSU who interact with the art on campus every day.

“On a daily basis, our student body experiences and appreciates art that is displayed throughout the building that demonstrates the beauty, joy, and livelihood of our university,” said Martez Hodges, a junior majoring in English education who serves as president of CSU’s Student Government Association. “Art is the expression of the heart and soul.”

Three installations were dedicated during the ceremony: “Syncopations,” a mosaic piece by Akron-based artist Bonnie Cohen; a collection of photographs by Columbus photographer Terry Gilliam; and a series of 16 benches displayed outside the student center created by Andrew Scott, a former CSU professor who now resides in Dallas, Texas.

“Syncopations,” a mosaic by Akron-based artist Bonnie Cohen, was dedicated during a ceremony at Central State University on Feb. 8. Photo courtesy of Central State UniversityThe artwork was commissioned through the Ohio Percent for Art program, which provides funds for the acquisition, commissioning, and installation of works of art for new or renovated public buildings with appropriations of more than $4 million. The Percent for Art legislation, which became effective July 1, 1990, provides that 1 percent of the total appropriation is allocated for the acquisition, commissioning, and installation of artwork.

Cohen, whose mosaic art is displayed 30 feet in the air on a wall in the student center, said she chose to enhance and illuminate a quote by Mahatma Gandhi with traditional elements of African art inspired by strip weaving textiles from Ghana and revered symbols imbued with power and meaning. Cohen created hundreds of handmade tiles and combined them with recycled glass and African beads for the mosaic art that took more than three days and “about 100 trips up and down the wall on a scissor lift to install,” she said.

“During the installation, we had many wonderful comments from students and the staff. One of the students said that the artwork changed the way the building felt when she walked in. She said it made her feel like people at this university cared for her,” Cohen said, adding that the featured quote was specifically chosen by Hammond. “I cannot think of a more perfect compliment for anyone in any profession … To hear those words from a student fills me with gratitude. Gandhi’s beliefs, thoughts, words, actions, habits, and values, they all say, ‘I care about you,’ and I believe that’s what shapes our destinies.”

Photographs by Terry Gilliam on view at the Central State University  student center. Photo courtesy of Central State University.In her remarks at the ceremony, CSU Student Government Association Vice President Ebenie Ford wholeheartedly agreed and described the personal impact of Gandhi’s quote.

“As a first-generation college student, those words remind me that I hold the power to break any negative cycles in order to start new, positive ones,” said Ford, a senior majoring in early childhood education. “For the students of Central State University, Ms. Cohen’s piece is symbolic of where we and those before us came from. It is symbolic of where we aim to be and efforts to make our forbearers proud.”

While Cohen’s piece encourages students to look toward the future and choose their own path, Gilliam’s photographs celebrate what it means to join the CSU family. Over the course of a year, Gilliam, who started his career as a photojournalist in Columbus, documented the campus events and candid moments that define the CSU experience.

“I hope they smile,” Gilliam—ever the photographer—said with a grin of his own, describing what he hopes viewers take away from his work. “I hope that the photos tell the story of what happened here in that year. I mean, it’s always good to see a positive response to your work. I really appreciate that.” CSU student Jada Bailey said she did smile when she first saw Gilliam’s photos, which are printed in black and white and each framed with a piece of colorful fabric collected by Jackson-Hammond during her travels.

One of the benches created by Andew Scott on Central State University’s campus. Photo by Amanda Etchison“One of my favorite parts of attending this university is the unity of us,” said Bailey, who serves as sophomore class president. “These are some of our favorite memories that we can continue to come back and cherish as we begin to persist through the years. When people come to visit Central State University, they are able to see the family atmosphere and enjoy the stories behind these images.”

Located near the CSU amphitheater, Scott’s structural benches also aim to tell a story of two converging cultures, as Ford, the Student Government Association vice president, explained.

“Mr. Scott’s project is embellished with words like service, protocol, and civility, reminding everyone who may encounter the benches of the university’s tenants that serve as CSU’s core values,” she said. “His other benches encouraged me to reflect on words like strength, dignity, and integrity, words that express African core values and are like positive affirmations.” From the Adinkra symbols and Akan phrases printed on the seats to the shape of the benches themselves, Scott’s designs preserve and honor Ashanti traditions while drawing connections to college campus life.

“I like to use the traditions of the past to make modern interpretations that honor and extend those traditions into the future,” said Scott, an associate professor of art and technology at the University of Texas at Dallas’ School of Art Technology and Emerging Communications. “So, it’s a synthesis abstraction and an extension of them that gives them an ever-broader and more profound meaning beyond the original context. It restates a traditional thing in modern terms to show that it still has value.”

Each of Andew Scott’s 16  benches at Central State University tell a story through Adinkra symbols, Akan  phrases, and designs that reference traditional African seating culture. Photo by Amanda EtchisonA graduate of the Ohio State University who previously taught at CSU, Scott said he views the commissioning of the benches, as well as the other installations presented at the dedication, as something that shapes the university’s continuing story.

“I know that long after I’m gone, those benches are still going to be there. I wanted to make sure I created something that had an integrity that’s going to speak for me long after I’m gone,” he said. “I hope that in some ways, as a part of the cultural landscape of the campus and the other artworks …. it will create a sense of ownership that will allow these pieces to be taken care of and be preserved, with stories told and pictures taken and memories created with these art objects.”

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Article by Amanda Etchison, Communications Strategist
Featured ​photo: 
(From left) Bonnie Cohen, Terry Gilliam, and Central State University President Cynthia Jackson-Hammond at the Central State art dedication ceremony Feb. 8. Photo by Nancy Jehn, Central State University.

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