Letter from the Director - Summer 2023 - Oklahoma Center for the Humanities
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Letter from the Director – Summer 2023

On August 1, the OCH marked its six-month anniversary in our striking new space at 101 Archer—the gateway to the city’s Arts District.  Our dedicated team has worked hard to activate the building’s full potential and we’ve now hosted seven different shows, including art from Ukraine, an overview of Oklahoma’s All-Black Towns, and the Mayfest invitational gallery.  And in June, we opened On the Inside, an exhibition of artwork and photographs by incarcerated women that has helped us understand both the power of the gallery and the unique ability of the arts and humanities to improve our communities by creating deep connections between people.

As we detail in this story, OCH had a unique opportunity to partner with Poetic Justice and our own Switchyard Festival to create an extraordinary show.  It featured self-portraits, paintings, sculpture and more—all created by women in prison who found in art a way to tell their stories.  Their work offered a sense of hope, discovery, and resilience that inspired the thousands of people who had a chance to see it.  Our most important audience, however, included the women themselves, some of whom received permission to leave prison and see their work on display in the gallery.  And we also welcomed prison wardens and administrators, who in turn have agreed to expand art-making opportunities in these facilities precisely because they open a pathway to recovery, reintegration, and a full human existence.

Every day, it seems, I read a new story about the threat of AI, the alarming decline in humanities enrollments, and the shuttering of arts and cultural programs from elementary schools through colleges and universities.  These crises seem dire, but On the Inside reminds us that to survive, the humanities must take root not just in the classroom, but in our communities and our day-to-day lives.  Exploring what it means to be human is not an academic topic, but an orientation toward the world and toward one another.

As you’ll find in this newsletter, OCH will continue to pursue this vision in our new space, through shows like We Are Cherokee, through the downstream effects of events like the Work of Sovereignty, and through our Common Read program on campus.  We seek to create connection, spark difficult conversations, and better understand the complexity and contradiction of being human. I hope you’ll join us at 101 Archer as we continue this work.

Sean Latham