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Justice for all: Jacoby Arts Center’s July programming explores freedom of expression

This article appeared in the Alton Telegraph on July 6, 2016. You may access the original article here.


With July dedicated to “Social Justice: Both Sides of the River” at Jacoby Arts Center, a themed approach features an exhibit of the same name, programs, music and discussions that take a look at the expression of human freedom, particularly through work of African-Americans and racially-conscious artists.

Exhibit co-facilitator Penny Schmidt, along with artist, art historian and psychotherapist Sun Smith-Foret, said they want the public to experience artwork that reflects real life and the richness of human diversity.

“Social justice is an important, relevant subject, and we want to engage the entire community, and hopefully, promote positive social change through art and education,” Schmidt said.

Factored in with Alton’s history, richly marked with proponents of abolition, freedom of speech and equal rights, such as Elijah P. Lovejoy, Lyman Trumbull and Abraham Lincoln, Jacoby Arts Center brings a cutting-edge, modern approach to defending and championing the American principles of liberty and justice for all.

Alton artist and teacher Angel Weber brings her art to the exhibit, and said from a black perspective, there is a huge gap in the artist world.

Ideas for her pieces often come from what’s happening in the community, or the country, and more than tell a story — they are a statement.

“Most of my work centers on race relations or the church in one way or another,” said Weber, who became part of history after she created a civil rights scene on an original American flag. “But you can’t paint about social justice without showing respect for the past — stepping into both worlds at the same time.”

The tones and colors in her paintings mirror the mood that she tries to project, like “40 Acres and a Mule,” which will be on display at Jacoby Arts Center, with its smoky, obscure feeling.

“When I painted it, the preachers in the painting didn’t really take to the street, but in Ferguson they did,” she said. “I felt like my painting came to life.

“Social justice is now a hot topic, and understanding it is a way to get past race and get to the person,” she noted. “It’s an exciting time.”

She wants her art to inspire people to stop, think about it and reflect on what it means to the world and to them in particular. As a middle school teacher, her goal is to encourage and motivate her students.

Additional artists in the exhibit come from St. Louis and around the Metro East, including those from Alton, Edwardsville and East St. Louis. In addition to Weber, work on display is by Smith-Foret from her Riverworks Project that includes sections by African-American artists; Mannie Garcia; Edna Patterson Petty; Tiffany Cade; Jane Sauer; Darnell Malone; and Marilyn Robinson. Also included is Freida L. Wheaton’s “Visualizing Life: Social Justice in Real Time,” which first exhibited at the Touhill Performing Arts Center; later at the Vaughn Cultural Center in Grand Center, and also includes work by Howard Barry; Jenna Bauer; cbabi bayoc; Sami Bentil; Lenard Hinds; Daniel Jefferson; Gundia Lock’Clay; Is’Mima Nebt’Kata; P31 The Artist; Thomas Sleet; Krystal Sutton; Solomon Thurman; Anneka Vickers-Bentil; Joy Lalita Wade and Darryl White.

“We thought the exhibit would be a great foundation to start discussions about social justice,” Schmidt said. “It is primarily African-American artists who are exhibiting, but also includes work by those of Spanish and Caucasian origin.”

Alton artist Christine Ilewski’s “Faces not Forgotten” will be on display in the East Gallery, which consists of portraits of children and young adults killed by gun violence.

Programming throughout the month also addresses social justice in a variety of ways. St. Louis native Efi Da Silva is the director of the film, “Four Way Stop,” which will screen at 7 p.m., Friday, July 29 at Jacoby Arts Center.

The movie was included in the annual Whitaker St. Louis International Film Festival in 2015. It tells the story of a 17-year-old inner-city African-American youth, Allen, desperately trying to improve his life, but he lacks essential support from his family. His absent father is a needy drug addict, and his seriously-ill mother offers only criticism.

Allen resists the lure of the street and instead seeks legitimate employment. But in his hunt for a better job, he ends up jeopardizing his current fast-food position by arriving late or failing to show. Angry at the racism he confronts and the limited options he’s given, Allen engages in self-sabotage, thwarting his attempts to do the right thing.

Though “Four-Way Stop” is Da Silva’s first feature film, she studied film at Webster University, in St. Louis, and knew she wanted to make a movie someday — with meaning.

While working at STL TV in St. Louis during Barack Obama’s first run for the presidency, an idea came to her.

Obama, Hillary Clinton and other candidates were in discussions during a debate hosted by the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, and were talking about changes they would make in minority communities.

“I believed that they believed what they were saying at the time, but I knew they didn’t realize the real obstacles that people in these communities face,” Da Silva said. “I knew then that I wanted to tell the story about what a kid growing up in St. Louis faces.”

Da Silva said it’s a real-life slice of life that can hopefully start dialogues about some of the issues the film raises. Afterward, the audience will have a chance to discuss the film and its themes with a panel moderated by St Louis Public Radio’s Steve Potter, an Alton resident; Ben Golley, chair of the Human Relations Commission; and, Marty K. Casey, who plays the mother in “Four-Way Stop.”

The official opening reception for the exhibit is from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, July 8, featuring music by Jerome “Jay Dubz” Williams on sax and Jim Hegarty on piano. Reception admission is free.

“Social Justice: Both Sides of the River” is supported by Alton Memorial Hospital, Carrollton Bank, Illinois Humanities, Karen Wilson State Farm and Wood River Refinery Phillips 66.

The exhibit runs through Saturday, Aug. 6. Jacoby Arts Center is located at 627 E. Broadway. Gallery hours are 12 to 4 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday. For more information, call 618-462-5222, send an email to or visit