Food For Thought Exhibit Explores Culture Through Cuisine


The exhibit Food for Thought: Understanding Cultural Identity and Heritage Through Food, will be presented April 19 – May 14 on the second floor of Illinois State University’s Milner Library. An opening reception/presentation will be held at 3:30 p.m. April 19 at the library.

"As part of their coursework in ART 315: Special Topics in Graphic Design, Illinois State University School of Art students created information design posters about one dish from their ancestral country and traced its history, ingredients and relevance,” ART 315 Prof. Archana Shekara relates. “Students conducted research about national identity, pride, language, and art.

“Through conversations with their family, students discovered the significance of the food they had long taken for granted. Each poster expresses the designer’s unique cultural background. Food for Thought invites audiences to celebrate different heritages thorough diverse cuisine."

Normal West Comunity Showcases Talent, Passion

Not In Our School and its anti-bullying/anti-discrimination efforts received a bow during Normal Community West High School H.Y.P.E.'s (Helping Youth Progress and Excel) recent Showcase Talent Show.

The May 13 program focused on inclusion and diversity, featuring dance, musical performances, spoken word, stand-up comedy, and overall talent from students expressing their creativity and passion. The BCAI-Breaking Chains & Advancing Increase School of Arts provided a special guest performance.

Proceeds from the show were directed towards the hosting school clubs H.Y.P.E. and Not In Our School. H.Y.P.E. will be using half of their proceeds for a Wildcat Fund dedicated to students helping other students with basic unmet needs.

Enjoying NCWHS's showcase were, from left, BCAI Director Angelique Racki, Normal West Not In Our School sponsor John Bierbaum, and NIOTBN's Phani Aytam, Camille Taylor, and Mary Aplington.

Enjoying NCWHS's showcase were, from left, BCAI Director Angelique Racki, Normal West Not In Our School sponsor John Bierbaum, and NIOTBN's Phani Aytam, Camille Taylor, and Mary Aplington.

Tricia: Downtown Collaborative Mural to 'Articulate Emotion'

Tricia Stiller, Executive Director

Downtown Bloomington Association

As seen in this preliminary design conception, the downtown mural will be based on NIOTBN's "quilt" design created in November 2014.

As seen in this preliminary design conception, the downtown mural will be based on NIOTBN's "quilt" design created in November 2014.

It's been a challenge for me to find just the right words for this essay. I've started and re-started more times than I'm willing to admit. I think the stumbling block lies in the fact that I'm genuinely excited about this collaboration, and to articulate emotion into plain text is not always an easy task. That's the beauty of this planned mural project - Art speaks for us when words can't. 
The evolution of this idea, in my mind, is a wonderful illustration of what makes ours a great community. We are a city that actively seeks opportunities to expand our understanding of one another. We passionately stand against all discrimination, through the efforts of NOT IN OUR TOWN (NOIT), and we ignite the spark of compassion in our future leaders by providing students with opportunities to meet and interact with those who live differently through the McLEAN COUNTY DIVERSITY PROJECT. And those are just two examples.

Bloomington/Normal is full of extraordinary people doing amazing things. 
When I was first approached about the idea of creating something lasting that would speak to this community's heart, I didn't hesitate. Though my previous explorations with the Diversity Project have been theatrical, I was especially pleased that I was asked about a mural, for that is something the Downtown Bloomington Association is quite passionate about. Through our Public Art Committee, we have added 4 murals to the downtown landscape in the last five years. We envision a city with art on every corner!

With this mural collaboration, scholars from the Diversity Project will be depicting the mission statement of NOT IN OUR TOWN on a prominent wall in our community. I am still awaiting confirmation on the exact location, but if things go as I hope, it will be stellar! 
The scholars will participate in a series of workshops that will incorporate conversation and creation, and I may even throw some theatre scenes at them, to help solidify our understanding of what our efforts mean - to us, to this community, and to the generations that follow.

In addition to the mural, original music, inspired by the message, will be composed by a couple of scholars, and those recordings will be added to the NOIT website.

Great things really do happen when we all work together. 

I am honored to be working on this project, and look forward to taking every step with these wonderful students.

Culture on The Quad, Communities Commingled

The Illinois State University quad came alive Sunday with dance, color, and camaraderie both among Bloomington-Normal’s diverse but united Indian “communities” and between the cities’ Indian and non-Indian neighbors.

This year’s fifth annual Festival of India buoyed McLean County India Association (MCIA) President-Elect Archana Shekara, an ISU assistant professor of graphic design. But for Shekara, whose academic and personal worlds cross many cultures, the fun and fellowship are prelude to what she hopes to be an expanded outreach to and understanding with the community.

The first festivals were held at first the McLean County Museum of History and then Miller Park, “but since I teach here, I thought it would be so nice if we could do it here,” Shekara related.

“It’s a great collaboration between this university and the Indian community, the McLean County India Association,” she said. “People learn from each other – we’re having fun at this festival, but they’re also learning.”

The festival officially kicked off with the traditional Deep Prajavalan ceremony (see top photo at right) – the lighting of a lamp fashioned from flowers by Bloomington’s Krishna Flowers and Gardening -- led by 2015 MCIA President Uma Kallakuri, Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner, ISU’s College of Fine Arts Dean Jean M.K. Miller and Provost Janet Krejci, and Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal leader and Hindu Temple of Bloomington-Normal board member Mandava Rao.

In addition to onstage music and dance from throughout the subcontinent, the event featured Indian fashions, crafts and decorations, and spiritual, health information, and educational booths, as well as face-painting, a “bounce house,” and balloon animals. Representatives of the Twin Cities’ Hindu temple were joined by  members of Bloomington’s International Society for Krishna Consciousness – a local Hare Krishna group.

The festival also showcased Indian art including rangoli -- patterns created on the ground or floor traditionally using materials such as rice flour and often placed at the doorway of a temple or home, “welcoming people and warding off evil,” said Shekara, an ISU College of Fine Arts Service Award recipient.

Visitors feasted on a hefty “lunch thali” combination plate featuring either paneer masala and or vegetable biryani (a rice dish) or samosas (savory pastries) – according to Shekara, all vegetarian to bridge the various dietary/cultural traditions of India’s diverse regions. The festival drew Indian-Americans, temporary Indian workers, and others from at least 14 Indian states – an impressive feat of coordination a myriad of customs, preferences, and attitudes designed to “celebrate our diversity and our unity.”

“The first thing that we tell people is that ‘we are Indians -- leave those cultural differences aside,’” Shekara stressed. “We all come together and celebrate India as a country, and celebrate the similarities. We all speak different languages -- Uma and I speak a different language at home. Uma speaks a language called Telugu, and I speak Kannada. And we speak English -- that’s what unites us. It’s a ‘foreign’ language; it’s not even Indian.”

But the Festival of India also is an invitation to the non-Indian community. “More and more” Twin Citians from other cultures have dropped by for a new experience or to meet their neighbors or coworkers, reported Shekara, who canvassed “every organization I could think of” to promote the festival.

A long-time MCIA volunteer who originally “was just having fun doing it,” eventually recognized “all these little gaps that are there in the community.” The Hindu temple provides a focal point and “an identity” for the cities’ disparate Indian communities, but events like the festival provide a way both to “connect those dots” and to reach out to the community in which Bloomington-Normal Indians live, work, eat, and shop, but from which some may feel disconnected.

Shekara and the MCIA are working to connect the microcosmic Indian community with the community at large. She recently attended Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal’s annual strategy planning meeting, and has provided cultural training and certification for local day centers “trying to understand their customers who leave their children.”

“The festival is bringing a lot of non-Indians onto the quad and trying to help everyone understand a little bit of Indian culture,” Shekara said. “But more needs to be done.

“When I teach my students about cultural identity, my students tell me I’m the first Indian that they’ve interacted with, let alone teach. And then I teach European graphic design – Swiss graphic design – and I teach it with an accent. I kept thinking about all this, and I thought, ‘Maybe as a president-elect or as a president next year, I need to do something more than the festival.

“I invited (NIOT:B/N’s) Mike Matejka to come and talk to my class. If I’m a minority and I start talking, they’re going to think, ‘Oh, she’s just complaining.’ But when you bring in a Caucasion who starts talking about diversity issues, that’s when people just start listening – it’s different. Just a person’s color completely changes everybody’s attitude and mentality.

Archana Shekara signing prints. (Photo by ISU College of Fine Arts)

Archana Shekara signing prints. (Photo by ISU College of Fine Arts)

“So then I thought I needed to start going and meeting people in the community. That’s when we start having conversations. These conversations bring us together, and then that’s when we realize we are not the ‘other’ – we are all the same. We are just all so caught up in how we look that we forgot, and then we are self-conscious. But we are the same – we have the same heart, we have the same thinking. But there’s a little bit of a gap in the community – we see that especially in the workplace.”

Marc Making Fosters Artistic Skills of Differently Abled

Culture, arts, and even prejudice transcend racial, religious, or ethnic lines. The developmentally disabled also face challenges, obstacles, and ignorance, but an upcoming Bloomington exhibition will help differently abled artists make their cultural mark on the Twin Cities.

The Marc Making exhibition at the Jan Brandt Gallery, 1106 East Bell St., opens with a public reception from 5 to 7 p.m. January 24. Proceeds from the exhibition will benefit artists with developmental disabilities.

Marcfirst was started in 1955 by a group of families of children with disabilities in order to provide support to each other and to their children during a period in American history when children with disabilities were often excluded from the public school system. On November 18, 1955, the original non-profit corporation was incorporated as the McLean County Association for Mentally Retarded Children, which was later changed to Marc Center in 1980 and to Marcfirst in 2007.

Marcfirst has created Marc Making to offer a creative self-employment opportunity to artists making work with developmental disabilities. Marc Making 'goes beyond making great artwork as a means of self-expression by giving artists the additional support to explore ways to be involved in our local fine arts community and to generate income from their work."

The Jan Brandt Gallery

The Jan Brandt Gallery

According to Marcfirst, "it has been shown that participating in art activities increases an individual's self-esteem by allowing for expression, peer recognition, and creative thinking. It also offers additional occupational, cognitive and emotional goals to a wide range of skill sets and disabilities. The Marc Making program encourages individuals with disabilities to create and learn about art while learning how to run a business."

Proceeds from purchased artworks go directly to artists with developmental disabilities and the Marc Making program. The program also can use pre-stretched canvases, drawing pads, drawing paper, acrylic paint, brushes, pencils, pens, and most other art supplies. Any instructional books or videos demonstrating techniques also are useful.

Also crucial are individuals affiliated with an accessible art studio, gallery, university program, or museum that can invite artists to tour and learn more about the business side of being a self-employed artist. Art students or professional artists can donate a few hours to teach prospective artists.

Initial funding for the program was made possible from the Bloomington Normal Daybreak Rotary.

For information, call (309) 451-8888 or (309) 451-8888, ext.258.

Rick Pt. 2: Invisibility, Imposition, and Technology

Jamol, one of Rick Lewis' series of African-American male portraits

Jamol, one of Rick Lewis' series of African-American male portraits

Over the last quarter century, Illinois State University artist and Associate Dean of Students Rick Lewis has served as mentor to and confidante for many of ISU’s African-American students.  While today’s campus may not seem a hotbed of racial discourse or protest, that doesn’t mean the issue is dormant, Lewis stresses.

Lewis cites students who echo the concerns of Ralph Ellison’s landmark novel “The Invisible Man” – the feeling of being ignored or avoided by others because of their race. At the same time, others feel the pressure and, on occasion, the unwanted attention of being a minority in an institution of learning.                                     

Lewis concedes that “the academic system is what it is” -- a relatively closed universe that aside from curricular forays into culture and social justice focuses predominantly on the generic nuts-and-bolts of individual disciplines such as math or science. “Math has a history in African culture, but no math teacher’s going to sit there and explain that to students,” he said.

“People tend to be afraid to talk about issues of diversity and race, because they’re just not as competent in those areas,” Lewis maintains. “People believe that in the absence of conflict, things are okay. Here at ISU, nobody’s going around hanging effigies or spray painting offensive words on the walls. So people think things are okay.

“In situations where classes might begin to talk about issues around race, particularly around African-Americans, people look to the African-Americans in the classroom for answers, and those African-Americans have been offended because they’re looked upon as the expert around all issues African-American. They feel they’re not there to educate people – that’s the teacher’s responsibility. They’re there to learn.”

Lewis joins fellow artists Margaret LeJeune and Jason Patterson in a Jan. 9-Feb. 14 Bloomington art show focusing on portraiture, at the McLean County Arts Center, at 601 N. East Street. An accompanying reception is scheduled Friday, Jan. 16, from 5 to 7 p.m., while an “Art Talk” is set Tuesday, Feb. 3, at 6 p.m.  The show and related events are open to the public. Lewis will display portraits of African-American men from his ongoing series.

The McLean County Arts Center is open Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Wednesdays through Fridays, from 10 a.m.  to 5 p.m.; and Saturdays, noon to 4 p.m.

Lewis accepts the reality of students “self-segregating” by culture or race: Despite multicultural “engagements and interactions,” Lewis posits “people hang around the people who look like them.” What disturbs him more is a growing tendency among the millennial generation to detach from human relationships through smartphones, social networking, and other technologies. He sees Facebook largely enabling users to “be anonymous and make stupid comments” without considering opposing views and limiting one-on-one interactions to venues where individuals rely on the “social lubricant” of alcohol.

“These students don’t learn interpersonal skills when they’re connected to headphones and text messaging and not paying attention to what’s around them,” Lewis argued. “I question whether or not these students are prepared to have meaningful dialogues not only with people who are different than them but also with people who are just like them.”

Rick Pt. 1: Art as a Reflection on Humanity

Rick Lewis (Photo by Illinois State University)

Meet Jamol, Keith, Robert. If you saw them on the street, you might pass silently, skirt nervously around them, perhaps cross the street. Rick Lewis hopes that in a gallery setting, you’ll stop, reflect, want to get to know them just a bit better.

In an upcoming McLean County Arts Center show, Contemporary Portraiture, the Illinois State University associate dean of students and School of Art alumnus will display eight of an eventual series of 20 portraits of young African-American men.

Lewis’ somber portraits, largely of ISU students, have, in his words, been “stripped of the narrative” – of brand logos or symbols, background scenery, or other trappings that sometimes play into one-dimensional racial or socioeconomic stereotypes.

In that way, he argues, gallery visitors can “bring their own socialization process to the encounter,” taking time to study the essential human subject and, ideally, “internalize it.” And, in the process, perhaps lose some of the fear those images may hold for the socially uninitiated or underexposed and “look for commonalities with this guy.”

 “If you took a poll of people who’ve had experience with or exposure to art, as kids or even as adults, I’d be hard-pressed to believe that they’ve seen people of color depicted in a lot of the art they’ve seen, whether it’s abstract or representational (realistic),” Lewis suggests.

When you see other people, naturally you’re triggered to want to know what their story is...
— Rick Lewis

“Combine that with how black men have been depicted throughout history, in the media. Go all the way back to some of the cartoons of African-Americans around (the era of) slavery and emancipation or Jim Crow, and how black folks are depicted as either buffoons or as brutes and monster, dehumanized or made into monsters to create a sense of fear. Think about how that’s evolved throughout our entire country’s history, where you have a group of men who are now marginalized, criminalized, only seen as athletes or entertainers or criminals. People have some very incorrect assumptions or stereotypes about these groups.

“Some people may become a little more self-aware of who they are, just gazing at this artwork and it gazing back. Some people have had very rare opportunities to stand close to African-American males, to pay attention to what they look like and who they are. I like to run on Constitution Trail – I’m running south on Constitution Trail, and I see two African-American males walking in the same direction. We’re about 100 yards from the end of the trail, and I speak to these guys as I pass, no big deal. I get to the end of the trail, and I happen to notice a white guy getting on the trail. He’s going to be heading in the same direction these guys are coming, and you wonder what that encounter’s going to be like.

“If his self-awareness can be raised through this encounter, you would hope that when he gets into real-life situations, he might have a different reaction. He might say, ‘This artwork doesn’t harm me. Maybe I can develop a relationship with a total stranger and strike up a conversation, and find out there’s really nothing I need to be fearful about.'”

Lewis joins fellow artists Margaret LeJeune and Jason Patterson in the Jan. 9-Feb. 14  Bloomington art show, at 601 N. East Street. An accompanying reception is scheduled Friday, Jan. 16, from 5 to 7 p.m., while an “Art Talk” is set Tuesday, Feb. 3, at 6 p.m.  The show and related events are open to the public.

The McLean County Arts Center is open Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Wednesdays through  Fridays, from 10 a.m.  to 5 p.m.; and Saturdays, noon to 4 p.m.

Lewis, a 29-year ISU veteran, plans to complete his series in 2016, to coincide with his planned retirement. He admits 20 portraits “was a number I picked out of a hat,” but nonetheless one he hopes will prove “impactful” and illuminating in later exhibitions.

Since his 1987 graduation from the university, Lewis’ academic “passion” has been working with the university’s male African-American population, a group with whom he’s shared the too-frequent sensation of being “invisible” -- finding some colleagues reluctant to interact or even make eye contact, prone toward minimizing feedback or contributions, “or treating you as if you were suspect.”

He had largely given up painting by 1993, but the concept of using his art to illuminate the African-American male began to “incubate” over the last 20 years.

Lewis sees the visual arts, and portraiture in particular, as a trigger for curiosity and, ultimately, empathy.

“Art comes in all shapes and sizes, produced by all types of people,” Lewis states. “Mine just happens to be realism, which people tend to be able to connect with a little bit easier. When you see other people, naturally you’re triggered to want to know what their story is.”

Angelique: Arts and the Humanity

Angelique Racki

Breaking Chains & Advancing Increase/School of Arts

Bloomington-based BCAI School of Arts is positioning itself to be able to provide maximum cultural experience through the arts. We are undertaking an Indian Arts branch, Hispanic/Latino Arts branch, and expanding our Asian Arts and Urban Arts branches.

In this way, not only can each culture have an outlet, a platform, and a voice, but if we can cross-culturally train each individual, how much MORE understanding and how much LESS false judgment would there be?

Here at BCAI, our prime focus is not to teach art. It is to use the training itself and the atmosphere provided to increase wisdom, teamwork, accountability, responsibility, and most importantly, self-value. We are open to all races, ages, social statuses, and cultures. We do cater to those who may not otherwise be able to afford such a necessary outlet. 

One of our teens perhaps summarizes the personal value of the BCAI experience best: "BCAI's afterschool program helped me feel more 'me' and understand the people who get bullied."

BCAI is located at 510 East Washington Street. For information, call (309) 532-4272, or visit