Summit clinician spearheads anti-racist art project

Wildwood fifth grader Krisanae Miller submitted this art to the Anti-Racist Art Project.Photo: Erin Edison

Following a year of protest and racial unrest throughout the country, many searched for ways in which they could join the movement towards a less divided world. For Summit Academy clinician Erin Edinson, this meant creating the Anti-Racist Art Project. 

When designing this project, Edinson wanted to allow “students of all ages to express how they view, perceive, and navigate how to be anti-racist within their own lives and circles.” Submissions were restricted to either photography or physical artwork, but aside from that, the creation process was very open-ended. This was a district-wide project and included submissions from the elementary schools up through the high school. 

Before deciding on a concrete idea, Edinson was inspired by the work she and other educators do at Summit. “When I [thought] about how our students best learn and grow, art instantly came into my mind,” said Edinson. “As a clinician, I am always trying to think of ways to help students navigate challenging emotions and feelings. Art has been used as a therapeutic tool for years…so with [that] in mind, and also trying to find ways to connect and bridge students to an anti-racist agenda, the combination between the two just seemed like a natural fit.” 

After finding this initial connection, Edinson reached out to Dave Slovin, the principal at Summit Academy, and from there turned to the town of Amherst, eventually resulting in the project being combined with the town’s first annual Juneteenth Celebration. 

When Edinson initially structured this project, she defined anti-racist artwork as “a bridge between expression/perspective and delivering a personal message around anti-racism.” However, when she began receiving and looking through the submissions, the variety and originality of the submissions blew her away. The diversity of the artists’ personal expressions of anti-racism made her reevaluate her own definition of what the project could look like. “[The artworks] turned into visions that I may have never really connected to anti-racism,” said Edinson. “And yet [these] students just taught me what that connection was for them.” 

Edinson is incredibly grateful for her experience in orchestrating this project, especially in regards to the “amazing people” she has worked on it with. She found these individuals to be “dedicated to really working and putting energy into not only providing [their] students with a platform for change, but also their schools and outside communities.” Additionally, she explained that “seeing the students’ artwork is beyond inspirational and empowering and I could not be prouder of their work.” 

Edinson finds constant inspiration in the lessons that she, and fellow educators, are able to learn from students. “Our students teach us [so much],” she said. “And projects like this not only [share] student perspectives, but also have the ability to change the perspective of the educators and staff that are teaching those same students.”

While the final presentation style is not yet finalized, Edinson hopes that when people get a chance to see the artworks, they will learn from and be inspired by them. If she had to choose one specific underlying message she hopes people would take away, it would be “that in order for us to work together to bring about change, we must allow and encourage our students to constantly be working with a growth mindset. We cannot be afraid to have hard conversations with our students around racism and what it looks like when we talk about dismantling white supremacy.” Edinson hopes that after doing this project, “students, teachers, staff, etc., start to take what they learn inside [the] school system and begin to spread these teachings and trainings out into the community.”

And although this is just the first year of the Anti-Racist Art Project, Edinson really hopes to make it an annual event.

“Imagine if you have a kiddo that starts in first grade, and every year they submit something. What does that look like? How different does that message from them look?” asked Edinson. “It’s such an unbelievable thought, and it fills me to think that a paper that looks one way for a student one year, years later could look completely different and that message has changed, it’s morphed, it’s turned into something that they didn’t even know yet.”