New Forward-Thinking Student Art Group Forms

A new UA student group, Art Forward, has organized to “create a more inclusive and artistically empowered community for students at UA, members of the Tuscaloosa community, and people everywhere.”

Ivy Borden

The founder and new president, sophomore Ivy Borden, said that the members of the group plan to combine art and activism “to empower individuals and communities by expanding accessibility to art.” They want to break through barriers to art put up through a tradition of privileging certain groups. The members intend to “take tangible steps to dismantle such artistic restrictions that may currently be in place within the University of Alabama and the Tuscaloosa area, as well as incorporate the use of art to combat discrimination,” according to their constitution.

Borden, who is a double major in art history and Southern Society and Culture (New College), with a minor in the Blount Scholars Program, wondered how she could be “more actively engaged in the fight for inclusivity.” She said, “I thought, what more obvious way than to start within my own community.”

“After briefly entertaining the thought of becoming a vigilante-social justice-graffiti artist,” she added, “I got started working on a student organization that could work with the community and use art as a vehicle for empowerment.”

The new group met for the first time via Zoom, where they discussed ideas and elected officers. Ivy Borden was elected president; Sophia Ancira, vice president; Xavier Williams, treasurer; Talya Whyte, director of diversity, equity, and inclusion; and Olivia Bennes, secretary. Faculty advisor is Dr. Wendy Castenell, assistant professor of art history.

Sophia Ancira, who serves as Art Forward’s vice president, is a junior, double majoring in art history and marketing with a minor in Blount Scholars Program. Ancira said this is her first experience participating in art activism: “I am really excited to be a part of an organization on campus that recognizes the power art can have on personal and community growth, acceptance, and unity. Art is such a powerful tool for self-expression and should be accessible to everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status, sexuality, gender identity, ethnicity or ability.”

Talya Whyte said she has not participated in art activism before. Whyte is a senior psychology major with a double minor in neuroscience and Global and Cultural Perspectives, and was elected director of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). She said she joined Art Forward “because I am a Black artist who is interested in equity in the arts.” Her job as director of DEI, she said, “is to make sure our group is increasing equity and being inclusive to all groups. I’d like to make sure young kids that may not imagine they could be an artist could find the confidence to pursue the arts.”

Borden said that the group has lots of ideas of future projects, but many will have to wait until restrictions around COVID-19 are eased. “One idea I hope to see happen once life returns to normal is an annually recurring art fair on UA’s campus,” she said. “UA students, faculty and staff could have their own booths to display and sell their art, like Kentuck or Magic City Art Connection, but Roll Tide style! We’ve also thrown around the idea of using an event like this to fundraise for a cause, with ticket proceeds going to a particular organization that is relevant to our goals of inclusivity and empowerment.”

“Art Forward can support students, faculty, and the Tuscaloosa community,” Ancira said, “by hosting art therapy events (we all need a break from screens and the mental exhaustion of being online all day for classes, work, or to look at the news), fundraising to have free/low-cost art supplies available to students at the University and local schools, and showcase student artists online or through art fairs.”

For information about joining Art Forward, go to this page.

For more information about The University of Alabama’s programs in art history and studio art, visit our Degree Programs page.