On Feb. 24, Ginger Ewing spoke for Gonzaga’s Unity Multicultural Education Center (UMEC) on art and activism and the Black Lives Matter mural in Downtown Spokane.
Ewing was named Spokane’s Woman of the Year in 2020 for her devotion to the Spokane art community. She is the executive director and co-founder of Terrain, a nonprofit dedicated to creating a vibrant and engaging arts community in Spokane through different events and programs.
For the art and activism panel, she was joined by Carl Richardson, an art professor at Spokane Falls Community College and Shantell Jackson, a local artist and assistant director of equity, leadership and community at Washington State University, Spokane.
Jonas Hyllseth, a programming intern for UMEC, led the organization of the event.
“Ginger Ewing was selected to be a speaker because of the impact that she has had on the Spokane community,” Hyllseth said.
Ewing’s presentation focused on the role art plays within activism. Her work at Terrain helps empower the voices of underrepresented artists in the city by hosting events to boost the art culture in the area.
One of the many parts within Terrain is Window Dressing, which features public art pieces that fill vacant windows or buildings. To Ewing, public art is important because it draws people in and starts conversations that might otherwise not happen.
While activism is a deep part of a lot of art pieces, Terrain really began using art as activism in 2016 with their "Rally" event in response to Donald Trump’s election to office.
The summer was a key turning point in Ewing’s activism. Art played a key role in the Black Lives Matter movement, from the naked ballerina in front of Portland’s police to the 14-year-old Black ballerinas dancing on the steps of a Robert E. Lee statue.
“I started to recognize the social power art was having not only at this moment, but for the movement at large,” Ewing said.
Moving with that belief, she worked with 14Four and Seven2 to organize the Black Lives Matter mural in Downtown Spokane. The mural features 16 black Spokane artists who painted their voices and stories into each letter.
Richardson, who painted the letter B, used graphics rooted in West African textiles and silhouettes of a Black woman and man to direct the eyes to the rest of the mural.
“The activism in art comes through presenting the work and hoping that people connect with it and by doing that, it allows them to go through that process as well,” Richardson said.
Jackson painted the letter K, and used West African textiles and colors to celebrate Blackness and Black contributions to America. She described the art process as therapeutic, and explained the process of deciding what to paint and what it meant to her. While Jackson’s art may not explicitly show activism, she spoke on how it is activism when related to her and her Blackness.
Ewing stressed the importance of activism and art and how they build from each other. While Terrain has always been dedicated to uplifting underrepresented artists in Spokane, they now intend to keep activism as a focal point in their organization.
“The Black Lives Matter movement is not the end of activism at Terrain,” Ewing said.