A wide shot of a ceramics studio, featuring students working with pottery wheels and other tools.

SAIC at the White House

Performance photo credits: Jati Lindsay; exhibition curators are Daria Brit Green and Ebany Binks

SAIC Fashion faculty member and interdisciplinary artist Cheryl Pope (BFA 2003, MDes 2010) and SAIC student Nyugen Elvin Smith (Low-Res MFA 2016) have been invited to the White House in honor of National Youth Justice Awareness month.

On October 14, Pope will present a program titled “Justice and Opportunity: The Power of the Arts,” which she developed in collaboration with Nathan Diamond, Director of the Arts for Washington, DC Public Schools, and the cultural production organization, Project&. Focusing on juvenile justice, Pope's ongoing project titledJUST YELL / POETRY as SELF DEFENSE brings two new performances to the White House produced in collaboration with and performed by youth from Chicago and Washington, DC.

The event will also consist of three panel discussions and small group art-making sessions. These groups include White House employees working in the arts, such as the chief calligrapher, speechwriter, and videographer, paired with invited contemporary artists Allison Glenn (Dual MA 2012), Scheherazade Tillet (MA 2005), Nyugen Elvin Smith, and JC Lenochan as well as youth from Chicago and DC. Each group is challenged to generate a work that merges the aesthetics of the state and the aesthetics of urban contemporary experience responding to issues surfaced in the morning panels and performances. The resulting artwork will be exhibited at Eastern High, a DC Public School.

The next day, on October 15, Pope will perform a new collaborative work with Low-Res graduate student Nyugen Elvin Smith, addressing issues of juvenile justice. Performed in the Indian Treaty Room at the White House, Pope and Smith begin seated at a typewriter in the center of the room wearing official referee uniforms. DC youth enter the room two at a time, whispering poems and truths written and submitted by incarcerated youth in the DC Incarcerated Youth Program, as Pope and Smith play the roles of recorder, interpreter, and questioner, typing their Truths into a document they consider Evidence.

These carbon-backed documents produce an exact copy that is available for viewers to take, as a means of continuing to extend the reach of these voices and to break the silence around the issue of juvenile justice.

“This invitation to the White House is an opportunity for these young voices to be seen and heard, face to face with those who have the power to actually make legal changes,” says Pope. “Through this interaction, they will see the values and importance of hearing how the juvenile justice system is affecting the lives of young people.”

This is the second time in 2015 a member of SAIC's community has engaged with the White House. Earlier this year George Aye, Assistant Professor in the Department of Architecture, Interior Architecture, and Designed Objects, was asked to participate in a briefing on President Obama's Climate Action Plan. The cofounder of the design firm, Greater Good Studio, Aye was part of a group of small business owners who visited the White House and served as consultants for the President's policy on sustainability and climate change issues.