Ypsilanti District Library to host virtual version of traveling national exhibit on civil rights

A touring in-person exhibit about the intersection of visual media and the civil rights movement has been adapted to a virtual experience, sponsored by the Ypsilanti District Library (YDL).


The exhibit, "For All the World To See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights," is adapted from an exhibition organized by the Center for Art, Design, and Visual Culture at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in partnership with the National Museum of African American History and Culture. It was originally set to make a stop at YDL's Whittaker Road location.


Sam Killian, community relations coordinator for the YDL, says major exhibits like this one, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities' NEH On the Road program in cooperation with Mid-America Arts Alliance, are typically reserved years in advance. YDL staff had to make a tough decision on whether to cancel or adapt the exhibit.


"With everything else going on in the community and in the country, we thought it was too important of a topic to not do anything with it," Killian says. "The exhibit covers the '40s through '70s, how visual culture shaped the discussion of race relations, and that is still a relevant topic today."


YDL staff set up the exhibit and created a virtual tour of it, plus a website dedicated to supplemental activities.


One of the supplemental activities centers around civil rights photographer Gordon Parks. The activity asks visitors to contemplate why Gordon called photography his "weapon of choice" and to upload a photo that illustrates social justice.


Another activity is called "Civil Rights in Ypsi - Looking through the Local Lens." The activity contains links to the library's A.P. Marshall African American Oral History Archive, the YDL's new "Ypsi Stories" podcast, and the Ypsilanti StoryMap. The StoryMap is still under construction but will allow viewers to find points of interest in Ypsilanti on a map and learn about the history of different local sites, including Ypsilanti City Hall.


Patrons are encouraged to send in their responses to the exhibit and supplemental activities, to be compiled into a digital "scrapbook," Killlian says.


"In some of the activities, we hope people will spend time thinking about the prompts and submit art, photography, writing, and reflections, so we can put those altogether as a scrapbook that reflects ... the community dialogue," he says.


The scrapbook of patron reflections will be available online, and some sort of physical display of those responses will also be available when YDL buildings reopen to the public.


An activity kit has also been built around the exhibit. Patrons with good internet connections and a printer can download the materials. Others may email staff to get a physical kit of materials for curbside pickup from one of the library branches.


The virtual tour video, a link to request an activity kit, and supplemental activities are all available here.


Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.


Photo courtesy of YDL.