2020 Deinum Prize winner uses art, mentorship to combat institutionalized racism
Portland State University artist Michael Bernard Stevenson Jr., a candidate for MFA in Art and Social Practice, has been awarded the Andries Deinum Prize for Visionaries and Provocateurs from the PSU College of the Arts. The award comes with a $10,000 prize, which they will use to fund the continuation and expansion of their ongoing Afro Contemporary Art Class project at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School in Northeast Portland.
Stevenson’s creative work is rooted in the concept of relationships and how people, as community members, can learn from each other and honor each other and themselves. As a social practice artist, they seek opportunities to home in on the actions, rituals and cultural exchanges that may appear to be ordinary, but in fact transcend to create powerful connections and bind communities together. Through their work, they have explored the role of food, matriarchs and grandmothers, neighbors, and community celebrations, among many other topics. They are dedicated to using art and social practice to mentor and develop young people of marginalized groups as an approach to combating institutionalized racism.
Stevenson launched the Afro Contemporary Art Class in 2020 as an after-school collaborative educational project for students in third through fifth grades. Through hands-on exploration of the work of Afro contemporary artists and leaders, the project enables young students, especially those of African descent, to learn more about the history and context that shapes their lives, culture, and social experience. They guide the students through interactive, immersive projects that provide opportunities for reflection and deeper understanding of the African diaspora. In this process of deep investigation, the students develop self-confidence through learning more about their own creative selves.
“In the Afro Contemporary Art Class, young people are able to reflect on their place and position within the Black Experience,” Stevenson says.
They and their young students have explored the work of artists Nyame Brown, Emory Douglas and Hank Willis Thomas and others. In studying the art and activism of Emory Douglas, who was the Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party, the students explored and reenacted the Black Panthers’ Free Breakfast for School Children Program. The students created artwork based on Douglas’s designs as a way of understanding his creative process, and they interviewed former local Black Panther members Kent Ford and Percy Hampton about their experiences as a part of the group.
“Art is the medium for engagement, but the goal is to allow human interaction, build relationships and help create opportunities for creativity and self-discovery,” said Stevenson.
Stevenson plans to use the $10,000 prize to continue and expand the Afro Contemporary Art Class, bringing in additional guest artists and administrative and documentary support for the class.
“The jury sees their project as an investment in an underserved part of our community and its future,” said Michael Tingley, principal of Bora Architects and a member of the Deinum Prize selection committee. “We loved that [the project] focused on impacting children when they are at their most influential stage of life, using art as the lens to explore and understand context, history and culture as it relates to the variety of experiences in this country coming from the African diaspora. To quote Maya Angelou, ‘You can’t really know where you are going until you know where you have been.”’
“Michael’s project is like planting a seed that has the potential to grow in impact, spread to other schools and be transformational within the Portland school system,” Tingley continued. “Our city needs this kind of leadership and the impacts of their project may not be fully realized for a generation or more, something the jury found particularly intriguing.”
About the Andries Deinum Prize
Stevenson is the fifth recipient of the Andries Deinum Prize for Visionaries and Provocateurs, the largest cash award in the PSU College of the Arts. The prize is given to a student who is committed to expanding public dialogue via creative artistic expression, original research or an innovative project highlighting the role and value of art in the 21st century.
The prize is named for the late film educator and PSU professor Andries Deinum (1918-1995), who transformed Portland’s cultural and intellectual landscape through his innovative use of film in education. The prize was established with gifts from devoted former students, colleagues and others inspired by Deinum’s humanist values.
2020 Andries Deinum Prize Jury
Artistic Director, Artists Repertory Theatre
Principal, Bora Architects
Drake Ramberg, PSU ’85
Blue Ribbon Studios, Nike
Ginny Adelsheim, PSU ’70
Artist and co-founder, Adelsheim Vineyard
Jim Wygant, PSU ’64
Community arts supporter