Storyteller Valerie Tutson, and muralist Munir Mohammed, two prominent artist educators from Providence’s southside, will receive Sister Ann Keefe awards for their contributions to the arts, arts education, and social justice in Providence.
Valerie Tutson, a Brown University graduate, is a world-renowned storyteller whose repertoire includes folktales, personal and historical stories with an emphasis on black traditions. She is a founding member and the Executive Director of the Rhode Island Black Storytellers housed at the Southside Cultural Center, and director of FUNDA FEST: An Annual Celebration of Black Storytelling.
“I was lucky to be starting my work in our community at the time when Sister Ann was busy building things,” says Valerie Tutson, and “was inspired by her understanding of the importance of the arts in community and her vision to address issues of poverty and violence by first creating CityArts, and then an institute for the study and practice of non-violence. Thinking of her reminds me how important real community relationships are in building a truly vibrant beloved community.”
Munir D. Mohammed is a native of Ghana, West Africa. He was born in Kumasi the second largest city in Ghana and as a child he was not encouraged to draw or paint. In 1988 he moved to the United States, where he has participated in over 30 individual and group shows and painted more than 25 community and school setting murals. In 1996 he co-founded The International Gallery for Heritage and Culture. He is the Artistic Director and has supervised an average of 35 AmeriCorps artists per year, providing art and cultural education programs in schools and in the community. In 1999, he received his Master of Arts Degree (MA) from Rhode Island School of Design. Munir has taught Mural Design Course at Rhode Island College and Drawing class at University of Rhode Island.
a reflection by Sadie Bills, CityArts AmeriCorps member at Delsesto Middle School, 2016-2017
Art is all about defying the norm. Artists work every day to resist the strong cultural current of financial security and social acceptance. They are relentlessly preoccupied with the struggle to embrace mistakes and the greater unknown. The rest of society tasks them with turning decay and turmoil into something worth looking at, even if just for a moment. Artists teach us lessons when all other forms of communication break down.
In these challenging times, artists and non-artists share the same responsibilities: calling bluff on things that don’t make sense, preserving equality, and keeping routes for communication open to all.
I can think of no other demographic that would benefit most from these strengths and skills than today’s youth.
“Art is about making mistakes,” we wrote on our Community Expectations page for the Delsesto Middle School after school art program. Our program is not about passing the time until dismissal, but about creating a safe social-emotional place where we can bring what we are confused by, worried, passionate, or happy about. We tell students this on the first day of class, and then we make art together.
The Community Expectations page says the following from students:
“Life always gives you a second chance,” “Don’t give up on your dreams,” “be kind,” “be a friend,” – and my personal favorite – “no shaking, humans or trees.”
Our students undoubtedly know what resilience looks like, and we are constantly thinking of how to help them enact it.