Introspection on representation

First-Ward Councilman Julius Oliver criticized the selection of art pieces for not having a better representation of minorities.

By Elizabeth Coss

The Butler Institute of American Art picked several initial pieces of art to be placed around Youngstown as part of a Youngstown CityScape project, but the pieces were criticized by First-Ward Councilman Julius Oliver. New pieces to place around the city will be decided on by the end of the year. 

Oliver said he wished the city and its residents would have been considered when the art pieces — which are paintings of only caucasian individuals — were chosen. Oliver said he wanted more accurate representation of the city within the art, and for minorities to be considered in the decision process.

The criticisms of the lack of diversity in the selected pieces led the Butler to invite Oliver to come on a guided tour with Louis Zona, the museum’s curator, and view the museum’s diverse collection of art.  

“When the local politician made his statement, that upset a lot of people. I invited him to come,” Zona said. 

While Oliver said he’s been visiting the Butler for years, he did meet with Zona to explore its diversity.

“There are so many people that don’t understand the absolute treasure we have with the Butler Art Museum,” Oliver said. 

Zona said the Butler is proud of what it’s doing in terms of representing diverse art and artists.

“We’re constantly on the lookout for really great artists who are minorities to showcase them. We’re very proud of our history of showing great African American artists,” Zona said. 

Currently, the Butler is showcasing Teo Nguyen, a Vietnamese American artist from Minnesota who makes photo-realistic acrylic paintings of landscapes. The museum also is spotlighting a regional photography exhibit titled “Dismissed Abilities” by Alexa Daher and Kristyn Wagner that depicts the struggles of living with disabilities.The exhibit will run until January.

Every February, the Butler salutes Black History Month with an exhibit of art by an African American artist. This coming February, contemporary realism art by Philip Smallwood will be on display.  

The Butler also houses resident artist Bill Dotson, who is known for photo-releastic portraits of individuals.

“His subjects are always African American athletes, famous people in the community,” Zona said. Dotson has created portraits of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Butler’s board of trustees, both of which are on display at the museum. 

The Butler also acts as an educational center, not only for college students, but also for children in the surrounding area, according to Wendy Swick, the Butler’s public relations director. The Butler is free to the public and many visitors often peruse its artwork looking for inspiration for a project of their own. 

“A lot of the schools have eliminated art education,” Swick said. “With our Good Neighbors program and our school tours — we mostly serve the inner city schools and replace that art education — and so kids of all school ages and all backgrounds can get the inspiration and get that cultural enrichment.”

The Butler also offers summer camps to several local schools including Campbell, Warren, Struthers and Youngstownto to help promote art education and encourage children to pursue art.

The Butler Institute of American Art is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays. It is closed on Mondays.