Listening to Black Voices

ArtCenter’s Change Lab podcast examines the Black experience in art, design and higher education.
Published on Oct 2, 2020

Change Lab host Lorne M. Buchman (left) with guest Robert C. Davidson Jr.

Since the death of George Floyd, Black voices have been amplified in the public square, and in the new season of the ArtCenter College of Design podcast Change Lab, host Lorne M. Buchman explores the Black experience in art, design and higher education through a series of interviews. The podcasts, which address ways to create change, run about an hour long.

Buchman, ArtCenter’s fifth president, launched the seventh season of the free, biweekly Change Lab: Conversations on Transformation and Creativity podcast series this week with a 49-minute interview with Robert C. Davidson Jr. Born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, Davidson served as chairman of ArtCenter’s Board of Trustees until recently. 

Davidson is not an artist; after attending Morehouse College in Atlanta (where he is a trustee) and the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, he became a venture capitalist focusing on minority-controlled businesses and an entrepreneur. He joined the ArtCenter board in 2004 and was on the presidential search committee that selected Buchman.

Although Buchman had known Davidson for over a decade and “for all intents and purposes, he was my boss,” the host wasn’t aware of how much racism Davidson faced growing up in the South or the “subtle bias he experiences in his daily life now.”

In the podcast, Davidson talks about the importance of addressing change now. “We’re at a watershed moment” because “young people of all colors, all backgrounds, all shapes, all sizes, all genders” are involved in the current movement, he said. “These young people of today are saying: ‘Enough is enough. We want to live in a different type of world.’ This is a time of change.”

Besides Davidson, this season’s podcasts include interviews with Silicon Valley design strategist Kevin Bethune, pioneering advertising photographer Barbara DuMetz, African American studies professor and author Cedrick Johnson, visual artist Grace Lynne Haynes and transgender rights activist and co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Elle Hearns.

Business consultant Bethune gave a TED Talk about “The 4 Superpowers of Design.” In 2018, he founded the think tank dreams • design + life.

ArtCenter alum DuMetz has worked as a professional photographer for 40 years, shooting Black celebrities like Maya Angelou, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Miles Davis, Pam Grier and Rosa Parks. She also worked on national ad campaigns for major brands like Kraft, Coca-Cola, Nestle and McDonald’s. 

Johnson is an associate professor of political science and African American Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He’s the author of Revolutionaries to Race Leaders: Black Power and the Making of African American Politics (University of Minnesota Press; 2007).

California-born Haynes visual artist currently based in New Jersey who focuses on the representation of Black female bodies, taking on complex topics and stereotypes of Black femininity.

Hearns is an organizer, speaker, strategist and writer who currently serves as the executive director of The Marsha P. Johnson Institute, a transgender rights advocacy group.

None of the interviews were conducted in person, but Buchman believes the interviews show the participants to be wonderfully open-hearted and open-minded. Overall, Buchman has found hope in the conversations, which show how people were able to transform and transcend bigotry. Buchman hopes their stories serve as a model for listeners.

“The podcast is a wonderful opportunity to expand the conversation” with nuance, personal experience and personal stories, he said. That approach gives the series depth the times demand.

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