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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Working to heal myself, my community and those around me’: Spokane artist named activist-in-residence for Eastern Washington University

Shantell Jackson, an award-winning artist in Spokane, has been named the Activist in Residence at Eastern Washington University.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)

Shantell Jackson arrived in Spokane in November 2004, eyeing a career in higher education and focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion at Eastern Washington University. After almost two decades of artistic contributions to the city of Spokane, Jackson returned to Eastern as this year’s Activist in Residence for EWU’s Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies program.

“I am very excited for the opportunity to be the activist for 2022. My love for Black humanity and justice for all has created a passion for working to heal myself, my community and those around me,” Jackson said in a news release announcing her residency.

The activist in residence program invites local community members to educate the EWU community. Former activists in residence include Liz Moore, the director of Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane; environmentalist Jace Bylenga; and Jac Archer, an activist with special interest in diversity, equity, civic engagement and sexuality. Jackson is the first artist named in the program’s nine-year history.

The resident builds a curriculum in their area of expertise that reflects their work in the community and leans on the ongoing EWU coursework as well. Students participated in a survey from last year’s program cited the need for a “healing space.”

“Our topics for the year are always driven by what students are talking about, what they’re learning,” said Lisa Logan, the Women’s and Gender Education Center manager. “That’s why healing was the perfect choice for this year. I couldn’t image a better choice when we’re in year two of a pandemic and there’s so much healing that needs to happen.”

Logan facilitated the seminars with Jackson, who has had her hand in Spokane’s art scene since her arrival. A Buffalo native, her work explores the relationship between herself and others, and how community flourishes when authenticity is celebrated.

The residency serves as a full circle moment for Jackson, as she worked as a coordinator for academics and multicultural education in EWU’s Housing & Residential Life for 15 years.

As an active member in Spokane’s artistic community, Jackson said the residency is a chance to bridge people and “discuss multiple barriers.” Her recent work includes a residency at the Hive, participating in the downtown Black Lives Matter mural and hosting an exhibition that celebrated Black womanhood and literature. During the Hive residency, Jackson took on projects that were displayed throughout exhibitions, including “Her Words to Life: A Celebration of Black Women’s Voices.” Jackson’s work included art interpretations of literary work by Toni Morrison, Audre Lorde and other Black writers.

“This residency is my opportunity to do that and I get to share my literal artwork,” Jackson said. “My work focuses on the stories of Blackness, the beauty of Blackness and the joy of Blackness. I’ve kept that in mind while building the curriculum.”

Jackson threaded the five-session curriculum to encourage students to understand how issues affecting America fuel issues that are specific to the Spokane area. The sessions discuss privilege, power and survival of the community. For Jackson, art and healing go “hand and hand” as the practice gives space to chew through uneasy feelings and start new emotional journeys. During the residency, Jackson embraces activist and singer Nina Simone’s idea of an artist reflecting the times they live in as a duty.

EWU encourages the use of personal experience as scholarship. Jackson calls the practice “bridging the personal and communal experience” within society. With the Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies program leaning on personal experiences, Jackson’s artistic approach aligns with it.

“I explained to the class that I will be centering the Black experience, because that is my experience,” Jackson said. “I can tell you facts and figures from other scholars but for this residency, I’m using my experience and my stories and then drawing in other, real-world experience to show how it overlaps.”

Logan found Jackson’s experience and identity “mandatory” during the residency, since different identity markers experience oppression and healing in different ways. Welcoming diverse teachers will “help the students in the long run.”

“We’re making sure students leave Eastern equipped and ready to analyze multiple parts of themselves and multiple forms of oppression, but the way we fight against oppression and analyze it have to be intersectional,” Logan said.

Along with the residency curriculum and program, EWU’s gender studies program is collaborating with Sonja Durr’s Visual Communication Design for Social Change for the third year. This year’s prompt – the theme for those who participate – asks students to depict the history of a Black activist and movement.

Some student submissions have included artwork that shines light on Marsha P. Johnson, the Black transwoman and activist who was one of the key figures in the Stonewall uprising in 1969 for gay rights.

“This theme strongly encourages students to address intersectionality as much as possible,” Durr said. “This teaches students about the systemic problems in the country. We’re teaching the students about some bigger issues through the projects we take on, especially this prompt that asked them to discuss issues that Black people historically face that are still issues today.”

The workshops conclude Wednesday, with a final virtual session on Intersections of Identity: Individual & Collective Healing from 3:30 to 5 p.m. It is free and open to the public, and participants can register at Previous workshops are also accessible through EWU’s archive.