Staff at African American Students Services believe one way to make sure students at The University of New Mexico feel heard is through art; prompting the program to launch a campus-wide art project called Joy is Vital.

“Trust life, and it will teach you, in joy and sorrow all you need to know.” - James Baldwin, American novelist

Program staff said in a time where so many feel uncertain amid political and social tensions, they wanted students to find ways to express joy through art. The idea began when African American Students Services (AASS) partnered with Tamarind Institute to host an artist talk Nov. 12.

“Appreciating art is holding value for the work but also making the effort to understand the lived experience of the artist,” said Johana Gourdin, AASS senior student success specialist. “I wanted to take it a step forward and include students and make sure they’re having a conversation about arts meaning and value.”

And what better way to include students in the conversation, than to have them create art.

Staff found that American novelist, playwright, essayist, poet and activist James Baldwin helped push the narrative when they found the quote, “Trust life, and it will teach you, in joy and sorrow all you need to know.” A message, Gourdin said, that so clearly evokes the theme of the project.

ASUNM Arts and Crafts Studio joined the collaboration and provided 18 paint kits to students. Rudy Montoya, an advisor with the Arts and Crafts Studio, said staff was already working to find an alternative to re-create its annual ASUNM Arts and Crafts Fair. The team decided to develop a digital art book that will highlight art and artists.

“We recognize the need for community connecting now more than ever,” Montoya said. “We connected with AASS to collaborate and make a larger impact with our combined resources. This allowed us to support the project with art kits, display space, scholarship incentive and an opportunity for students to be published in our digital art book.”

Students have had two weeks to create something relevant to the prompt, Joy is Vital and the James Baldwin quote. Once the paintings are collected, students' work will be displayed in the Students Union Building, critiqued and select pieces will be reproduced.

“When I think about the narrative of Black people, so much of our story told is about the turmoil, trauma and pain and while all of that is very real, no one talks about the many reasons we smile,” Gourdin said. “But that’s what I love about this project though; it’s for everybody to enjoy and learn from. I think everyone is feeling divided but a good place to start is talking about the things that keep us grounded, things that make us who we are and most often it’s culture that drives us back together.”

Paintings are due by Monday, Oct. 26. AASS will also host a virtual digital showcase of the paintings Wednesday, Nov. 4 at 4 p.m.

“I want students to find joy in spite of all the sorrow happening around us and this could be that joy for someone.”