Recognition of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthdate has been a tradition at The University of Iowa since 1969, and the national holiday has been observed through human rights programs since its inception in 1986. In 1990 the University initiated the Human Rights convocation program. The convocation has been an opportunity for serious thinking by all of us about issues of social justice, human rights, and world peace.
An official University holiday was designated in 1995 to provide an opportunity to engage the University community in a discussion of the human values that the King holiday epitomizes. These initial events have grown into a campus wide celebration that engages faculty, staff, students and community members to give lectures, discussions, and cultural arts presentations.
Annually we collaborate with the Human Rights Committee to create a campaign based on a selected MLK, Jr. quote. The quote often reflects current topics and issues revolving around social justice and human rights. The focus of the campaign is to bring awareness to these issues and give the University and it's people the chance to reflect.
Recently the M+D team has implemented an interactive element into the campaigns allowing us to further engage students and staff in the community and allow them a platform to voice their reflections. People were prompted with the question, “What are you doing to make democracy real?” and asked to write their responses. This question was the theme of this years MLK, Jr. Celebration of Human Rights Week. Responses were gathered then incorporated into a live painting in the IMU’s Kendall Gallery done by M+D student artist Sam Watkins. In addition, his series of paintings were displayed in the Kendall Gallery in an exhibit entitled Keep Moving Forward.
In Sam's own words, “This series is a personal visual reflection on the life and impact of one of the greatest human beings to walk the Earth- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. While creating the work, it was important to allow an honest visual response to take place while listening to his speeches,” Watkins said. “The work oscillates in and out of representation and abstraction since, for me, his words greatly excite both the intellectual & emotional range of experience.”
The work created by M+D, including posters, signage, buttons, fliers, and paintings, were featured on local news broadcasts, Iowa Now, The Daily Iowan, and the Press Citizen. Student Sam Watkins paintings for this series were also put on display at other art galleries in Iowa. His finished piece from the live painting is now on display permanently in the Iowa Memorial Union.