Story by Celene Carillo
Breaking barriers and building community through art is a theme that drives Kaitlyn Carr’s (’16) public life and her personal work.
In her time on campus, among many achievements, she helped revive OSU’s flagging student art club; partnered with the Lonnie B. Harris Black Cultural Center; and created a moving series of collages that depict her interracial relationship with her Kenyan husband, Gideon.
“Once I got here I wanted to get the most out of my college experience, so I took on everything that I could possibly manage. We never get this opportunity again. Being involved in the club and department was my way of getting social interaction and community building,” Carr says.
Just a few months after Carr transferred from Portland Community College in 2014, she brought several classmates together for a project that raised awareness of the horrific conditions faced by many garment workers around the world.
“I’ve always been interested in fashion,” she says. “It was great that we pulled together for that. I wanted our work together to continue.”
Soon afterward, Carr, along with photography student Nikki Silva and club adviser Andy Myers, reinvigorated Montage, the student art club. As president, Carr helped hire an outside juror for a student exhibition, assisted with a Corvallis Cub Scout pack, and helped create opportunities for student work to be exhibited all over Corvallis, wherever art work can be displayed.
“Montage is building a culture of helping students become active artists,” says Lee Ann Garrison, director of the School of Arts and Communication. “This year, Kaitlyn is president, and the club is building momentum quickly.”
This degree of involvement — and helping others become involved — was in part why Carr was the 2016 winner of the CLA Arts Engagement Award. Her project, “Navigating Race and Identity,” was a collaboration with students involved in OSU’s Lonnie B. Harris Black Cultural Center. There, Carr led three collage-making workshops that encouraged participants to “create their own collages of mundane occurrences, hopes and desires concerning race and identity.”
Carr’s hope was that participants felt free to express their experiences surrounding race, and that by publicly displaying their art they could create a different way of having a conversation about racial justice on campus and in the community.
The subject matter has personal resonance for Carr. She had already been working on her own cut-out collage series called “Navigating Race and Ethnicity,” when she collaborated with students at the Black Cultural Center.
In her series Carr uses bright colors and patterns to depict day-to-day public and private life with Gideon, whom she met in Portland in 2013. The tone of the collages ranges from intimate to uncomfortable.
“The series became a way to look at us as an interracial couple in America. And what that means in today’s society,” she says. “I’m just trying to break down walls and find the simplicity of it and the normalcy. I wanted to lay it on the table and let the viewer make judgments about it.”
Her inspiration for “Navigating Race and Ethnicity” came when she visited Gideon’s family in Kenya a year after they met. The experience was life changing for her. “Our roles were reversed. I was the minority, and the stranger,” says Carr. “I am so glad I was able to experience that. I probably never would have had the same understanding of some of the things he experiences here, even if it doesn’t give me everything he feels here.”
Carr, who married Gideon this summer and lives with him in Portland, credits the collaborative and supportive nature of the OSU art program with helping her develop partnerships as well as her own work — She plans to continue such work in the future.
“We have all the resources here,” she says. “At the same time, the classes here are small, which is excellent. The faculty take the time to know the students, and really care about them. I just cannot emphasize enough how great this program is. I’ve told everyone I know — Check out OSU’s art program.”