NYC-based sculptor Stephon Senegal comes to Erie. | Image from longroadprojects.com.
Without further ado, your Idiotville feel-good story of the week:
Would you think I was crazy if I told you a story about public sculptures coming to Erie reminded me of Albert Einstein? Well, maybe I’m crazy, but I swear I’m going somewhere with this so, please, come along on this ride with me.
You may have heard that Einstein wasn’t a prolific student. That’s true. He was always gifted, but he insisted on challenging his teachers and engaging them in debate during a time when that simply was not accepted in the classroom.
Einstein struggled through. Upon graduating, his prospects for employment weren’t great until, finally, his uncle set him up with a job at a patent office. How great for him, right?
Except, Einstein hated the patent office. Often, he’d stare out the window across the street at the train station and see men exiting their trains. As they did, they’d readjust their watches leading Einstein to wonder, “What is it about the train that changes time?” He couldn’t get it off of his mind, and that burning thought eventually lit the spark in his mind that led to the theory of relativity.
Later in life, Einstein was asked about his struggles in school and remarked, “If you judge a fish on his ability to climb a tree, he will live his whole life thinking he’s stupid.”
That quote will always stick with me. All men (and women!) are created equal – but they don’t stay that way for long. Inevitably, at some point we all feel a pressure to be something we’re not. Maybe you fake it for a little while, but it doesn’t work. It can’t work; it’s not who you are. You feel stupid.
Now think of how many kids still today don’t feel spoken to in school. Like the fish asked to climb a tree, they have talents that go undiscovered and almost none of them are lucky enough to find a seat with a window looking out at the one thing that would help them change the world.
Every kid deserves to hear the message that lights a spark inside of them, something that allows them to see the world in a new and expansive way. For a guy like Einstein who loved physics, the train station was that daydream fuel.
For so many others, it’s art. Art has a way of inspiring us to look at the same things we’ve always looked at, and see things we’ve never seen. That’s why I’m so excited that Erie Arts & Culture (along with Long Road Projects out of Jacksonville, FL) has sponsored Stephon Senegal to create public sculptures for display within Erie’s inner city neighborhoods as part of a new art residency program.
According to Erie Arts & Culture’s executive director Patrick Fisher, Senegal’s work will focus on “working with communities that have been disadvantaged as a result of systematic disparities, with a primary focus on engaging communities of color.”
Also from the GoErie article:
“Fisher went on to say that Senegal specializes in assemblage, sculpture and printmaking, and that through his work, the artist explores ‘how in school, children learn about Greek and Roman figures and the virtues they represent. Conversely, however, youth of color are not equally exposed to hero figures who look like them because Indigenous, African, Latin American, South American, and Asian pantheons and paragons are not often equal part of the discourse.'”
No, Erie probably doesn’t have the world’s next Einstein, but maybe this helps one kid that previously had felt overlooked or talked past, made to feel stupid or like an other, to look at art in his or her neighborhood. Maybe it’ll serve as a constant reminder that someone cared enough to make something for them. Maybe they won’t feel like a fish being asked to climb a tree.