Celebrating FLoW Artists
FLoW—Bennington’s community of first-generation, low-income, and working-class students—held a pop-up gallery to highlight and celebrate the work that FLoW students are creating on campus.
The idea to showcase work specifically by FLoW students first stemmed from a conversation between FLoW students studying Music.
“These students expressed that it can be difficult to make connections—many Bennington Music students already have resources and collaborators they discovered in schools they previously attended,” said Kelsey Broadfield ’20. “Additionally, it can also be difficult to study Visual or Performing Arts as a FLoW student, not only because of cultural differences and concerns about financial security, but also because Visual Arts involves purchasing materials and supplies.”
To support the work of their peers in all artistic disciplines, FLoW developed the gallery as a space for FLoW artists to connect with one another while also representing their accomplishments to the Bennington community at large.
During the gallery’s opening reception, participating FLoW students—including Kelsey Broadfield ’20, Phoenix Cantor ’22, Desire Chimanikire ’23, Andreea Coscai ’22, Samuel De Sousa ’23, Gisele Dierks ’22, Celina Einem ’22, Pie Exley ’22, Nori Hilton ’22, Emily Hinojosa ’20, Smile Ma ’23, Sbobo Ndlangamandla ’21, Emely Siri '23, Luke Taylor ’22, Ben Watson ’21, and James Zhu ’23—and dozens of Bennington students, staff, and faculty members celebrated FLoW work.
In addition to a Visual Arts gallery, students presented a diverse array of podcasts, readings, dances, and music.
Phoenix Cantor ’22, Luke Taylor ’22, and Ben Watson ’21 performed together as The J136 Trio.
“I always like to say there’s a room in Jennings named after us,” joked Cantor about the group’s name.
“I think it’s harder for FLoW students to speak out in a lot of spheres,” said Taylor. “FLoW students do great things on their own, but collectively, this showcase was a great way for FLoW students, as well as students who are not FLoW, to see that these artists are here and doing good work.”
“You Can’t Hide the Talent”
Throughout her time at Bennington, Kelsey Broadfield ’20 studied Sociology and Computer Science. As a founding member of FLoW, she is particularly focused on FLoW student experiences during college, as well as on creating college pipelines for high school students in rural and working-class communities.
Broadfield is passionate about her studies, but for her, they are also borne of pragmatism.
“I studied ceramics all through high school and even had a scholarship to study ceramics at Alfred University. But I couldn’t do it; I was scared I wouldn’t make enough money,” said Broadfield. “There’s a cultural fear among working-class and low-income students about what studying Visual Arts means for your life—your family doesn’t want you to be a starving artist. Even if it’s your passion, and you can make a living doing it, these areas are not as encouraged among FLoW students.”
At Bennington, Broadfield is proud of FLoW students who are going against the odds.
“FLoW students make incredible art, and it’s working in their favor,” said Broadfield. “You can’t hide the talent. Their FLoW identity also informs incredible artwork, helping students showcase their culture and experiences that haven’t been previously represented because of these barriers.”
Before he submitted his video to the FLoW gallery, Samuel De Sousa ’23 hadn’t thought much about being a FLoW artist.
“People talked a lot about what they faced as FLoW artists, which made me question myself, actually, and realize that most people do not face the same things I face,” said De Sousa. “For example, I did not have a hard drive for my video; I borrowed one from my teacher and had to spend an hour putting everything on Google Drive so I could give the hard drive back to the teacher.”
De Sousa also works 15 hours a week, which leaves him with less free time for his artwork.
“This term, I managed because I was taking fewer credits, but what if I’m taking 18 credits?” said De Sousa. “I learn a lot by working here, but I have less time to invest in my art.”
However, even with the challenges of being a FLoW artist, De Sousa continues to be impressed by the work of his peers.
“It’s really admirable how FLoW students face the challenges, without letting them define the quality of our work,” said De Sousa.
A First Shot
For several FLoW students, the pop-up gallery was their first opportunity to publicly present their work.
Pie Exley ’22, who studies Literature and Education, was one of the gallery’s organizers. During the reception, she read an excerpt from her short story “Asymmetry,” which was inspired by her hometown and the internal splitting she felt leaving for and returning from college.
“The gallery was a wonderful space where we could all show our work and be proud of it, and people were there to watch and listen,” said Exley. “As small as that seems, it was powerful.”
Nori Hilton ’22 studies Printmaking and Educational Policy. She included Taming the Serpent, a birch block woodcut printed on mulberry paper, in the gallery, upon Exley’s suggestion.
“This was a print I made in a class that term,” said Hilton. “It was a cool opportunity to make work and have it shown off quickly afterwards, particularly since this was a new medium that I’m just getting used to working with.”
Hilton appreciates the opportunity to be part of a growing community of FLoW artists.
“I’m excited about the idea of fostering this artist FLoW community, and working together to consider the material costs as an artist,” said Hilton. “Visual Arts classes can be more expensive than other classes. I’m excited to work with FLoW to address this, like when they collect art supplies that people have used and distribute them back into the community.”
Smile Ma ’23 was encouraged to submit her photography by Desire Chimanikire ’23, a visual artist who also helped coordinate the event.
“Desire mentioned that I didn’t have to pay to have my photos printed, so I was able to do whatever I wanted for my first exhibition,” said Ma. “It was really magical to participate. I had something that I wanted to show people, so it was the right time to do it.”
Ma is interested in museums and curation. Her participation in the gallery became an educational opportunity to think about how the arrangement of an artwork influences a viewer’s experience.
“I’d only ever thought about whether my work looks good; I’d never thought about how big a print should be or how it should be arranged,” said Ma. “The photo I was exhibiting was a work of Photoshop, with four photos layered together and blurred to create the effect of movement. I had to think about how to project my work to the audience, not just about the work itself.”
Ma was bolstered by the reactions she got from her peers at the gallery reception.
“It was my first time exhibiting, so it was a weird feeling, but it felt like I got to share something with people,” said Ma. “People were encouraging, and they asked me how I did it. It was a great way to explain myself. When people care and are curious about your work, they start to ask you about it. That made me feel really good.”
Desire Chimanikire ’23 accidentally volunteered to help organize the FLoW Gallery.
“I walked in to the FLoW collective meeting, and they were talking about organizing something. They asked who wanted to be on the committee, and I raised my hand—I was confused about what was going on, but nobody else had raised their hands!” said Chimanikire.
As the discussion began to take shape, however, Chimanikire found himself excited by the prospect of drawing more FLoW students into the public eye.
“For many people, being FLoW is a sensitive issue. People who are FLoW may not choose to publicly be identified that way,” said Chimanikire. “So we wanted this to be a big event.”
To garner more participation, FLoW students reached out to others they knew and encouraged them to share their artwork.
“I got to talk to so many people—people I never thought were FLoW— and I became friends with some of them,” said Chimanikire. “It was really nice, because FLoW students may not necessarily have the best tools or materials for their personal projects. But people still manage to do amazing work.”
Chimanikire exhibited his charcoal pencil drawing Out of the Shadows at the gallery, and he is proud of the connections and friends people made at the event.
“I’m looking forward to working on projects with other artists,” said Chimanikire. “People are taking amazing photographs, which I’d like to use as reference pictures for my own composition.”
Andreea Coscai ’22 studies Media and Chinese. Her Plan aims to discover the multiple ways in which different cultures can be influenced toward public action through the use of media.
For the FLoW gallery, she exhibited her podcast Whose Choice is My Choice?, which explores the topic of abortion from multiple cultural, religious, personal, and political standpoints.
“I brought my laptop and a pair of headphones and found an inspiring artwork to go with my podcast,” said Coscai. “Many people were receptive and curious to find out what the work was about and to hear about my process in making it.”
For Coscai, the biggest benefit of this exhibition was getting to connect with attendees.
“I got to talk to them about what I'm interested in— journalism, media, and sharing a message through media platforms—and I got to connect with other students who want to do similar work but might not know what resources are available,” said Coscai.
In the past, Coscai has served as a resource to a fellow FLoW student who wanted to make a podcast for her senior thesis but wasn’t sure how to go about producing it. The student reached out to Assistant Dean for Academic Services Kate Child, who connected her with Coscai.
“I was able to provide her with resources, teachers, where she could get equipment,” said Coscai. “In addition to providing more students with these kinds of connections, galleries like this go even further—they give FLoW students a voice and space where they can celebrate their work, stand out, and talk openly about their experiences.”
By Natalie Redmond, Associate Writer