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Brown v Board of Education 70th Anniversary

Celebrate the 70th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education with a transformative art project in Topeka, spotlighting the enduring legacy of those who fought for justice and equality in education.

2024 marks the 70th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that made de jure racial segregation illegal in U.S. public schools. This victory, decades in the making, was made possible by determined parents, students, activists, and attorneys who worked tirelessly to advance the cause of justice. Today, you’ll find some of those same advocates sharing their stories with the public through visual art, performances, and events dedicated to commemorating an important milestone in the not-so-distant past.

This year, across the city of Topeka, passionate community members and artists are celebrating the 70th anniversary of the pivotal court decision with live performances, art installations, and more—all part of the city’s Civil Rights Summer 2024.

Of particular note is a multidisciplinary project being backed by a $100,000 “Our Town” grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. That grant, matched by Visit Topeka, is funding a community-based artwork series by award-winning, world-renowned artist vanessa german, whose work appears in museums and collections across the country, including the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City and the National Mall in Washington D.C.

“I’m a citizen artist,” german said, “which means the central engine of my practice is my citizenship and my humanity. So I’m making artwork that is engined by love, and I’m defining love as creative, understanding, redemptive, transformative goodwill and justice and connection. The work that I make is communal, and I’m making work to do something. What we ask the work to do depends on what other citizens want and need the work to do.”

When it comes to work surrounding the 70th anniversary of Brown v. Board, german said the Topeka-based project “won’t look anything like a typical kind of commemoration.”

“We are making an entire museum of artwork that is born and rises up out of the story of the past,” she said.

Brown v. Board National Historic Park

The project involves co-creation, a process allowing Topekans who lived through the Brown decision to share their stories of the time and how that past has influenced the lives they lead today. german, engaging with Topeka-area residents for several months through various workshops, then uses those stories and the smaller-scale art stemming from them to create a larger-scale multidisciplinary exhibit that brings the different components together.


“[The exhibit is] being really inspired by intimate places and intimate stories of Topeka residents who were the people who integrated schools or whose family members may have taught in schools,” german said. “So really mining the hearts and the minds and the memories of residents of Topeka to bring about a body of work that is not a retelling of Brown but is really a way to reckon with some of the ongoing pain.”

The final installation, which will initially find a home at the Rita Blitt Gallery on Washburn University’s campus, is all about “transformation and possibility and vision,” german said.

“And ultimately all of those things are held by love and justice,” she added, noting that Topekans are doing hands-on work like stringing beads and helping make a certain type of fabric bead.

“People are also contributing; they are giving objects,” german said. “They are giving something meaningful from their life that we can use in the artwork.”

According to Sarah Fizell, executive director of ArtsConnect—the Topeka-based organization that secured the NEA “Our Town” grant—the project will include 20-25 sculptures and be part of a mobile museum traveling to other sites in Topeka and around the country once its time at the Rita Blitt Gallery is complete. german is also helping create a spoken word operetta that will be performed by a community choir at Washburn University’s White Concert Hall on May 24, about a week after the gallery exhibit opens May 16. The exhibit is expected to remain at the gallery through mid-July.

To learn more about the upcoming installation, visit, and keep an eye out for more information from Visit Topeka, ArtsConnect and other area groups like the 70th Anniversary Brown Coalition, Humanities Kansas, the Topeka & Shawnee