Facebook Instagram Twitter X YouTube LinkedIn RSS

Citizen Artist vanessa german Reflects on Brown v. Board of Education on Its 70th Anniversary

By Becky Brown

Sculpture showing pearls and a black arm and black violin and other materials.

Where should a Kansas third grader attend school? That question went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and it changed the nation. 

Now, citizen artist vanessa german and the Topeka, Kansas, community commemorate the 70th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. Coordinated by ArtsConnect Topeka with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and Visit Topeka, Love & Justice: 70 Years & a Reckoning is a multidisciplinary exploration of how segregation and the decision’s aftermath continue to shape individuals and the community as a whole.

The project is a series of creative actions, including opportunities to share stories and workshops in storytelling, writing, and making. These interactions have culminated in a new exhibition of vanessa’s sculptural works, CRAVING LIGHT: The Museum of Love & Reckoning, and a performance of an original spoken-word operetta, THE WAY OF LIGHT.


This integrative approach brings previously unheard voices to the forefront while also studying the larger impact. It allows for the examination of social trauma and social healing.

These works are more than a one-time, two-dimensional commemoration. vanessa’s body of community-based work confronts hate while sharing hope for reconciliation. This project is no different.

“I am thinking about this work and the entire process of the work commemorating Brown as a reckoning—a living reckoning,” she says. “A reckoning requires us to take a count; to go back into the archives, to look at the transcripts, to look at what exists and to look for what is missing.”


These immense works of art and performance foster the ability to hold complexity and tenderness at the same time.

CRAVING LIGHT: The Museum of Love and Reckoning opens May 16 at Rita Blitt Gallery at Mulvane Art Museum in Topeka. The exhibition includes sculptures, videos, and textile works that deal with the complexities, traumas, and triumphs of the Brown decision. These pieces are the results of the co-creative process between vanessa and members of the Topeka community. The mobile CRAVING LIGHT museum will be on display in Topeka through the end of 2024.

THE WAY OF LIGHT world premiere is May 24 at the White Concert Hall at Mulvane Art Museum. Cowritten by vanessa, Topeka poet August Mendoza, and recording artist Angel Haze, the piece weaves together movement, voice, and ritual. vanessa and an intergenerational community choir will present what is both a performance piece and public art. 


Love & Justice is a process that acknowledges that the community and the individuals in it are the living commemoration of Brown v. Board.

It’s an exploration that expands the boundaries of understanding.

“The ‘history book’ version of Brown v. Board is what most people know, but there are people in this community whose stories have not been told,” says Sarah Fizell, executive director of Arts Connect. “We must continue the work already being done to bring these stories to the surface.”


Hear vanessa talk about her life and work in this video created by The Heinz Awards:



About vanessa german

vanessa german (b. 1976, USA) is a multidisciplinary citizen artist working across sculpture, performance, communal rituals, immersive installation, and photography. The artist’s practice proposes new models for social healing, utilizing creativity and tenderness as vital forces to reckon with the historical and ongoing catastrophes of structural racism, white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, resource extraction, and misogynoir. Her work is held in private and public collections internationally, including the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City; the Wichita Art Museum; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville; and the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford. Learn more at kasmingallery.com/artist/vanessa-german.


About ArtsConnect

As Topeka’s premier arts engagement organization, ArtsConnect promotes the arts through building community connections and broadening the understanding of how the arts enhance our quality of life. Learn more at artstopeka.org/loveandjustice.