Smile Politely

IMC Gallery: Art and social justice

As far as mission statements go, this one is pretty tough to beat:

The Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center is a grassroots organization committed to using media production and distribution as tools for promoting social and economic justice in the Champaign County area. We foster the creation and distribution of media, art, and narratives emphasizing underrepresented voices and perspectives and promote empowerment and expression through media and arts education.

Among the ways that the IMC promotes social justice is its gallery, curated by local artist Travis Hocutt. I spoke with Hocutt about the gallery’s upcoming exhibition and its plans for the coming year.


Smile Politely: First off, what are the responsibilities that come with being artist- in-residence and curator of the IMC Gallery?

Travis Hocutt: As artist-in-residence at the IMC I have a studio space where I will be working on my own work and am responsible for curating 10-12 exhibitions over the course of the next year. 

SP: What can you tell us about the exhibit opening January 9? What is the focus, and what sort(s) of art will be included?

Hocutt: For its first show, the IMC Gallery will exhibit posters and images of protest taken by Jeff Putney from the #BlackLivesMatter movement around Champaign-Urbana. The show celebrates the spirit of protest in C-U, and aims to give the movement another mode of visibility. The IMC gallery has a unique capability as the center for many in the community, both to reach a wide variety of viewers as well as to provide a platform for their voices, ideas, and accomplishments.  

SP: Could you talk a bit about the importance of art to social justice? 

Hocutt: I think it’s better to think about the importance of social justice to art. Art, as an accessible form of communication readily lends itself to those seeking social justice. As an artist and curator I am interested in work created by people who are actively trying to make this world a better place. I think that it is my responsibility as a curator: to give artists a platform in order to spread their contribution to a wider audience and therefore magnify its effect. 

SP: What other exhibits are coming up, and how can local artists get involved in future showings?

Hocutt: Any artist or group interested in showing at the IMC Gallery is welcome to contact me with submissions or proposals at [email protected]. I still have many exhibition slots to fill.

In the coming months, I’m looking forward to showing the work of Chen Shen, a Beijing-based photographer. I have also been in touch with Arts of Life, a Chicago-based art therapy group that works with adults with learning disabilities, and I will be putting together a group show with their artists in residence. There will also hopefully be a show of work by students of Centennial High school who are enrolled in AP Art class there. Sometime in the fall I will also be putting together a show of Comics art featuring Damian Duffy and Grant Thomas.


The opening night reception for IMC Gallery’s #BlackLivesMatter exhibit will begin at 7 p.m. on Friday, January 9th. The exhibit will run through the end of January. For more information, visit the IMC website.

Photos by Jeff Putney.

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