by Alumni Relations
Since the mid-1980s, the African American Culture Room provided a space in the Texas Union that represented African American culture through artworks, paintings and reading materials. As art was added and moved throughout the years, the time came to make significant changes to enhance the mission of the room.
The idea for these changes stemmed from the various art pieces the Texas Union had on display in the room. Fran Chapman, former Assistant Director of Alumni Relations, had planned to refurbish the art in the room. She kept in mind that her predecessor, Patricia Teed, had found pictures in the Texas Union’s possession that would be perfect to put on display – images of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from his memorable appearance at the university on March 9, 1962.
“We had them. They were an important historical and cultural artifact, and it was very exciting to document and to decide how to display them,” said Chapman, “That was what sparked everything.”
Chapman created a document chronicling Dr. King’s time at the University and had this framed with the photos of his visit at the Texas Union. This piece became the cornerstone for the art project and set the direction and tone for the room.
Prior to the rededication ceremony and unveiling, various changes and tasks had to be undertaken to give the room a more unified and fresh look. The art in the room had been placed in mismatched frames that did not showcase or highlight them in any way.
“It was always an attractive room but a little bland,” said Chapman.
A unified set of professional frames was chosen to compliment the piece on Dr. King and the entire layout of the room was rearranged. New carpet and new furniture fabric was also chosen and the room was given a fresh coat of paint. The project was completed through the collective efforts of many students and staff of the University Unions, including: the Student Events Center African American Culture Committee; Director of Student Activity Center, Crystal King; SEC advisor Jeanette Hooker; Assistant Director of Alumni Relations, Megan McMIllin; and many staff members of the Texas Union Hospitality and Maintenance departments.
“They did a beautiful job.” said Chapman “I think it really elevated the artwork.”
Once the work had been completed, it was time to unveil the room to the university community. On April 21, 2010, the University Unions and SEC African American Culture Committee hosted the rededication ceremony. Culture Committee Chair Britnie Franklin, introduced the room and spoke on the importance that it held for the student body. Following a ribbon-cutting, the doors were opened to reveal the newly designed room.
“The best part was the unveiling,” says Hooker, “We had several people in attendance from other departments on campus who came… They were impressed. It was a great feeling to see everything come together and so many people happy with the space.”
The unveiling and rededication speak to more than just the aesthetic appeal. This event highlights the room as an opportunity to exemplify the strong roots of African American culture both at the university and the community.
“These changes really made the room come alive and feel like a welcoming student space,” said Jeanette Hooker, who advised the rededication event. “The importance is to present this room to the UT community, particularly African American students, as a place for them to feel comfortable and learn.”
Written by Brenda Lopez
Photos by Christopher Soliz