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‘Big Read’ program kicks off with ‘The Artist as Witness’

Published on October 12, 2021

‘Big Read’ program kicks off with ‘The Artist as Witness’

Art exhibition is visual companion to graphic novel ‘The Best We Could Do’

Artist as Witness
Sue Coe, Strike, 1980. Mixed media on heavy white board. 27 x 20 “Poster design for the Hospital and Health Care Workers Union. Image courtesy of the artist and the Gallery St. Etienne.

Eastern Connecticut State University will kick off its National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Big Read program with the exhibition “The Artist as Witness” from Oct. 18 – Feb. 01, 2022, in the Art Gallery. The exhibition features works by master artists, participants in the Prison Arts Program and local college students, and is meant as a visual companion to the University’s Big Read program surrounding the graphic novel “The Best We Could Do” by Thi Bui.

An opening reception will occur in the Art Gallery on Oct. 19 at 11 a.m. with a talk by Jeffrey Greene, coordinator of the Prison Arts Program by Community Partners in Action.

Eastern is one of 61 organizations nationwide selected to receive the NEA grant, which will support a months-long community reading program. Eastern’s Big Read selection, “The Best We Could Do,” is an illustrated memoir that chronicles the author’s parents’ life before and during the Vietnam War, their escape from Vietnam, and their eventual migration to the United States as refugees.

“’The Artist as Witness’ presents a group of artists whose work has a laser focus on conflict and suffering, commentaries on injustice, and provoking social change,” said Julia Wintner, gallery director and co-organizer of Eastern’s Big Read program. “It brings together nine artists working from the 1930s to today. Each artist produces consciously political art in response to specific events or circumstances; their work is characterized by figurative representations of people and actions.”

The three-part exhibition features master artists Nancy Chunn, Sue Coe, Kathie Kollwitz, Elise Engler and Rowan Renee; incarcerated artists Michael Caron, Ryan Carpenter, Lee Jupina Sr. and Michael Reddick, who participated in the Prison Arts Program; and a new student work in response to the book “The Best We Could Do.”

For more information on Eastern’s Big Read program and to see a calendar of events, visit

The Art Gallery is located in the Fine Arts Instructional Center and is open Monday–Friday from 9 a.m.–6 p.m. and weekends by appointment. For more information, contact or visit

Written by Michael Rouleau

Categories: Art Gallery, Library, Arts