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Programs celebrate 50th anniversaries, reflect on legacies

Many programs at the University are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year. | Trevor Nolley/The Cougar

Many programs at the University are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year. | Trevor Nolley/The Cougar

Many things at the University were different in 1969 — the students, the buildings and even the programs — but that year served as the starting point of two major programs celebrating their half-century anniversaries this semester.

The Public Art program and the African American Studies program both found their starts in 1969. In celebration of the golden anniversary, the Public Art program has paused critical activities, like commissioning and acquiring new artworks, to reflect. 

“We want to be mindful of our legacy while bringing artists and artworks that reflect our mission to promote dialogue, enrich the cultural and intellectual character of our universities, and connect with diverse audiences,” said Director and Chief Curator of Public Art María Gaztambide.

Public Art recently launched an initiative called “Temporary Public Art Program,” an active platform for short-term art installations, exhibitions, community-wide outreach and collaborative programming in the visual, digital, musical and performing arts. 

“The artist Salvatore Scarpitta, a distinguished professor of art at UH in the spring of 1978, spoke of his Houston ‘public working situation’ as a two-way process,” said Gaztambide. “The idea is to create an environment in which people, students in particular, can connect and come together around art on campus.”

For the African American Studies Program, there was a banquet held last May in celebration of the big anniversary. 

“African American Studies is a distinct academic discipline that engages Africa-centered research and teaching through an interdisciplinary approach to scholarly inquiry,” according to the program’s website.

African American Studies released a 50th anniversary edition of their newsletter that featured interviews, announcements and discussions about the program.

“We’re the oldest African American Studies Program in Texas, but we are the second to become a major,” said Director of African American Studies James Conyers. “We got approved to be a major in December of 2018, and we had our first graduate in the Spring of 2019.”

While the two previous programs are just now celebrating their 50th anniversaries this year, the Graduate College of Social Work celebrated theirs last year.

“Throughout the 2018-2019 academic year, the Graduate College of Social Work held several events to celebrate our 50th anniversary,” GCSW Dean Alan Dettlaff said. “Events continued throughout the year, culminating with a 50th Anniversary Gala where we recognized 50 alumni who best represented our social justice vision.” 

Dettlaff said that the college’s commitment to social justice is their primary focus and informs all of their work. The college’s faculty are engaged in research that addresses complex problems, with the goal of informing policy and practice that will move society toward achieving justice, he said.

“Our biggest accomplishment is the over 5,000 graduates of the GCSW that provide essential services to the most vulnerable populations both in Houston and around the globe,” said Dettlaff.

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