Writing Project Celebrates 20 Years at UAlbany with Art Exhibition, Book Launch

A woman with long blonde hair in a blue dress smiles in a hallway full of people who are viewing artwork on the walls.
The Capital District Writing Project, housed in UAlbany's School of Education, recently celebrated its 20th anniversary with the opening of a permanent art exhibition in the Catskill building and a book launch. (Photos by Anthony Salamone)

By Bethany Bump

ALBANY, N.Y. (July 2, 2024) — The Capital District Writing Project, a local site of the National Writing Project based at UAlbany that works to enhance the teaching of writing in local schools, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year with the launch of a permanent art exhibition and two books commemorating its recent Freedom Dreaming for Educational Justice initiative.

Housed within UAlbany’s School of Education, the CDWP brings together teachers of all levels from across the region for writing workshops, marathons and retreats that allow them to hone their craft and take what they’ve learned back into the classroom. In addition to year-round programming and its signature Summer Institute for teachers, the CDWP offers workshops for young writers each summer, including a full-day workshop for high school students with the New York State Writers Institute.

“We really see our mission as promoting writing as joyful, as purposeful and as something that everyone can be involved in,” said Kelly Wissman, director of the CDWP and associate professor and co-chair of the Department of Literacy Teaching and Learning in the School of Education.

A woman with short brown hair in a black blazer holds a beverage in a plastic cup and looks at artwork hanging in a hallway as people mill about.
Participants in the Capital District Writing Project attended a 20th anniversary celebration in the Catskill building on June 7, 2024.

The CDWP held an anniversary celebration June 7 in the Catskill Building where it unveiled a permanent exhibition of artwork, picture book and teaching guide that were developed as part of its recent Freedom Dreaming for Educational Justice initiative, a multiyear project that invited community members to create artwork imagining a more just and equitable education system.

Freedom Dreaming

The Freedom Dreaming for Educational Justice project began in 2021 as the CDWP was considering ways to help the community process the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and racial reckoning taking place across the U.S. in response to the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

With support from a UAlbany Strategic Allocation of Resources (StAR) grant, the site launched a public engagement project that would draw on the anti-racist scholarship of Bettina L. Love and concepts of freedom dreaming and the Black imaginary within the work of Robin D. G. Kelley. The project brought together K-12 educators, UAlbany students, authors, artists, faculty, K-12 students and the broader community to create artwork of education freedom dreams that could be exhibited in online and public spaces.

There were over 150 submissions from participants as young as kindergarteners on up to retired teachers. Selected artwork was displayed in the Fine Arts Studio during the summer of 2022 and at Columbia University Teachers College’s DFI Gallery later that fall.

“We found at the end of that year of inquiring with the arts and with each other that we weren't quite done, and we had more to say and more that we wanted to share,” Wissman said.

This led to the idea for a permanent art exhibition and picture book, she said.

Earlier this summer, 36 pieces of art including self-portraits, collages and abstract paintings were selected to permanently hang in the second-floor hallway of the Catskill Building. The exhibition, curated by local poet and visual artist D. Colin, opens and closes with work by the late Fatima Shah, a UAlbany student, artist and writer who died in 2022 and was involved in the CDWP. Pieces reflect a diverse array of talent and often infuse writing about self love, expression, activism, hope, justice and more.

A teenage girl with long curly black hair wears a white skirt and top and stares at a portrait she drew of civil rights activists hanging in a hallway.
Chloe Tyson, a junior at Guilderland High School, views her artwork in the Catskill building.

Chloe Tyson, a junior at Guilderland High School whose portrait of American civil rights activists Ida B. Wells, Claudette Colvin, Mary Church Terrell and Lucretia Mott was selected for the permanent exhibition, said her goal was to spotlight lesser-known activists and create a piece demonstrating that though they were different people they were fighting for the same causes.

“This experience has been beyond words I can describe,” said Tyson, whose involvement in the project won her an invitation to speak at a statewide teachers conference. “It's been enlightening, it's been fun and it's been a bit scary at times. Most of all, it's been monumental in the way I go about using my voice for good. It's changed the way that I view activism. And it's given me the opportunity to use my voice and help spark change. So many people aren't given the chance to speak out. So it's important for me to use my voice when I can and to use it for good. If you can use your voice you should because there's so many things that one person can impact without ever anticipating such change.”

Gina Mooney, an alternative education teacher at South Colonie Central School District whose artwork is also in the exhibition, said her participation in the Freedom Dreaming project led to some of her best teaching.

“I've gone through the Summer Institute and done some writing marathons, and then I heard about this and did this,” she said. “And I'll tell you it was the best teaching year I've ever had because I was connected to awesome people all year long. Sometimes you're teaching in isolation and you can get a little lonely, but every month we got back together, we did amazing things, we brought it into our classes. It was awesome.”

The June 7 anniversary celebration also featured the launch of two publications emerging from the Freedom Dreaming initiative. The CDWP  created We Are Dreaming of Freedom, a picture book featuring artwork from the project, artist statements and a guide for educators wishing to infuse more arts and writing into their practice. The e-publication can be purchased here. Proceeds will go to support the work of the CDWP.

A second book, Teaching with Arts-Infused Writing Pedagogies: Freedom Dreaming for Educational Justice, featuring essays as well as writing and original artwork from K-12 students, teachers, faculty and graduate students will be published by Teachers College Press in late August and is available for pre-order now.