As we celebrate Black History Month, I had the opportunity to speak with Michelle Feeney, art teacher at Fall Creek Jr. High and Fishers resident, whose students are being featured in a special exhibit titled “Embracing Black Culture” at Fishers Arts Council’s The Art Gallery at City Hall.  

Feeney has been a teacher in the HSE School District for over 16 years. One of her primary objectives as an art teacher is to help break down the stigma of what “fine art” is – she wants students to understand that there is more to art than perfection and motivate them to push artistic boundaries. 

The “Embracing Black Culture” project was first introduced to Feeney after she was awarded the Lilly Endowment Teacher Creative Fellowship as a way for all students to celebrate Black History Month. She has collaborated in the past with the Fishers Arts Council to organize Black History Month art exhibitions but says this year is different, as she wants to focus on the significant cultural changes the Black community has experienced. Feeney aims to focus on contemporary Black leaders and amplify their voices and stories through her students’ art.  

pancakes and grits

“The Words of a Wise Woman” by Addison Richmond, Sarah Madin, Brielle Brower, and Katherine Lee 

“Power” by Kruz Luhmann and Callen Johnson 

Before starting their art projects, Feeney’s students researched Black history and culture, conducting interviews with their Black peers, faculty members, and other Fishers residents. Feeney emphasized how important it was for students to speak directly with members of the Black community to better understand and connect with their experiences. After doing their research, Feeney’s students engaged in class discussions about their projects, and she encouraged them to have full reign over how they wanted to create their art.  

Feeney spoke on the inspiration behind “Embracing Black Culture,” expressing her hope that all students, families, and community members can see how art can be used as a voice. Feeney said, “Sometimes we don’t have the voice to speak about something, so we can use art as a medium for expression.” This project also demonstrates to students that their art can exist on a bigger level; they can have their art displayed publicly and make an impact in their own communities. As Feeney stated, a student’s artwork doesn’t have to be hidden away in backpacks. Their work is important, and it can “make waves.”  

pancakes and grits

“Natural Beauty” by Maya Patel, Sofia Tobias, Halee Cuffey, and Dominca Winfrey 

“Hidden” by Jude, Andrew, Conner Pugh, Dashiel, Anand, and Raj 

Feeney intends for her students’ art about Black History Month to bring the community together. This art exhibit serves as an opportunity for the community to not only have conversations with their students about diversity and Black culture, but also see that teachers help children reach their full potential as artists and members of the community. Feeney hopes that those who visit the art exhibit can push their comfort zone, accept others’ differences, and embrace diversity.  

pancakes and grits

“Inside” by Kaitlyn Burdick 

“7053” by Ramya Baladevigan 

You can check out the “Embracing Black Culture” exhibit now at The Art Gallery at City Hall (1 Municipal Drive). The exhibit is open to the public through March on Mondays through Fridays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (excluding holidays). Don’t miss Fishers Arts Council’s free reception on Friday, February 11 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.  featuring guest speakers and performers beginning at 7 p.m. The reception is made possible by a grant from the Hamilton County Community Foundation. Learn more about the art exhibit here