THE UW ETHNIC CULTURAL CENTER, BORN OF BLACK ART ACTIVISM
The confluence of art and activism often results in major civic actions. Such is the case with the founding of the University of Washington's Samuel E. Kelly Ethnic Cultural Center.
In 1966, Central District artist Eddie Walker began his secondary educational journey at the University of Washington. Imagine, if you will, coming from a rich multi-cultural community as an honors graduate from Cleveland High School and walking onto the University of Washington campus, home to 32,000 students, and yet only finding 60 Black students enrolled! Culture shock to say the least. While the establishment of the storied Ethnic Cultural Center is often linked to campus protests that occurred in 1968, artist Eddie Walker’s name is rarely mentioned as the catalyst for change.
A recent article published by the University of Washington Magazine, notes that Walker, who was also a founding member of the UW Black Student Union, created his role as "Minister of Arts and Culture" and advocated for the need to create an ethnic cultural center at UW where “different cultures can be near each other and go to other people’s events.” In order to create such a space, Walker and others began the crusade for a building where such connections could occur.
Fifty years have passed since the Ethnic Cultural Center opened in 1972. The original building was designed by Washington State’s first African American to maintain an architectural practice, Ben McAdoo, who happens to be one of 26 profiles featured in the recently released Black Arts Legacies project.
The kind of activism inherent in the hearts of many artists is better described as "artivism;" an inextricable link between art, activism, and greater community good. The full story on the efforts of artist Eddie Walker to make a place for connection and ethnic exploration at the University of Washington can be found here.
Thank you, Eddie, for creating a lasting legacy that has supported and inspired generations of students and the extended campus community.