Portland discussion to view equality via law, art

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PORTLAND — As part of a year-long initiative, a local organization will hold an event examining civil rights through two very different lenses.

Maine Humanities Council, the state’s affiliate for the National Endowment for the Humanities, will facilitate a conversation to explore civil rights through both art and law at the Portland Museum of Art. Hayden Anderson, executive director of the MHC, said the event will look at the passage of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which recognized citizenship of all people born or naturalized in the United States.

“With the 14th Amendment you get at core American values,” Anderson said, such as “equality and inclusiveness.”

The event, which is Aug. 11 at 6 p.m., is a partnership between the MHC, PMA and the University of Maine School of Law. It will feature two speakers: David Driskell, an artist and scholar of African American art, and Melvyn Zarr, a civil rights lawyer who was with the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund in 1963. The discussion will be moderated by Danielle Conway, dean of the law school.

Anderson said while the two subjects may not seem related when talking about civil rights, he said in Maine the institutions are tied to their communities. He said the hope is to have the speakers, who are coming at the issues from very different directions, come together. Anderson said he believes there will be important intersections and conclusions to be drawn.

The purpose is to get Maine residents talking about issues of equality, Anderson said.

Anne Schlitt, assistant director at MHC, said both men can speak to the national discussion on civil rights, but also from local experience. Zarr recently retired from teaching at Maine Law, and Driskell completed the art program at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 1953.

“The reason we’re interested in this is to see the community transformed by the power and pleasure of ideas,” Anderson said. “We’re always working toward that vision.”

This event is just one of many the MHC is putting on this year involving the 14th Amendment, though Anderson said given the national and local unrest involving civil rights issues, this did seem “particularly timely.”

“By our standards this is a pretty flashy event,” Anderson said.

The event is free, but those interested should register at mainehumanities.org.

Schlitt said the organization only hosts two to four large events for the general public each year. Otherwise, most of its programming is held in libraries around the state. Anderson said MHC often facilitates reading and discussion groups.

Anderson also said MHC has a program for new adult readers, whether it’s an adult who is new to the country or doesn’t do a lot of reading. He said this year the 14th Amendment is “at the center” of that program, too.

“We’re trying to infuse these issues into everything we’re doing for the year,” he said.

Anderson said the partnership between the MHC, PMA and Maine School of Law is important, because these institutions are getting Maine residents talking about vital issues.

“Mainers know how to get together and talk to each other,” he said.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

Lawyer and law professor Melvyn Zarr, left, and artist David Driskell will participate in a Maine Humanities Council program in Portland on law, art and civil rights.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.