By Joe Garvey

Old Dominion University's College of Arts & Letters, Arts@ODU and the University's Office of Community Engagement will kick off a Summer Arts Series with a live virtual tour of Ted Ellis' 400th Commemoration Art Exhibit at Goode Theatre. Ellis will serve as guide for the tour, and a Q&A will follow.

The event is scheduled for 4 p.m. June 19. It is free and open to the public, but registration is required. Click here to RSVP. Cathy Lewis, host of "HearSay" on WHRV-FM, will moderate the Q&A.

Up to 1,000 people from around the world will be able to view the tour. The event will also simultaneously livestream on Arts@ODU's Facebook page (@oduarts) if the webinar capacity is reached.

"That's going to be pretty amazing," said Ellis, who noted that the event is happening on Juneteenth, the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.

"Having closed the physical exhibit early owing to conditions of the pandemic, we had the opportunity to create a virtual version that could reach an even wider audience online," said Cullen Strawn, ODU's executive director for the arts. "Themes in this exhibit remain important at all times but also are especially visible in the news media around the world right now."

The tour of Ellis' exhibit, which was unveiled in January as one of the University's events commemorating the 400th anniversary of the first African landing in North America, comes amid worldwide demonstrations in the wake of George Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis police on May 25.

"This exhibition will give us the middle ground to talk about the tough issues that we're challenged with - with race, with social injustice, with inequality, with police brutality," Ellis said. "Where are we going and what are we going to do about this? Do we get to engage and talk about policies, reforming laws that have ... perpetuated oppression and classism and racism? We're very sophisticated beings. We evolve and get better. We're just at this point in history that we have to meet this head on right now."

Ellis believes art can make complex and difficult issues "a little bit more palatable for people to absorb, to ingest, to process and to leverage."

"And so, spot on, this is what this exhibition does," he said. "Let's have this conversation, let's heal, let's do better and let's be better. This exhibition offers that. Not only the documentation or narrative on history, but also on the issues brought about because of practices that have happened historically."

Developed exclusively for viewing at ODU, his exhibition features more than 20 original pieces that speak to the totality of African American experiences and contributions from the past to the present.

"ODU's arts programming continually promotes diversity and equity and inclusion," Strawn said, "and we want to offer this particular exhibit for inclusion in larger national and international discussions at this time."

Ellis credited President John R. Broderick's commitment as a major reason that the exhibit is here. He praised ODU for being a champion of diversity and equity among higher education institutions.

"The thought leader in that space is Old Dominion University," he said. "Your president, John Broderick, is very intentional about diversity and inclusion, very intentional about being an enterprising institution. That doesn't just relate to business, but that relates to policies, social reform, cultural reform, cultural inclusion - all of those elements that make society better. That is a forward thinker. That's somebody who's seeing around the corner, seeing the future."

Ellis, who has created more than 5,000 paintings that capture scenes from Southern churches, courtrooms, families and everyday life of African Americans' 400-year journey, said the tour will focus on several "anchor" pieces, including "On the Auction Block," "Built on Our Backs," "The Journey," "Colin Kaepernick" and "Our Time Has Come," a piece he just finished that speaks to the current protests. He will also discuss his "Free At Last," which is the official Juneteenth painting but is not part of the ODU exhibition.

"I'm encouraged, I'm hopeful," said Ellis, who is vice chair for the 400 Years of African American History Commission. "Our webinar is there to offer that opportunity for dialogue about something that is so current and so prevalent and so real that is in our face - locally, nationally and globally."

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