By Amy Matzke-Fawcett

Ted Ellis, famed self-taught artist, educator and cultural historian, will serve as Scholar-in-Residence for Old Dominion University's College of Arts and Letters starting in January. He will work with the Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity (ISRE) to highlight the value of the arts, specifically visual literacy, in efforts to understand the resilience and contributions of African Americans. On a broader level, Ellis will engage in activities that will augment diversity programs and initiatives at ODU.

The appointment continues Ellis' relationship and diversity work at the University and in the Hampton Roads community. In January 2020 Ellis traveled to ODU to debut a show developed exclusively for the University on race, social justice and African American culture in the United States over the past 400 years. It featured more than 20 original paintings that speak to the experience and history of African Americans as part of the University's 400th Commemoration of the First African Landing.

"When we have this opportunity to talk about history, inequality, racial equity and things that we can do to be solution-oriented and bridging these gaps amongst the student population, you have all the ingredients to get students started," Ellis said. "We're using art as a means of communicating and healing."

Ellis said he has spoken with President John R. Broderick about ODU's leadership work in bridging gaps and partnering with the community to address issues pertaining to racism, diversity, inclusion and social inequality.

"This appointment is at a time in which we are at a critical point in this country given the pandemic, intensified race relations, sexism, homophobia, other forms of intolerance and the continued wave of police brutality, more so fatalities, against African Americans," said Melvina Sumter, associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice and ISRE director. She pointed to the public killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, among others, as the catalysts for the public outrage and massive protests in 2020 and discussions.

"Ellis' primary objectives are to engage ODU students and the wider society (schools throughout Virginia, community groups, local art community and businesses, governmental agencies, and private corporations) by fostering conversations on the history of racism and its impact on the human condition of African Americans, other people of color, women, and affinity groups within the United States as a method to help deepen understanding of the concept of race and other 'isms,'" Sumter said.

"We are honored and excited to have Ted Ellis join the College of Arts & Letters as Scholar-in-Residence during this unprecedented moment in the history of our country," Dean Kent Sandstrom said. "Through collaboration with our distinguished faculty, particularly Dr. Melvina Sumter, Ted will help our community to become a stronger, richer and more inclusive place. He will also enable us to better appreciate how the study of art and culture can enhance our understandings of the history, resilience and contributions of African Americans."

Community outreach in Hampton Roads is nothing new to Ellis. During previous visits to the University, along with the exhibition and unveiling of a new painting, "The First Family," Ellis engaged with the Lamberts Point Community Center and the Children's Museum in Portsmouth, among others. And when the exhibition in the Goode Theatre was closed as precaution against the spread of COVID-19, Ellis participated in the Arts@ODU Summer Series and a virtual presentation, "Diverse Conversations with Ted Ellis: Using Art to Understand Racism," with the Office of Faculty Diversity and Retention, the ISRE and the 400 Years of African American History Commission.

The Barry Art Museum also recently acquired one of Ellis' paintings, "Writing a New History (STEAM)," for its permanent collection.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Ellis said much of his community outreach will be virtual for now. He hopes that his love for art and the expression of history and culture through it will catch on across the area.

"What does that landscape look like in leveraging those possibilities, that potential?" Ellis said. "So you shape it up, you get folks to see the vision, and then you just get everyone to own it. We're going to fall but we're going to get back up. We get to continue to build legacies and have the students, the faculty and the folks in the community be a part of it."

Ellis' appointment as Scholar-in-Residence begins Jan. 2, and more information about specific programs and outreach will be announced as the spring semester begins. Previous Scholars-in-Residence include alumnus Derrick Borte, creator of the film "American Dreamer," and Louise Wetherbee Phelps, current Scholar-in-Residence for the Department of English.

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