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Student Voices: Artistry and Research Behind The ARC of Justice

April 23, 2021

by Erin Blanding

Erin sitting on the quadThis past year has been unpredictable, scary and uncertain. I was sent home last March at the end of my freshman year at Duke, and never did I imagine I’d be working on a project like The ARC of Justice at the Sanford School a year later. Working on this project has felt like a fulfilling way to contribute to the current discussion happening today about racial justice in the United States.

I was at home in Indian Trail, N.C., during the beginning of the pandemic, and I turned to art to help cope with the moment and pass the never-ending circle of time. I started my own Instagram page dedicated to posting the art I was creating, and this turned into an opportunity to create art for The ARC of Justice podcast, a new series from Way & Means. I had already been working for Sanford previously, but then a DM from the Sanford’s Instagram page led to me being way more involved in the project.

At this point, not only was I helping with research and curating resources for the podcast discussion guides, among other things, but I was also creating graphics that would encapsulate the complexity of each episode in an effort to communicate such important messaging to viewers. For the first episode, I created a quilt design featuring different facets of American history, including depictions of money, resistance, and violence, because each component makes up the complex fabric of the United States. 

I felt pressure from myself to make sure my contributions were apt for such a critical conversation and this opportunity has taught me so much. I have gained so much experience going back and forth about cover art ideas, researching countless topics integral to the storytelling of the podcast, and using the podcast episodes as starting points to collecting numerous other resources related to racial justice today and the history of the United States.

Seeing all of the pieces come together in the podcast live finale was an exciting moment for me. So many people attended the event, and it was awesome to see something I had been such a big part of be so successful. Through this process, I have gotten to know Duke Professor William A. "Sandy" Darity Jr. and folklorist and arts consultant A. Kirsten Mullen’s work very well. They are doing awesome work and hearing their thoughts about reparations at the podcast live finale was both exciting and encouraging, despite the fact that there is so much work to be done to achieve racial justice here in the United States. The event was a culmination of such amazing scholarship and insight, and hearing such knowledgeable people discuss such a pressing topic was nothing short of enlightening.

I am so thankful to Carol Jackson and Kirsten Khire, and so many others, for being patient with me while teaching me countless things about what goes into producing such important work. With so much freedom to be creative and lots of constructive feedback, working on this podcast has shown me just how much time and effort goes into creating something so powerful. I particularly enjoyed listening to the final episodes and just absorbing the feeling that comes from seeing each episode come together from the beginning.

I’ve learned so much about storytelling and research through this experience, and although I am currently on a gap year, once I return to Duke as a student, I am confident this work will help me exponentially throughout my Duke career and beyond. I’m looking forward to going into my sophomore year with better work habits, experience, and knowledge through working on something so meaningful.

I loved each episode, but the one that stood out to me most was S6E2: This Land is My Land. I loved creating the cover art and I appreciated the storytelling.

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Erin Blanding will return to Duke University this fall as a sophomore, potentially majoring in biology. She enjoys reading and social media and plans on working with @DukeStudents upon her return.