“American Values” is perhaps the most over-used, and often abused, phrase in this country’s political rhetoric. With over 307 million people living in the United States of America, the American Values Project sets out to discover what exactly the phrase “American Values” could possibly mean. The idea behind this project was to demonstrate – in images – the vast, complex, multivalent, and often contradictory values that motivate us. American Values are, after all, no more and no less than the values that Americans – each and all of them – hold dear.
In February 2011, Dr. Leigh M. Johnson, a Philosophy professor at Rhodes College in Memphis, put a call out on her blog asking readers to write down on a sign something that they value, take a photo of themselves holding that sign, and send it in. Originally intended simply to collect in images what “American Values” are, the project quickly took on a life of its own. Several contributors wrote about their values on various blogs—see Zeke Leonard’s here, Kerry Crawford’s here, Steven Thomas’ here—and word of the project spread quickly through our Facebook and Twitter pages. After the first few weeks, Dr. Johnson put the initial submissions together into a video montage and thought that the project had run its course….
…but then, people just kept sending in pictures!
As the project continued to grow, it also began to generate interest far and wide. In April 2011, the American Values Project was invited to exhibit a number of its images at Tally Beck Contemporary gallery in New York City as a part of the Festival of Ideas for a New City. The Festival of Ideas for a New City was a collaborative initiative involving diverse organizations, universities, arts institutions and community groups, all of whom were interested in exploring creative ways to imagine productive change for their city. The American Values Project’s contribution to that Festival was an exhibit called “New York Values,” which featured only images from New Yorkers.
The New York exhibit was a great success and served as the motivating factor for Dr. Johnson’s decision to solicit people and funds to continue the project.
In the Fall of 2012, Rhodes College and Rhodes College’s Center for Outreach and Development of the Arts (CODA) provided two student assistants to the American Values Project, Colin Fleck (Philosophy, ‘12) and Emily Main (History, ‘12). The Project team was recently expanded to include several more student-volunteers, including Andrea Tedesco (’15), Timothy Garton (’14), Rush Brady (’12), Cat Rauck (’12) and Rhodes alum Halley Johnson (’10). Together, and in concert with CODA, the American Values Project team has continued to solicit photos and develop the project. We were recently awarded a generous grant from CODA to update our website and to stage a physical exhibit of the American Values Project, which is scheduled for May 5, 2012 at Marshall Arts gallery in downtown Memphis.
We want you to be a part of this project and this community. Click here to find out how.