New Exhibit Offers Fresh Context for May 4

To better understand the events that transpired at Kent State University on May 4, 1970, we must also understand the national tension and climate leading up to that day. A graduate student and two design students have demonstrated the context of May 4 in a stunning, creative visual exhibit.

“The Vocal Majority: 1969” is an in-depth exhibit featured in Kent State’s May 4 Visitors Center that depicts a series of massive Vietnam War protests that occurred in 1969. The exhibit is an assortment of anti-war artifacts from that era such as posters, photos, videos and other memorabilia, like buttons and armbands from protests.

Anti-War propanganda from 1970

In 1969, at least two million Americans came together in four large protests: the Moratorium March, the November Student Strike, the March Against Death and the March on Washington, marking the largest American demonstrations at that time, as a whole.

Graduate Student Skylar Wright

The exhibit, created by graduate student Skylar Wrisley, is meant to show viewers the reasons why Kent State students protested on May 1-4, 1970, and to reiterate that the events that day were intentional and coordinated.

“The title contradicts what President Nixon called a ‘vocal minority’ versus a ‘silent majority,’” Wrisley said. “Because anti-war protestors believed they represented the majority of Americans and took to the streets of D.C., San Francisco, Kent and many other cities to show it.”

Wrisley hails from Akron and earned her bachelor’s degree in history and anthropology at Kent State, and is now finishing her master’s in history at Kent State. She created the exhibit to provide a deep context around the May 4 shootings and to remind people of their responsibility toward social change and the government's obligation to follow the will of the people.

In addition, the exhibit reminds us all that the issues of the past can sometimes resonate with the issues of today and that we can learn a lot from our history while moving forward. It was a huge goal of Wrisley’s to find connections between the struggles in the 21st century and those in the late 1960s.

“The exhibit also relates to today’s strategies of protesting since these protestors learned that demonstrations are not sufficient on their own,” Wrisley said. “It takes mass action based on a commonly shared consciousness to create change, and this is explicitly inspired by the Black Civil Rights and Black Power movements that coincided.”

Wrisley was additionally inspired by some pieces that were already in the May 4 Visitors Center, specifically the photo of Kent’s Moratorium March in October of 1969, which is plastered across the center’s windows overlooking Blanket Hill.  

Vocal Majority Display

Wrisley researched the protests meticulously for a writing seminar last spring and was encouraged by Lori Boes, interim director of the May 4 Visitors Center, to turn it into an exhibit. After an intense round of planning and execution with an entire team of designers, the materials were printed and installed by the end of February of this year and will stay there until the end of May.

As a master’s student studying history, Wrisley was well versed in the concepts and ideas of her exhibit but needed help from a fresh set of design-centric eyes. That’s when she brought on Jen Goubeaux and Ariel Bradford, two senior visual communication design majors who served as the graphic designers of the “Vocal Majority” exhibit.

“It meant a lot to us to get this opportunity. This was the biggest project that we both have ever done,” Goubeaux said. “We’re more used to smaller class projects, so to see an entire room decorated with our work was really reassuring and fulfilling.”

They give Wrisley full credit for the creativity and brilliance behind the content of the exhibit but are honored to be a part of their first large design project. They attest to the challenges of organizing a multimedia presentation with a team of people.

“In general, working with a client is really cool because when you work with students and professors, it’s nice, but working with non-designers is a whole new challenge in itself,” Bradford said. “But it also can bring some really fresh ideas. A lot of the time, it was things we wouldn’t have even thought of, so we’d be like, ‘Oh, let’s try that!’”

Both students now have a deeper understanding of what it means to work in a team, a team that comprised Liz Campion, a May 4 archivist at Kent State; Cindy Kristof, copyright and scholarly communication librarian at the Kent State University Library; and, of course, Boes.

Vocal Majority display

Wrisley is thankful for all the help she received and thrilled with how “Vocal Majority” turned out. As she continues her career, she aspires to shed more light on an era of history that is sometimes overlooked.

“I had a ton of support throughout the entire project, and it makes me sure that I want to continue working in exhibit development and museum education for life,” Wrisley said. “There are surprisingly few museums centered around the 1960s, and we are one of the only ones about the Vietnam anti-war movement. I believe museums should advocate for social justice and promote cultural relevance, and I think the May 4 Visitors Center totally aligns with that.”

Learn more about the “Vocal Majority” exhibit, which will be available for viewing in the May 4 Visitors Center until May 31.

POSTED: Monday, April 24, 2023 12:43 PM
Updated: Friday, April 28, 2023 04:15 PM
Mateo Martin, Flash Communications