Bridging the Divide: The Arts as a Catalyst for Inclusive Community

Arts Panel
Day 2: November 15, 2023 | 10:30 a.m. – 11:45 a.m., Varsity Hall

Session Video

Session Description

An annual Arts-centered panel presented in collaboration between the Division of the Arts and DDEEA that delves into the intersection of the Arts with the annual theme of the Diversity Forum, and with UW Madison’s faculty, staff, students and community members. 

This year, our panel of advocates, artists, creatives, designers, and cultural practitioners explores the arts’ profound impact on fostering belonging, essential for flourishing and inclusive communities. We delve into:

1) how the arts embrace differences, celebrate similarities, and cultivate belonging.
2) the intersection of art, diversity, and community practice, highlighting scholar-artists and practitioners.
3) the arts’ powerful role in fostering unity and understanding.

Discover how the arts empower UW Madison’s faculty, staff, students, and community members, elevating cultural activities beyond aesthetics and promoting harmony through diversity. Explore how ‘Artful Connections’ negotiates access versus a sense of belonging. 


Christy Clark-Pujara

Christy Clark-Pujara, Ph.D., is a historian whose research focuses on the experiences of Black people in French and British North America in the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries. She is particularly interested in retrieving the hidden and unexplored histories of African Americans in areas that historians have not sufficiently examined — small towns and cities in the North and Midwest. She contends that the full dimensions of the African American and American experience cannot be appreciated without reference to how Black people managed their lives in places where they were few. An absence of a large Black populace did not mean that ideas of blackness were not central to these places’ social, political, and economic development. Her first book, “Dark Work: The Business of Slavery in Rhode Island,” examines how the business of slavery — economic activity that was directly related to the maintenance of slaveholding in the Americas, specifically the buying and selling of people, food, and goods — shaped the experience of slavery, the process of emancipation, and the realities of black freedom in Rhode Island from the colonial period through the American Civil War.

Thumbnail of speaker Christy Clark-Pujara.

Kiba Freeman

Stephon ‘Kiba’ Freeman is a full-time stay-at-home dad and a professional artist located in Stevens Point, WI. He currently specializes in creating with spray paint and paint markers on everything from canvas to exterior walls of varying sizes. He tends to create landscapes, explore space, dabble in abstractions, and self-portraits through his creative practice.
Originally from Chicago, Kiba moved to Stevens Point in pursuit of higher education in 2009. He earned his Bachelor of Fine Art from UW-Stevens Point (UWSP) in 2014 while primarily focusing on relief printing and film photography. These two forms often played into each other. Many of the candid photos that were taken, developed, and printed soon became drawings that then became woodblock carvings or stencils.
Kiba first got interested in spray paint after a summer study abroad trip to Italy in 2013, where he first encountered artists creating at an event in Rome. Fascinated by the process, he eventually started to teach himself, utilizing some shaky YouTube videos, memories from Rome, and a great deal of trial and error. Kiba started to find his stride in 2015-2016 when he started to paint live at local events and established Kiba Freeman Art LLC. He continued to find his place in the local art market while working as a retail store manager until he decided to bet on himself and go full-time as an artist in 2019.
While attending UWSP, Kiba met his wife, Jenna, and they have been inseparable since. The birth of their daughter, Soraiya, in 2018 really helped to shift Kiba’s perspective. He started to create for someone other than himself and it moved him to pursue more large-scale public art. He started trying to depict the fun, whimsical way he felt she saw the world around her. Soraiya helped him relearn the beauty in the simple and appreciating the wonders this world has to offer, right in his backyard. Kiba is curious to see how his now 1 year old son, Kai, influences his future work.
All in all, Kiba feels like he is still in the early part of his creative journey. He is excited to continue to connect with Wisconsin’s creative community and beyond.

Thumbnail of speaker Kiba Freeman.

Ja' Malik

Artistic and Executive Director of Madison Ballet. With a 25 year career as a performing artist dancing with Oakland Ballet, Charlotte Ballet, BalletX and Ballet Hispanico to name a few. An award winning evolving choreographer from Harlem NY, who creates works based on real life experiences. Minding the gap between the elite perception of ballet and what he views as the reality of ballet for a modern world. Rooted in respect for the classical training while pushing the physically emotional aspect of dancer audience connection through the language of contemporary  ballet movement.

Having created works on such companies as Madison Ballet, Charlotte Ballet, Festival Ballet Providence, Houston Contemporary Dance Company & American Repertory Ballet among others.

The 2023/24 season of Madison Ballet marks his second season as Artistic Director for more info visit

Thumbnail of speaker Ja' Malik.

Christina Martin-Wright

Christina holds an M.F.A. in directing and dramaturgy from the Chicago College of the Performing Arts at Roosevelt University and an undergraduate degree in Performance from Northern Michigan University. She is one of the founders of Madison’s StageQ Theatre and has been an active member of the arts community for over two decades. Christina has nonprofit leadership, fundraising, and external relations experience with some of the area’s most vibrant organizations and events, including the Wisconsin Film Festival, Children’s Theater of Madison, and Madison Children’s Museum. Christina is the President of the Friends Board at UW—Madison Waisman Center and sits on the Wisconsin Arts Board Accessibility Committee and the Leadership Team of Any Given Child Madison, a program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Arts. Christina has been the Executive Director of ARTS for ALL Wisconsin (formerly Very Special Arts Wisconsin) since 2018. The mission of ARTS for ALL Wisconsin is to expand the capabilities, confidence, and quality of life for children and adults with disabilities throughout Wisconsin by providing programs in the arts. Access, inclusion, and disability justice are priorities not only professionally but personally. Christina is the mother of two adult sons, one of whom is on the autism spectrum.

Thumbnail of speaker Christina Martin-Wright.

Chris Walker

Chris Walker is a professor of dance and founding artistic director of the First Wave program in the Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the co-artistic director for the #BARS Workshop at The Public Theatre in NYC, a lab series for artists to investigate the intersection between contemporary verse and theater, created by Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs. He is also a senior choreographer with the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica, and program director for the New Waves Dance & Performance Institute in Trinidad & Tobago.

Walker creates contemporary dance, theater and performance artwork rooted in the visual and performance cultures of the African Diaspora. He works in the disciplines of dance, theater, film/video. He served as movement director for two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage’s Mlima’s Tale, which ran at the Public’s Martinson Hall and he is the recent choreographer for The Secret Life of Bees, The Musical produced by Atlantic Theatre in NYC. Walker has collaborated with Laura Anderson Barbata to develop Jus Luv/Rolling Calf a Jamaican ‘mas’ for her Intervention: Indigo project, a performance that was presented in the 2015 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in Brooklyn, NY.

His concert dance work has been presented in Europe, Asia and throughout the Americas. His collaboration with Kevin Ormsby and KasheDance in Toronto titled FACING Home: Love & Redemption is currently and has been on tour internationally since its premiere in 2015. He has received numerous international and national grants and honors for his creative research work. He recently completed a Romnes Fellowship, which supported his research on homophobia in the African Diaspora and in 2020 he was named one of the School of Education’s Impact 2030 Faculty Fellows.

Thumbnail of speaker Chris Walker.