Leveraging Art to Build Community at the Mitra Gallery

Bright brush strokes on a canvas. Figurines carved from stone. A page from the Qur’an with gold ink calligraphy. Architectural limestone features from a temple. How can artifacts like these invoke conversation and weave shared meaning across cultures, religions, and eons?

Visitors to the Anu and Shekhar Mitra Gallery of South Asian Art, which holds the South Asian art collection at the Cincinnati Art Museum, are invited to discover how transformative visual art can be. The gallery is sponsored by the generosity of Drs. Anu Mitra, a professor at Union Institute & University, and her husband Shekhar Mitra, a Union Institute & University Board of Trustee member since 2009.

“Art, like a good story, is meant to unfold in conversation with each other. We each see our world a little differently and the point is to become clearer in what we know and how we want to function in our world through our shared meaning-making,” Dr. Mitra said, who is also a docent and trustee at the Cincinnati Art Museum, in addition to her role at Union.

Anu and Shekhar have been actively engaged with the Cincinnati Art Museum since moving to the area in the 1980s. The museum’s mission resonates with them: “Through the power of art we contribute to a more vibrant Cincinnati by inspiring its people and connecting our communities.” The museum’s intent to reinterpret the South Asian collection was a definitive opportunity for them to support an organization that holds a deep place in their hearts.

Visual art is also a cornerstone of Dr. Mitra’s scholarly background, which spans design thinking, visual culture, and arts-based practices in organizational settings. Leveraging masterpieces for the visual stories they share about who we are and what we believe, Dr. Mitra inspires students to see themselves and the world from different perspectives.

While living in mainland China from 1997 to 2000, Dr. Mitra taught at Sichuan University, where she witnessed the impact of visual arts on communication and cognition. “Although literature and women’s studies were my areas of focus, I found that the visual arts were of enormous help in conveying important ideas for discussion. As you know, 97% of us are visual learners, and what we see is what we understand in fundamental ways. Chinese students are no different as we parsed through artworks such as Courbet’s realistic depictions of daily life or Millet’s focus on workers in the fields,” she said.

The design of the Mitra gallery is an extension of Dr. Mitra’s classroom technique, a space she and her husband hope will inspire empathy through exploration and unite communities. It is a meeting place where people of different centuries, cultures, and beliefs encounter one another through art.

The Mitra gallery at the Cincinnati Art Museum is now open.

Dr. Anu M. Mitra has a Ph.D. from the University of Rochester, Rochester, New York. Since 1988, she has worked at the Union Institute & University in various administrative and teaching capacities, most recently as Ph.D. faculty in the Interdisciplinary Studies program. She has also taught at Yale University, Antioch College, Empire State College, and Sichuan University in China. Her areas of scholarly research are design thinking; visual culture; social justice theory and practice; and arts-based practices in organizational settings. She is a trustee at the Cincinnati Art Museum and on the National Advisory Board of the National Museum for Women in the Arts in Washington, DC. She has co-edited twelve books on arts-based practices along with numerous articles on the subject. Learn more about Dr. Anu Mitra.

Dr. Shekhar Mitra has served on the Union Institute & University Board of Trustees since October 2009. He received his undergraduate degree in Biophysical Chemistry from the Indian Institute of Technology; his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from Columbia University in New York; and was a Jane Coffin Research Fellow at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.  He joined Procter & Gamble in 1984 moving up the leadership ranks to become the first Asian to be Senior Vice President of R&D.  He was a member of P&G’s top executive team, the Global Business Leadership Council; and retired in 2013. Read more about Dr. Shekhar Mitra.


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