Paul Rucker: Artist Plans to Collaborate with Corcoran Students to Address Social Issues Through ‘The Black Wall Street Project’

Paul Rucker
September 29, 2020

By Bianca Trinidad, Class of 2021, BS in Marketing and minor in Journalism


Visual artist, composer and musician Paul Rucker will be joining the Corcoran School of Arts and Design at GW as a visiting professor of community engagement for the 2020-2021 academic year. One of the projects that his students will dive into is the Black Wall Street Project, “Banking While Black: Economic Violence Beyond the Black Wall Street Massacre,” which will concentrate on the destruction of the three Black Wall Street communities in Richmond, Virginia, Durham, North Carolina, and Tulsa, Oklahoma.


Rucker’s work consists of a wide mix of media, combining elements of visual art, sound, original composition, animation and live performances in order to deliver meaningful art that addresses various disparities and issues. Most of his current work deals with the U.S. prison system and its relationship to slavery, police brutality and many other social justice issues.


“My main goal right now is… to use and work with art as a tool for empathy and understanding, ” said Rucker. 


This semester, Rucker will be teaching “Approaches to Art, Social Practice and Strategies of Engagement” at the Corcoran, which revolves around students learning and applying techniques and approaches to art that mainly addresses social issues that engage the public beyond traditional art spaces. 


“I think the most powerful art is the art that engages people in an active way, an ongoing way, where the students are involved, the local communities are involved, where you create together... I want to encourage students to explore different ways of disseminating art,” explained Rucker. “It’s more than just painting a picture and putting it on a wall.”


In his class, students will co-produce a socially engaged art installation through providing ideas and approaches in order to tell stories about wealth disparities that exist in the United States.


As a recently appointed Curator for Creative Collaboration with Virginia Commonwealth University arts (VCUarts) and a 2020 Art for Justice grantee from the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller, Rucker will be leading projects that facilitate institutional collaborations that all support and advocate for the culture of inclusivity, learning, sharing and working together. 


Through working on “Banking While Black: Economic Violence Beyond the Black Wall Street Massacre,” Corcoran students will collaborate with students from Virginia Commonwealth and Arizona State University to bring in and create a research-based installation that takes on on the history of economic disparities, access to banking and wealth-building, and the underlying, racialized political economy of the United States. 


The Black Wall Street Project is anticipated to be presented in Spring 2021 in the atrium of the historic Flagg Building, the main gallery space at the Corcoran School of the Arts & Design.


Aside from Rucker’s enthusiasm for the projects and plans he has for the school year, he is most excited to work with his students.


“Mainly I’m looking forward to meeting and working with the students,” Rucker explained. “[My] main role [as the] teacher is to bring out the individual, authentic voice of each of the students… and to help them find the best way to approach different methods of social practice.”



Journey to Becoming An Artist

Throughout his life, Rucker tackled several jobs before eventually carving out his own method of making art and music. Rucker began his musical career at an early age in fourth grade, where he first learned the double bass. Afterwards, he taught himself various other instruments, including the cello, which is his current primary instrument. 


Visual art came to the picture much later in Rucker’s life. In his thirties, he moved to Seattle and lived in an art studio space, and there, Rucker used people’s extra art supplies to experiment and create things. With whatever was left behind, he would make something out of it.


As a visual artist, he wanted to experiment with various mediums, such as music, animation, video, new composition, puzzles and everything else. 


“I’m a conceptual artist. So, whatever you can imagine can really happen,” said Rucker. “There’s probably nothing you can’t make now.”


Throughout his music and visual art careers, Rucker was presented with several awards, grants, and residencies, including but not limited to: a 2012 Creative Capital Grantee in visual art, a 2014, 2018, 2019 MAP (Multi-Arts Production) Fund Grantee for performance, a prestigious Joan Mitchell Painters & Sculptors Grant and the Mary Sawyer Baker Award in 2015, and a 2016 Rauschenberg Artist as Activist fellowship and the Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship, for which he is the first artist in residence at the new National Museum of African American Culture. His most recent award was the 2020 Art for Justice Fund Fellowship.


“We could not be more excited to have Professor Rucker here this year as a resource and inspiration to our students,” said Kym Rice, the Interim Director of the Corcoran. “With his plans on using art to address today’s relevant issues and engage the community through various mediums, we are looking forward to seeing what he and his students will create.”