In anticipation of the final 2020 Presidential Debate held on Belmont University’s campus, artists from across the United States of America – including FSU’s own Dr. Sara Scott Shields, Chair of the Department of Art Education – each created a unique flag for the Unity Flag Project. These flags, each representing a different state, were created to to promote empathy for bipartisanship. The overarching idea of the Unity Flag Project is to build “purple empathy” through the visual arts by thinking about the composition of purple as an optical blending of blue and red to engage in civil bipartisan discourse.
Unity Flag Project organizer Dr. Meaghan Brady Nelson, defined purple empathy as the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feeling, thoughts and experience of another person’s political views, experiences, understandings, intentions, and decisions. The blending of the literal red and blue hues has a direct correlation with coming together as a nation united in bipartisan discourse to create political empathy that can be visually represented by the color purple.
Dr. Shields’ flag represents the state of Florida and asks the question: How can the spirit of Florida be conveyed through the stars and stripes? After researching Florida history, she decided to honor the indigenous people of Florida, influential Floridians from the Civil Rights Movement, and Florida women who fought for women’s right to vote. Shields represented these individuals’ portraits in the stars of the United States flag, and then included key information about them on the stripes. Shields’ flag is a reminder that collective voice can create lasting change, she sees this flag as a call to action for people to vote in the upcoming presidential election.
By looking at this flag I hope you are inspired to learn more about the Floridians who have helped our country move towards a more equitable existence through the magnification of a collective, empathetic voice. As you look at the stars and stripes I hope you are reminded that there is still work to do and inspired to use your voice to get up, get out and go vote.
– Dr. Sara Scott Shields