Ex-LSU player Brandon Surtain curates ‘Art for Activism’ at Tulane to aid millennial nonprofit

by Robin Miller for The Advocate

Brandon Surtain’s “Maw Maw Fighting the Pool,” reflects on his childhood in New Orleans. “All you had was the hose pipe, and it took forever to fill the pool. You’d wait, then go inside and make a sandwich and come back, and there’d still hardly be any water,” he recalls with a laugh.  

Brandon Surtain is giving back.

The former LSU defensive end-turned-artist appreciates the opportunities that have come his way in recent years. And, in light of recent social injustice protests throughout the nation, Surtain wanted to help the community while giving his fellow artists a way to speak out.

The result is “Art for Activism,” a show of 60 works by Louisiana artists opening Monday in Tulane University’s Carroll Gallery with a simultaneous online gallery at @art.foractivism on Instagram.

The show will end Sept. 3, and there will be an online auction from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Aug. 20, also at @art.foractivism with bids placed in the comments section.

Trenity Thomas’ photo, “Black Lives Matter Protest,” is featured in “Art for Activism.”

Seventy percent of all sales will be donated to the political nonprofit Mobilizing Millennials, whose mission is to register and galvanize young people to vote, and to promote civic and political literacy. The remaining 30% will go to the artists.

Surtain is coordinating the project with fellow artists Emery Gluck and Carlyn Morris.

“We’ve had conversations about racial and social dynamics,” Surtain said. “We want to try our best to get this right.”

Surtain graduated from Tulane University’s School of Architecture in May with master’s degrees in architecture and sustainable real estate development. He was offered a scholarship to the university after an article appeared in The Advocate about his bachelor of arts exhibit for the LSU School of Art held at the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge in 2017.

All of Surtain’s work sold at that show, capping off his college career, which included a stint as a defensive end for the Tigers, a position he earned as a walk-on. 

Last summer, the Arthur Roger Gallery in New Orleans staged an exhibit of his works for White Linen Night. Two pieces in that show were purchased by an unnamed NFL franchise owner.

Surtain now works in real estate development.

He won’t have any works in “Art for Activism.” Neither will Gluck and Morris.

“This is a way to give Louisiana artists a voice,” he said. “It’s a show that grew out of the George Floyd murder and the activism that’s happening now. Artists know the power that art has to inspire discussion, revision and a shifting of opinions and culture in a way that words often can’t. This is a way for them to do that.”

Artists were asked to submit recent work addressing themes of systemic and individual racism and the Black Lives Matter movement.

“We asked them to keep in mind that the goal of this show is to encourage hope and a shifting of opinions and culture toward something better,” Surtain said. “Their interpretation of this theme could be as loose or direct as they liked.”

Sixty artists responded within the first 24 hours of the show’s announcement. That’s when Surtain and his fellow artists realized they had to limit the number of artists.

“We had originally planned the show for another venue, but we had to move it to the Carroll Gallery, because it had already outgrown our first venue. We tried to accommodate anyone who wanted to participate, but we knew we had to put a cap on it.”

Surtain said he and his fellow organizers maintained physical distance during the show’s installation.

“We had a lot of flexibility in hanging it,” he said. “And we’re doing our best to get it right.”