This post is a part of the AAHC Forum. In the coming months we will invite current and past grantees to contribute their project experiences via blog posts on our UpNext Blog and then ask you to respond through the AAHC Virtual Forum. We hope you will add your voice and share your needs and opinions so that AAHC can continue to help African American museums thrive. Please visit the AAHC forum to continue the conversation.
In 2011 the Amistad Research Center received an African American History and Culture grant to increase the capacity to care for and exhibit its collection of fine art by African American artists. The grant followed the devastating impact Hurricane Katrina had on the Center, resulting in a 70 percent reduction in staff. Grant funds were used to recruit and hire an experienced registrar/curator and to strengthen the staff’s knowledge of museum practices. The project enabled the Center to align itself with best practices and implement traveling exhibitions targeting new and underserved populations. The blog posts by Lee Hampton, Executive Director of the Amistad Research Center, and Leiza McKenna, the Registrar/Curator hired as a result of the grant, each discuss work being done as a result of the completed 2011 AAHC grant project.
By Lee Hampton
Executive Director, Amistad Research Center
Since its founding in 1966, the Amistad Research Center has emerged as one of the nation’s largest and most diverse archives of original manuscripts on African American and other ethnic minority history. The manuscript collections are reinforced by a library of 20,000 volumes and a collection of 300 paintings, drawings, and sculpture by African American artists dating from the nineteenth century.
We continue emphasis on the manuscript collections as the core of our operations. However, our July 2011 IMLS Museum Grant for African American History and Culture has facilitated adoption of policy, procedure, and plans for us to build capacity and integrate sustainable museum activity into the Center’s operations.
Working on this grant project taught us to become more resourceful at documenting and preserving our collection, while expanding access and targeting venues that are capable and desirous of hosting future exhibitions and collaborating on special projects.
Our recent agreement to enter into a memorandum of understanding aimed at the exhibition of Amistad-owned artwork by a proper museum or institution of higher education in Haiti is directly attributable to work on this grant. The agreement recognizes that Amistad’s artworks are highly relevant to the people and history of Haiti, and that Haiti’s Presidential Advisory Commission for Economic Growth and Investment wishes to support efforts to make the artwork available for Haitian academic researchers and public exhibition in Haiti.
Both parties expressed their intent to discuss terms and conditions acceptable to Amistad. We own the Toussaint L’Ouverture Series by Jacob Lawrence, which depict L’Ouverture’s role in the liberation of Haiti from France, and we have marketed our ownership extensively. It is information about these paintings that sparked the initial interest of the Haitian ministers and led to a visit by the country’s American consultants.
We don’t know whether long-term discussion and implementation of proposals in the agreement will lead to an international exhibition of our art. This is definitely unfamiliar territory, but it is exciting to know that our earlier plans and entrepreneurial efforts to gain value from the art collection got us to this point.