Anacostia Community Museum Presents Exhibition About Black Arts Education in Washington, D.C.

“A Bold and Beautiful Vision” Opens March 23
March 7, 2024
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Black and white image of a group of young students sitting at desks in an arts classroom.

Lois Mailou Jones in her classroom at Howard University, Credit: Scurlock Studio Records, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

“A Bold and Beautiful Vision: A Century of Black Arts Education in Washington, D.C., 1900–2000,” opens March 23 at Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum with captivating artworks, artifacts and rare video footage. It tells the story of the teachers, students and activists who made Washington, D.C., a center for Black arts education.

Washington produced some of the 20th century’s most talented artists, including musical icons Duke Ellington, Billy Taylor and Madame Lillian Evanti; visual artists Alma Thomas, Elizabeth Catlett and James A. Porter; and was home to artist-educators Sam Gilliam, Georgette Seabrooke Powell and Loïs Mailou Jones, among many others.

Outside the spotlight of the nation’s major museums and galleries, and in a longtime segregated school system, African American artist-educators in 20th-century Washington were unified not by a singular aesthetic vision but by a bold and deeply held commitment to inspiring a love of the arts in young people. These artists shared their gifts with their students in the face of the seemingly insurmountable challenges of underfunding, overcrowding and being overlooked.

“‘A Bold and Beautiful Vision’ is not about the singular genius of any particular artist, but about the collective genius of community: the teachers, students, advocates and educational institutions that made D.C. into a major center for Black arts education,” said Samir Meghelli, senior curator at the Anacostia Community Museum. “We see this as an important opportunity to shine a light on the long tradition of artist-educators in Washington—some well-known and others not—who dedicated their lives to inspiring a love of the arts in generations of the city’s young people. They are responsible for producing some of the 20th century’s most gifted artists and for cultivating the vibrant culture of the city.” 

The exhibition features more than 85 objects and artworks, including:

  • Original prints from the first solo exhibit of Elizabeth Catlett (1915–2012), organized by one of the first Black-owned commercial art galleries in the nation, Washington’s Barnett-Aden Gallery; these same prints later hung for many years on the walls of Catlett’s alma mater, Paul Laurence Dunbar High School. 
  • The custom-made Fischer piano of Madame Lillian Evanti (1890–1967), alumna of Washington’s Armstrong High School, a teacher and the first African American opera singer to perform with a major European opera company.
  • The mid-century paintbrushes and watercolor paint set of longtime Washington educator and renowned painter Alma Thomas (1891–1978), donated to the Anacostia Community Museum by David C. Driskell.
  • A lifelike marionette that longtime Washington artist and art educator William Buckner (1888–1984) made with his Armstrong High School students in the late 1930s.
  • Several artworks by Sam Gilliam (1933–2022), including from the period when he was teaching at McKinley Technical High School (“Long Green,” 1965), another from much later in his career after he had been teaching college and was working on three-dimensional sculptures (“Daily Red,” 1998) and a third that is a cut of canvas he donated to the Anacostia Community Museum (c. 1989) to make available to visitors who would be interested in learning about his techniques.
  • Late 1960s silkscreen prints by Lou Stovall (1937–2023) and Lloyd McNeill (1935–2021) created for a weekly concert series organized by the Adams Morgan-based youth arts organization, The New Thing Art and Architecture Center. 
  • A study drawing of a young James Baldwin by David C. Driskell (1931–2020), alongside artwork by Driskell’s mentors and longtime Howard University professors James A. Porter, Loïs Mailou Jones and James Lesesne Wells.

“A Bold and Beautiful Vision” is part of the museum’s theme for 2024, “Our Education, Our Future,” in which the museum is examining the topic of education equity and the arts in the Washington metropolitan area.

This exhibition is made possible through support from the Terra Foundation for American Art. Additional support provided in part by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, which receives support from the National Endowment for the Arts. Support for this exhibition is also provided in part by Events DC.

About the Museum

Founded in 1967, the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum shares the untold and often overlooked stories of communities furthest from justice in the greater Washington, D.C., region. In celebrating stories of resiliency, joy and strength, the museum inspires those who visit to translate their ideas into action. For more information about the museum, visit anacostia.si.edu or follow the museum on TwitterLinkedInFacebook and Instagram.

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SI-50-2024

Solo Medios 

Amy Kehs

202-309-5543

KehsA@si.edu

Sophia Ancira

202-718-3290

anciras@si.edu

Exhibitions