“Welcome Home: A Portrait of East Baltimore, 1975–1980”
July 16, 2021–Jan. 17, 2022
In 1976, to celebrate the bicentennial of the country’s founding, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) launched a multi-year program of photography surveys in communities across the United States to capture a visual record of a changing nation. Of the more than 70 projects funded by the NEA, the East Baltimore Survey was unique for having been conceived, led and carried out by women photographers—Elinor Cahn, Joan Clark Netherwood and Linda Rich. The East Baltimore Survey is one of 13 complete photography surveys that the Smithsonian American Art Museum received in a transfer from the NEA in 1983.
To capture the neighborhood of East Baltimore, Rich, Netherwood and Cahn became immersed in community themselves and were welcomed into the homes and private lives of members of the neighborhood. They photographed a cross-section of its residences and businesses, celebrating its traditions while also acknowledging its many challenges. The tension between ethnicity and Americanness was a sustained theme of the survey, as was its recognition of residents’ fight for their community’s survival, insisting on basic social services and defending against efforts to divide it politically or economically.
Shortly before her death in 2020, Netherwood discovered a complete “community exhibition” of the East Baltimore Survey. These were small-scale exhibitions held in churches and community centers that acted as “trust-raising” events in a community renowned for its suspicion of outsiders. The 30 recovered prints were donated by Netherwood to the museum and are featured in “Welcome Home.”
The exhibition includes 104 photographs, all from the museum’s permanent collection. It is the first time the survey photographs are being presented at the museum since entering the collection. John Jacob, the McEvoy Family Curator for Photography, organized the exhibition with Vitoria Bitencourt and Krystle Stricklin, curatorial assistants.
“Recording a Changing Nation”
With support from the NEH, the Smithsonian American Art Museum collaborated with Voices of 21217, a program that amplifies youth voices in Baltimore. Together they explored the question “How do communities change over time? How do they stay the same? What role can photography play in uncovering history?” Students participated in web-based analysis activities, then took photographs and conducted oral histories that connected them to their city’s past while documenting their present.
As a result of this collaboration, the museum’s educators created, tested and refined a free, comprehensive lesson plan for students in grades six–12. The lesson plan features seven mix-and-match activities with supporting media assets to encourage students to ask these critical historical questions and to strengthen their visual literacy, historical thinking and analysis skills.
“Welcome Home: A Portrait of East Baltimore, 1975–1980” is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Generous support has been provided by the Gene Davis Memorial Fund, the Margery and Edgar Masinter Exhibitions Fund, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative.
About the Smithsonian American Art Museum
The museum’s main building is located at Eighth and G streets N.W., above the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metrorail station, and is open 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Admission is free. Follow the museum on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. Smithsonian information: (202) 633-1000. Museum information (recorded): (202) 633-7970. Website: americanart.si.edu.
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