A new episode of Museum Way, the podcast of Crystal Bridges, is available now! Today’s episode is one we’ve been excited to share for a while now. On the final day of Black History Month, we look to the coming year and consider how we can take the lessons of Black History forward. One way we’d like to do that is to listen back on a conversation we had last year. In June of 2018, we sat down with Museum Educators Raven Cook and Kentrell Curry to discuss the American Spirit and the upcoming “Independence Day.” We were unable to turn the episode around in time for the holiday, but we’re excited to share it with you today as we round out Black History Month.
At Crystal Bridges, it is our mission to welcome all to celebrate the American Spirit. So what exactly is the American Spirit? We strive to develop a museum culture known for providing positive, enriching experiences for our guests and staff, and we want to continue thinking forward. What does it mean to be an inclusive art museum?
In the episode, host Stace Treat talks with Raven and Kentrell about how we at Crystal Bridges can continue to foster this rich and valuable discussion. We want to recognize our complicated history around the idea of an “Independence Day,” and talk about some of the artworks in our collection that help us think through this. Enjoy this episode of Museum Way.
Raven is a Museum Educator and oversees the Crystal Bridges African American Summer Institute professional development program. Raven has a commitment to educating all people on the life and legacy of Black Americans in America and abroad. Check out Raven’s past museum blog posts: About Martin, Juneteenth: A Day to Reach for and Celebrate Our Highest Ideals, and Black History Month: Emma Cadwalader Guild’s sculpture “Free.“
Kentrell is an Associate Museum Educator in our Public Programs department. He works with community outreach programs and oversees all Artinfusion branded programs. He’s also pivotal in our Gallery Conversations, Film Series, and much more. Check out Kentrell’s past museum blog post: Reflections on Bryan Stevenson’s Distinguished Lecture.
Nari Ward is known for his sculptures made from found materials discovered in and around New York City. The hanging multicolored shoelaces nearly obscure the words, “We the People,” encouraging viewers to stop, study, and decipher the text. Ward asks us to reconsider the phrase. Has its meaning changed? Who are “the people”? How do these words apply to our society today? Learn more about the artwork here.
Kerry James Marshall’s work often explores themes of racial identity, community, and belonging. Our Town is part of his Garden Project series, in which low-income housing projects are ironically rendered as idyllic places. The carefully painted houses, manicured lawn, and bright sky coexist uneasily with graffiti scribbles and trees tied with yellow ribbons, suggesting war or tragedy.
Marshall contrasts the tidy scene, dominated by red, white, and blue, with deep black paint and minimal shading on the figures. Here, he emphasizes the blackness of his subjects in an art world that notably lacks images of African Americans. Our Town further evokes Thornton Wilder’s 1938 play of the same title, posing the question: for whom does this American ideal really exist? Learn more about the artwork here.
The Cost of Removal by Titus Kaphar not only weighs the impact of generational oppression, but the inherent loss in attempting to erase the realities of history. There is a current debate circulating the nation as to whether or not public confederate monuments should be torn down or kept. Kaphar believes that it is possible to think beyond this “one or the other” method of problem solving in order to explore the nuances within the development of history. In his viewcan be amended in a way similar to that of the United States Constitution; by readdressing outdated procedures and values, the American people can continue to assert their values through the engagement of contemporary artists to create art that responds and confronts these public sculptures. In no way does the art “fix” a problematic past, but it can spark dialogue between those who will create the future. Learn more about the artwork here.
Vanessa German is an American sculptor, painter, writer, activist, performer, and poet based in the historic neighborhood of Homewood, in Pittsburgh, which has been the home to luminaries of jazz, art & literature from Billy Strayhorn, Ahmad Jamal, Tina Brewer, and John Edgar Wideman. Homewood has also been described by MSNBC as “The Most Dangerous Neighborhood in America.” German’s community is the driving force behind her work. As a citizen artist, she is a vigorous advocate for children, creating safe spaces for artmaking amid violence. In recent years, she launched the Art House where she hosts neighborhood children, women and families to create beauty through art and build self-esteem. Before German acquired the current Art House, she lived in another row house not far away. She would often work on her sculptures on the front porch where she could spread out with her tools and materials and enjoy the fresh air. Neighborhood kids would curiously watch, and eventually started to participate. German started sharing her materials and encouraging them to make art.
She also creates elaborate sculptures of African American “power figures” crafted from found objects that confront violence and systematic racism. Some of these sculptures were featured in the 2014 exhibition, State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now. Her work has been exhibited widely and is in collections all over the country. She has been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, NPR’s All Things Considered, andO Magazine. German will also be featured in a documentary film on State of the Art, debuting nationally on PBS in April, 2019.
German was recently named the recipient of the 2018 Don Tyson Prize! Learn more here.
Learn more about “Domino Players” (2008) by Willie Birch here.
Other Museum Way episodes include a conversation on artwork installation, a chat with our Eleven restaurant chef, a look into museum virtual reality, and more. Subscribe to the podcast to be notified whenever we post a new episode—more exciting episodes are coming soon!
Crystal Bridges Interpretation Manager Stace Treat is the host of Museum Way. Subscribe to be the first to listen, and head over to our social media channels to let us know what you’d like to hear on future episodes.