The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens is pleased to announce the recognition of its current exhibition LIFT: Contemporary Expressions of the African American Experience by the National Museum of African American History & Culture (NMAAHC). This new Smithsonian museum opened on September 24, 2016, in Washington, D.C. and was a historic event in itself. As the 19th Smithsonian museum and the newest, it is a place where all Americans can learn about the richness and diversity of the African American experience, what this experience means to their lives and how the experience helped to shape this nation. It intends to be a place that transcends the boundaries of race and culture that divide us and become a lens into a story that unites us all. Since its creation in 2003, the NMAAHC has been collecting items, both large and small, to tell the story of America through the African American lens.
As part of the NMAAHC opening celebrations, organizations from around the country were invited to participate in their Lift Every Voice campaign and submit for consideration events and programs that fit the theme of celebrating African American history and culture. The Cummer Museum submitted LIFT: Contemporary Expressions of the African American Experience and its related programming for consideration, and was recently informed that our exhibition and programs have been accepted. The Museum is honored by this opportunity to showcase the work we are doing to highlight the African American contribution to the American story through co-branded events with the NMAAHC.
About the NMAAHC:
The National Museum of African American History and Culture is the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture. It was established by Act of Congress in 2003, following decades of efforts to promote and highlight the contributions of African Americans. To date, the museum has collected more than 36,000 artifacts. Nearly 100,000 individuals have become charter members of the museum. The NMAAHC in Washington, D.C. is the 19th and newest museum of the Smithsonian Institution.
The NMAAHC is a public institution open to all, where anyone is welcome to participate, collaborate, and learn more about African American history and culture. In the words of Lonnie G. Bunch III, founding director of the NMAAHC, “there are few things as powerful and as important as a people, as a nation that is steeped in its history.”
There are four pillars upon which the NMAAHC stands:
- It provides an opportunity for those who are interested in African American culture to explore and revel in this history through interactive exhibitions;
- It helps all Americans see how their stories, their histories, and their cultures are shaped and informed by global influences;
- It explores what it means to be an American and share how American values like resiliency, optimism, and spirituality are reflected in African American history and culture; and
- It serves as a place of collaboration that reaches beyond Washington to engage new audiences and to collaborate with the myriad of museums and educational institutions that have explored and preserved this important history well before this museum was created.
About LIFT: Contemporary Expressions of the African American Experience:
The LIFT exhibition is on view through February 12, 2017, coinciding with the birthday of James Weldon Johnson and the first singing of the song Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing. The exhibition has been co-curated by the Cummer Museum and the Ritz Theatre & Museum, and presents area contemporary artists’ responses to Jacksonville’s rich artistic African American heritage, with an emphasis on creating an artful platform to discuss issues around race, equity, and community. Using the original lyrics to Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing, a song written by Jacksonville natives James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamond Johnson in 1900 for a celebration of Lincoln’s birthday, artists Thony Aiuppy, Glendia Cooper, Ingrid Damiani, Overstreet Ducasse, Dustin Harewood, Marsha Hatcher, Hiromi Moneyhun, Princess Rashid, Chip Southworth, and Roosevelt Watson III created pieces that present their views about the complex history of race relations in Jacksonville and beyond. From literal interpretations of the lyrics to more abstract emotional responses, these new works inspire, challenge, confront, and uplift, providing a contemporary view to the words and social relevance of the Johnson brothers’ masterpiece. LIFT is a Cultural Fusion: Lift Every Voice event.
In 1900, James Weldon Johnson (1871 – 1938) was the principal of Jacksonville’s Stanton School, the largest African American public school in the state of Florida. After writing the poem to commemorate Lincoln’s birthday, he enlisted the assistance of his brother, composer John Rosamond Johnson (1873 – 1954), to set the words to music. The result of this collaboration was the song Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing, which was later adopted by the NAACP as its official anthem. The song was originally intended to be sung by a group of 500 school children from Stanton at a commemoration celebration for Lincoln, but after the initial performance the students continued to sing it on their own, teaching it to others, and within 20 years it was being sung all over the South and in other parts of the country.
The local artists participating in LIFT are not the first to have used the Johnson brothers’ song as inspiration. In 1939, locally-born sculptor Augusta Savage received a commission to create a sculpture to commemorate African American contributions to song for the World’s Fair in New York. Standing approximately 16ft. tall, Savage’s sculpture, The Harp, personified the instrument, using African American youth as the strings, nestled within a sounding board that transformed into a hand and lower arm. A kneeling figure at front offered the musical score. Although the sculpture was one of the most popular at the Fair, and celebrated as one of Savage’s major works, she did not have enough money to cast it in to bronze, and the plaster sculpture was destroyed at the conclusion of the Fair. Despite the fact that The Harp no longer exists in its final form, its legacy continues through numerous photographs and smaller souvenir reproductions.
Much like Augusta Savage, the LIFT artists have been tasked with reinterpreting words through a contemporary lens, bringing their personal experiences into these new works. Their voices now are lifted, and perhaps through experiencing their works, visitors to the exhibition can create their own connections to Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing and find personal ways to “lift” their own voices, creating a community-wide conversation about the contemporary relevance of the song.
For further information, including high-resolution images and descriptions, to schedule media tours of the exhibition, or to schedule interviews with staff or guest experts, please contact Amber Sesnick at 904.899.6034 or email@example.com.
About the Cummer Museum:
For more than 50 years, the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens has been committed to engaging and inspiring through the arts, gardens, and education. A permanent collection of nearly 5,000 objects and historic gardens on a riverfront campus offers more than 165,000 annual visitors a truly unique experience on the First Coast. Nationally-recognized education programs serve adults and children of all abilities. For more information, including hours, visit www.cummermuseum.org.