A Bold and Beautiful Vision: A Century of Black Arts Education in Washington, DC, 1900-2000

On View: March 23, 2024-March 2, 2025

Outside the spotlight of the nation’s major museums and galleries, and in a longtime segregated school system, African American artist-educators in twentieth-century Washington achieved the extraordinary. 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. Some of the country’s most gifted artists taught and were taught in Washington’s educational institutions, from small community centers to university classrooms. They included such visionaries whose names are today both well-known and not-so-well-known: Elizabeth Catlett, Alma Thomas, James A. Porter, Loïs Mailou Jones, David Driskell, Hilda Wilkinson Brown, Thomas Hunster, and Georgette Seabrooke Powell, to name only a few. This exhibition traces the story of the teachers and students who made Washington, DC a truly unparalleled center for Black arts education.

A Bold and Beautiful Vision features captivating original artworks, rare video footage, and awe-inspiring artistic artifacts, like Alma Thomas’s paintbrushes and watercolor paint set, an early 20th-century lifelike marionette that William Buckner made with his local high school students, original Elizabeth Catlett prints that once hung in the halls of her Washington high school, and Sam Gilliam artwork from the period when he was teaching at McKinley Technical High School. Come see the artwork and hear the voices of the African American artist-educators who enriched the lives of many generations of Washington’s young people and who—along with their students—produced work admired by audiences across the globe.

This exhibition is made possible through support from the

 

Additional support provided in part by:

A group of students in an arts classroom.
Lois Mailou Jones in her classroom at Howard University

Artist and art professor Lois Mailou Jones (1905-1998) in her classroom at Howard University (c. 1930s), where she taught and mentored students for nearly 50 years.

Credit:
Scurlock Studio Records, Archives Center, National Museum of American History

A student in front of the New Thing Art and Architecture Center.
New Thing Art and Architecture Center

A student in front of the New Thing Art and Architecture Center, a community-based arts organization in Washington’s Adams Morgan neighborhood where hundreds of young people from across the city took classes in painting, drawing, filmmaking, photography, and African dance and drum in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Credit:
Photograph by Tom Zetterstrom, New Thing Art and Architecture Collection, Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution

A visual arts student at Duke Ellington School of the Arts
Duke Ellington School of the Arts

A visual arts student at Duke Ellington School of the Arts, c. 1984. The nationally recognized pre-professional arts high school was established in 1974 by arts advocate Peggy Cooper Cafritz and theater director and choreographer Mike Malone. In the 50 years since its founding, the school has trained many generations of Washington’s aspiring artists.

Credit:
Special Collections Research Center, The George Washington University Libraries

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