Installation view of Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair” at GWU Museum and The Textile Museum. | Photo by Victoria L. Valentine


MUSEUMS ARE BEING CELEBRATED around the world with an emphasis on the critical role the institutions play in civil society. On May 18, hundreds of museums are observing Art Museum Day and International Museum Day with free or discounted admission and special programming. Museums are planning events that complement their exhibitions, explore social justice issues, and promote arts advocacy.

The Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles (MOCA LA), where “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry” is on view, is waiving admission and presenting a lecture by Greg Tate, author of “Flyboy 2: The Greg Tate Reader.” A cultural critic, whose writing spans music, art, literature, and politics, Tate is talking about Marshall’s oeuvre.

Also in Los Angeles, the California African American Museum (CAAM) is hosting a free public program examining the legacy of the 1992 LA uprising. Tyree Boyd-Pates, curator of CAAM’s “No Justice, No Peace: LA 1992” exhibition is moderating a discussion with Rev. Cecil Murray of First AME Church; Rodney King’s daughter, Lora King; and Mark D. Craig, author of “Ain’t a Damn Thing Changed.”

MORE THAN 175 MUSEUMS participated in Art Museum Day last year. Organized by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), the theme of this year’s celebration is “Art Museums Foster Vibrant Communities.” The theme pays tribute to the contributions of museums as “cultural, educational, and economic anchors, helping make their communities great places to live and work.”

The theme pays tribute to the contributions of museums as “cultural, educational, and economic anchors, helping make their communities great places to live and work.”

International Museum Day was established by the International Council of Museums (ICOM) in 1977 to increase awareness of the civic value of museums. More than 35,000 museums in about 145 countries participated in International Museum Day events in 2016.

Given the challenging state of global relations, this year’s slogan, “Museums and contested histories: Saying the unspeakable in museums,” is a reminder that “museums are an important means of cultural exchange, enrichment of cultures and development of mutual understanding, cooperation and peace among peoples.”

In the wake of recent threats to federal funding of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), National Endowment for the Humanities, and Institute of Museum and Library Services, museums are encouraging visitors to contact their elected officials about the importance of the arts. According to Hyperallergic, museums are displaying #SavetheArts banners and making postcards available for correspondence with legislators on May 18.


MARK BRADFORD, “Realness,” 2016 (mixed media on canvas). | Denver Art Museum Collection. © Mark Bradford via Denver Art Museum


AFTER COLLABORATING on “Shade: Clyfford Still/Mark Bradford,” the Denver Art Museum (DAM) and Clyfford Still Museum (CSM) are cooperating on a discounted admission policy on May 18. Visitors who purchase tickets for one museum will be admitted to the neighboring institution free of charge.

The two-venue exhibition features works at DAM by Still and Bradford, who is fascinated with the Still’s abstract expressionism and extensive use of black in some works. Bradford, who is representing the United States at the 2017 Venice Biennale, curated the presentation of Still’s work at CSM.

Meanwhile, The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum is offering free admission and plans special Art Museum Day programming around “Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair.” The exhibition explores the charitable fashion event created by Eunice W. Johnson and features stunning evening gowns, dramatic coats, and couture ensembles by African American designers and major European labels dating from the 1960s to 2010s.

Events throughout the day include a screening of “The True Cost,” a documentary about the fashion industry; a tour of the exhibition with Curator of Contemporary Art Camille Ann Brewer; and a conversation with Shayla Simpson, a former Ebony Fashion Fair model, commentator, and buyer.

THE EDUCATIONAL AND CULTURAL INFLUENCE of museums is felt nationwide. To mark its 50th anniversary in 2015, the NEA gathered insights from people across the nation sharing how the arts have changed their lives. Their stories are mapped and archived in text, audio, or video formats here.

Museums also shape vocational choices. Thelma Golden, director and chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem, has discussed fond childhood memories of visiting New York museums with her parents, experiences that motivated her to pursue a career as a curator. Sculptor Martin Puryear, a native of Washington, D.C., recalls being exposed to art when he was growing up through regular trips to the National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian’s museums on the National Mall.

When “Mastry” opened at MCA Chicago, Marshall revealed a meaningful connection with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). The Chicago-based artist grew up in Los Angeles and in the fifth grade visited LACMA. It was the first time in his life he had ever been to a museum. Decades later, LACMA acquired one of his paintings, “De Style” (1993).

“When they bought that at the LA County Art Museum,” Marshall said, “that was an achievement for me because literally all of my ambitions, all of my dreams, had been fulfilled by that acquisition.” CT


View list of institutions participating in Art Museum Day and map of museums planning International Museum Day activities.


“Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion” was published to coincide with the traveling exhibition and is fully illustrated with more than 60 images. “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry,” a comprehensive, cloth-covered catalog was published to accompany the exhibition and includes essays by the curators and writings by Marshall on a range of topics. “Making a Museum in the 21st Century” offers invaluable insights about the future of museum development, design, and planning.


Installation view of KERRY JAMES MARSHALL, “De Style,” 1993 (acrylic and collage on unstretched canvas). | Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by Ruth and Jacob Bloom. Photo courtesy MCA Chicago


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