A CONSORTIUM OF NONPROFITS purchased the Johnson Publishing Archive for $30 million last July. The goal was to safeguard the unparalleled collection for the public benefit. Now a significant next step in the process has been announced. The co-owners have established an advisory council to evaluate and interpret the collection and provide guidance about its preservation, use, and related programming. The advisory council is chaired by Carla Hayden, who serves as Librarian of Congress.

The Johnson Publishing Archive was acquired by the Ford Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Trust, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Smithsonian Institution. Considered the most significant collection illustrating the African American life in the 20th century, the photographic archive was assembled over the course of about seven decades by the publisher of Ebony and Jet magazines.

Comprised of more than 4.5 million items, the archive includes photographs, slides, contact sheets, and audio and visual recordings. Spanning World War II, the Civil Rights Movement, and beyond, the holdings document contributions to science, business, and sports, Black Hollywood, and the blossoming of literature, arts and culture from the 1960s Black Arts Movement, through the 1980s and 90s, and the turn of the 21st century.

Announced March 11, the new council brings together respected figures with curatorial and scholarly expertise in African American history, art history, photography, research, archiving, library science, and museum making.

Members include art historians Kellie Jones of Columbia University and Richard Powell of Duke University; photographers Deborah Willis of New York University and Dawoud Bey of Columbia College Chicago; directors of two Presidential museums; Jonathan Holloway, the incoming first black president of Rutgers University (his tenure begins in July); and Brent Staples, who serves on The New York Times editorial board.

“I am honored to lead an Advisory Council comprised of leaders who share a deep understanding and appreciation of this archive’s significance. With such diverse areas of expertise, this group represents a wide range of perspectives that will be crucial in advancing this undertaking and ultimately showcasing this historic collection of art and culture.”
— Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden

“I am honored to lead an Advisory Council comprised of leaders who share a deep understanding and appreciation of this archive’s significance,” Hayden said in a statement. “With such diverse areas of expertise, this group represents a wide range of perspectives that will be crucial in advancing this undertaking and ultimately showcasing this historic collection of art and culture.”

In addition to the chair, there are 10 advisory council members:

  • Louise Bernard, Director, Museum of the Obama Presidential Center at The Obama Foundation, Chicago
  • Dawoud Bey, Photography Professor, Columbia College Chicago
  • Darlene Clark Hine, Board of Trustees Professor of African American Studies and Professor of History, Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill.
  • Meredith Evans, Archivist, historian, scholar, Director of the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum, Atlanta
  • Jonathan Holloway, Incoming President of Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J.
  • Kellie Jones, Professor in Art History and Archaeology at the Institute for Research in African American Studies, Columbia University, New York, N.Y
  • Richard Powell, John Spencer Bassett Professor of Art & Art History, Duke University, Durham, N.C.
  • Brent Staples, New York Times Editorial Board Member, New York, N.Y.
  • Jacquelyn Stewart, Professor of Cinema and Media Studies, Director of Arts & Public Life, University of Chicago
  • Deborah Willis, Director of the Institute of African American Affairs, Professor and Chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging, Tisch School of the Arts, New York University, New York, N.Y.

The consortium purchased the collection on behalf of Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Getty Research Institute. The council will advise the co-owners until the archive is transferred to these institutions, along with additional cultural institutions, potentially.

“Establishing such a robust Advisory Council for this project is a critical step forward in our work to preserve and share this national treasure,” Mellon Foundation President Elizabeth Alexander said in a statement. “The iconic archive from Ebony and Jet magazines tells a story about the African American experience in the 20th century that is far too often overlooked. Preserving this collection and making it accessible to all is integral to the vision shared by this consortium.”

The Johnson Publishing Archive is currently housed in Chicago, where conservators, curators, and IT specialists are assessing the collection and processing items. The archive is being digitized and will eventually be made available to the public as a searchable database.

This summer, the public will get a preview of the treasures housed in the unparalleled archive. The MacArthur Foundation is planning a special event showcasing a selection of images from the collection. CT

 

TOP IMAGE: John H. Johnson , founder of Johnson Publishing. | Johnson Publishing Company Archive. Courtesy Ford Foundation, J. Paul Getty Trust, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and Smithsonian Institution

 

BOOKSHELF
“Theaster Gates – The Black Image Corporation” accompanies the artist’s exhibition exploring the Johnson Publishing archives, which was organized by the Prada Foundation. Published to coincide with the exhibition, “Speaking of People: Ebony, Jet and Contemporary Art” features full-color images and contributions from Studio Museum in Harlem Director Thelma Golden, curator Lauren Haynes, and artist Hank Willis Thomas, among others. “Lorna Simpson Collages” features collage portraits inspired images from Ebony and Jet magazines.

 

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