Black Arts Movement

The Black Arts Movement (circa 1965-1975) was not seen as a form of protest by its adherents and participants but as a cultural revolution. While most notably visible within theater and poetry, African American artists in other areas, including music, painting, and sculpture, drew heavily from African-inspired themes that were molded to reflect the contemporary African American experience. The Black Arts Movement is well-represented in the manuscript, library and art collections at the Amistad Research Center.

Contours: Reflections on the Life and Work of Hale Smith

Cleveland-born composer and arranger Hale Smith once described himself as “one of America's most famous unknown composers.” The Hale Smith exhibition explores the influence Smith had on the music world through his numerous collaborations with other musicians and poets, such as Dizzy Gillespie, Eric Dolphy, Langston Hughes, Anne Wiggins Brown, Regina Harris Baiocchi, and others. The exhibition showcased his student days at the Cleveland Institute of Music to his later years writing, recording, and teaching in the Northeast. Smith’s letters, photographs, essays, musical compositions, and other personal and collected papers expose a life lived as a humble, but influential, arranger, composer, and performer.

Here I Found a Goldmine…”: Celebrating 50 Years of the Amistad Research Center

The title of this exhibition was derived from a quotation by the Center’s founding director, Dr. Clifton H. Johnson, on records of the American Missionary Association, Amistad’s initial collection. Drawing from its vast library and  archival holdings, the materials in this exhibition displayed the scope and breadth of papers, records, books, and more acquired as part of Amistad’s decades-long mission to collect, preserve, and  provide access to materials documenting the social and cultural importance of America's ethnic history, human relations, and social justice movements. 

Travel Diaries: African Americans Abroad

The exhibition, Travel Diaries: African Americans Abroad, documented the international travel experiences of African Americans and their interactions with others within the African diaspora. Dating from the end of the 19th century through the 20th century, this exhibition explored the lives of African American educators, artists, missionaries, activists, soldiers, journalists, and Foreign Service workers as they traveled for a myriad of pursuits. By viewing evidence of their globetrotting through photographs, diaries, notebooks, and other writings, we are able to piece together how their journeys shaped them and how they shaped the perceptions about African Americans across the globe.

Divergent Roads: The Historical Paths of Women Leaders in New Orleans

Amistad is a partner of NOLA4Women, an organization made up of community allies that seeks to take action through innovative programs that celebrate women and girls. As a NOLA4Women collaborator, Amistad chose to create an exhibition that supported the goals of the organization’s “Builders and Rebuilders” model, a paradigm which seeks to place the lives and voices of women in New Orleans at the forefront of the city’s historical narrative. This exhibition showcases the achievements of women educators, businesswomen, civil rights activists, and leaders that have been essential to the development of New Orleans.

Amistad has several digital exhibitions featured by the Google Cultural Institute. Exhibitions explore a wide array of topics from the print culture of the Civil Rights Movement, to the intersection of art & activism from the Free Southern Theater, to the American MIssionary Association's devotion to the education of African Americans in the post-Civil War South. These exhibitions are supported in part by the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation and celebrate Amistad and Google's resolute commitment to providing access to African American collections.

Google Cultural Institute
Art in Service to Her People: Celebrating Elizabeth Catlett

April 2015 was the centenary of the birth of printmaker and sculptor Elizabeth Catlett. To mark the occasion, the Amistad Research Center celebrated her life and work in an exhibition, which featured not only a selection of documents housed in her personal papers but her works of art from the Center's fine arts collection. In addition to twelve works on paper and one sculpture by Elizabeth Catlett, Amistad also houses an extensive collection of her personal papers, including correspondence with fellow artists, photographs, exhibition and gallery catalogs, family papers, and more — all of which document Catlett’s career and influence in twentieth century American art.

African American Civic Leadership in the Crescent City

New Orleans is a city with a rich history of Black civic leadership. From benevolent associations to activism in the Civil Rights Movement and from education reform to business entrepreneurship, the Crescent City has benefited from leading individuals and organizations in its African American community. Drawing from Amistad's rich archival and library collections, this exhibition documented New Orleans’ leaders in the areas of business, education, philanthropy, medicine, and civic engagement from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century.

The Free Southern Theater and the Black Arts Movement

Upon moving to New Orleans in 1965, the Free Southern Theater (FST) became a major influence in Black theater, both locally and nationally. As part of a community-wide celebration that honored the 50th anniversary of the founding of the FST, this exhibition highlighted the struggles and triumphs of the Theater and its place within the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s. The history of the FST, as well as that of the Black Arts Movement, was told through photographs, play scripts, programs, books, literary magazines, flyers, and more.

Through the Lens: Photographing African American Life

Photographs of African American life have ranged from deeply racist depictions to images of strength and dignity. This exhibition revealed the vast photographic holdings of the Amistad Research Center, which chronicles the daily existence of Blacks, their civil rights struggles, and many well-known political, cultural, and artistic leaders. Works by African American photographers Arnold de Mille, Louise Jefferson, Arthur Bedou, Florestine Perrault Collins, and others were displayed alongside images by Carl Van Vechten and Marion Palfi, white photographers who documented various aspects of Black life in their own work.

The Amistad Research Center website was made possible in part by the Pitts Family Foundation.

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