Museum Awarded Major Grants for Black Artists of Oregon Exhibition

Black and white photo of a hand holding a lock in front of a wooden door
Shedrich Williames (American, born 1934), Untitled, 1972, gelatin silver print, image: 13 3/16 in x 10 3/8 in; sheet: 14 in x 10 15/16 in, Gift of Al Monner, ©unknown, research required, 94.36.1

The Portland Art Museum was recently awarded two major grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the Meyer Memorial Trust’s Justice Oregon for Black Lives initiative in support of Black Artists of Oregon (opening June 10, 2023). 

Black Artists of Oregon, highlighting and celebrating the work of Black artists in and outside of the Museum’s collection, will serve to deepen awareness of the talented artists that have shaped and inspired artists regionally and nationally. The exhibition will be the first of its kind to consider the work of Black artists collectively in Oregon, who have historically been underrepresented and unacknowledged.

Beginning in the 1920s through today, the exhibition captures the African American experience particular to the Pacific Northwest. Among those included in the exhibition are Al Goldsby, Thelma Johnson Streat, Isaka Shamsud-Din, Ralph Chessé, Arvie Smith, Shedrich Williames, Harrison Branch, Adriene Cruz, Charlotte Lewis, and Carrie Mae Weems. This exhibition is guest curated by artist Intisar Abioto. In Abioto’s own artistic practice, she has been documenting Black figures in Portland since 2013, through interviews, photography, research, and performance, filling the region’s own historical gaps.

The exhibition and programming will also include the works of emerging and mid-career artists including sidony o’neal, damali ayo archive, Sadé DuBoise, Willie Little, and Otis Quaicoe among others. 

The IMLS grant is part of their Museums for America program that supports museums of all sizes and disciplines to undertake projects that strengthen their ability to serve their public. 

Regional support for the exhibition comes from the Meyer Memorial Trust, whose mission is to accelerate racial, social and economic justice for the collective well-being of Oregon’s lands and peoples. The Museum’s grant for Black Artists of Oregon was through Meyer’s Justice Oregon for Black Lives initiative, the largest initiative in their  history.

“I have long admired Intisar Abioto’s thoughtful and interdisciplinary practice. Black Artists of Oregon is truly an extension of this devoted work to the region,” said Grace Kook-Anderson, Portland Art Museum’s Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Curator of Northwest Art. “Not only will this exhibition highlight some of the important works in the Museum’s collection, but it is an exhibition that looks through a lens of critical care, revealing also the gaps and oversights of artists who have long held practices and contributed their artistic voices to shape this place. The collective, significant support from foundations nationally and regionally, ensures the elevation of this work through exhibition, research, publication, and community gathering that will hold long-term effects and hopefully widen our understanding of this artistic legacy in Oregon.”

The Museum is also grateful to the Terra Foundation for American Art for their early support of Black Artists of Oregon through their “Re-envisioning Permanent Collections: An Initiative for US Museums” program. Developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the grant initiative encourages museums to delve more deeply into their collections to reveal a fuller multiplicity of artworks and voices that have shaped, in the past and up through the present, the artistic and cultural heritage of the U.S.  Black Artists of Oregon curator Intisar Abioto also received a Portland Art Museum Artist Fund grant to support the initial research for the exhibition. The Artist Fund was launched during the pandemic as a way to provide direct funding to artists in a time of need, to support larger projects, and to reimagine the way the Museum does its work. 

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