Featuring 100 inspiring works of art from more than 80 artists, Constructing Identity: Petrucci Family Foundation Collection of African American Art has been meaningful journey of learning, dialogue, and connection for so many here in our Portland community. Not only have we gained a greater awareness of black artists who have been largely overlooked and ignored due to systemic racism and discrimination, but we have proudly celebrated the voices and creative expression of Portland’s communities of color.
During Constructing Identity, the Portland Art Museum has partnered with artists, musicians, local arts organizations, community organizers, schools, teachers, and students to host more than 40 education programs. From artist talks, lectures, panel discussions, and community dialogues to poetry, jazz, art-making, school tours, student performances, and a one-day social justice festival, these diverse programs are at the heart of a shift toward being a more relevant, responsive, and inclusive museum. We were inspired by brave and brilliant artists such as Barbara Bullock, Arvie Smith, and Mickalene Thomas; the jazz compositions of local legend Darrell Grant; the passionate, uncompromising poetry of Morgan Parker; and the tireless spirit of community organizer and activist Teressa Raiford.
In conjunction with this exhibition, the Museum also launched a new community-centered education initiative in partnership the Museum of Impact called The Art Is Ours. The Museum of Impact is the world’s first mobile social justice museum, actively working with audiences to see themselves as active citizens and transforming museum spaces into a forum for people to create a more just, connected, and compassionate world sparked by the arts. Its founding director, Monica Montgomery, writes: “The Art Is Ours means a tipping point is at hand, where African Americans have agency in our representation and as cultural institutions work to ensure that we are seen, valued, and respected in every facet. To understand The Art Is Ours is to crack open the intersections of our lived experience as people of color, laying our heritage bare for all to see.”
Through The Art Is Ours initiative, we worked together to create a gallery in the exhibition that displayed creative responses from more than 20 local artists of color, including Ayele Ford, Israel David, Hector Hernandez, Ameya Okamoto, Ellen Bjork, Aubren Schneider, and a group of students from Rosemary Anderson High School, among others. Also through this initiative, artist Sharita Towne brought together a kaleidoscope conversation in the galleries one evening that generated 200 questions in response to the exhibition, which have since been documented in a small publication.
Another key part of The Art Is Ours partnership has been a collaboration with Don’t Shoot Portland, a civil rights and social justice activism group based in Portland. The Portland Art Museum began working with members of Don’t Shoot Portland back in August 2016 when the Museum was the site for a Social Justice Community Art Project marking the 2-year anniversary of the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Members of this group worked with the Museum of Impact in May to host the Portland’s first Upstanders Festival here at the Portland Art Museum—a day-long event celebrating art, activism, and positive community change. This event occurred the day following the horrific attack on the Max train here in Portland, opening the museum up as a place for people to come together as a community and to engage with the arts in ways that celebrate difference and build empathy, dialogue, and understanding.
According to artist Karina Puente, whose papel picado work “Cut Deep” was exhibited as part of the museum’s Upstanders Festival—programs like these “give the Portland community a place to heal, see themselves in the work, and advance as leaders in a conversation we all need to have.”
I am so proud to have worked in support of this exhibition and its education programs along with the powerful relationships that we have built and that will continue to grow as we head into the future. Exhibitions, programs, and partnerships like these help us, as a museum, to work toward being more socially responsible, acting upon the inequalities within and outside our city as well as contributing to a more just, equitable, and connected community.
Special thanks to collector Jim Petrucci and his family, guest curator Berrisford Boothe, and to our partnering organizations: Museum of Impact, Don’t Shoot Portland, Portland Public Schools, PDX Jazz, Portland State University, Multnomah County Library, Pacific Northwest College of Art, Marylhurst University, Portland Trail Blazers, and The Portland Observer, The Skanner News; and everyone here in our community and on the museum’s team who helped make this exhibition and its programs such a meaningful and memorable experience. And thank you to the nearly 100,000 people who came to see this exhibition and participate in our programming!
-Mike Murawski, Director of Education & Public Programs