Students from Florida A&M University (FAMU) surveyed several museums, art and cultural centers in the Pacific Southwest, including Los Angeles’ famous J. Paul Getty Center and Villa, the California African American Museum and the Santa Monica Museum of Art. The students were also invited to visit the private home and personal art galleries of famed art collectors and philanthropists, Bernard and Shirley Kinsey, both FAMU graduates.
The educational excursion was supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Library and Museum Services (ILMS). The purpose of the grant is to recruit, train and mentor African-American master’s level students for work in the museum profession. Keena Callaway, Alisa Routh and Milan Thompson were selected as fellows and mentees in the Inspiring Authorities in Museum Management (I AMM) program implemented by FAMU’s School of Graduate Studies and the Carrie Meek – James N. Eaton, Sr. Southeastern Regional Black Archives Research Center and Museum.
One of the students’ major assignments was to study, survey and select memorabilia in the Kinsey Collection in preparation for an exhibition at the Meek-Eaton Black Archives later this fall during FAMU’s 2009 Homecoming. The Kinseys have expressed an interest in establishing permanent art and archival collections at FAMU. I AMM fellows and mentees will play major roles in accessioning, cataloging, installing, marketing and implementing public education programs developed from these unique artworks, historical memorabilia and archival records. The Kinseys’ traveling exhibition, formally known as “In the Hands of African American Collectors: The Personal Treasures of Bernard and Shirley Kinsey,” is comprised of more than 90 pieces. However, the couple’s complete collection of artwork, sculptures, historical documents, books and artifacts consists of more than 250 items. The extensive Kinsey Collection includes works by noted African-American artists such as Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett, Sam Gilliam, William H. Johnson, Artis Lane, Jacob Lawrence and Henry O. Tanner. The collection also includes historical memorabilia and records relating to famous African-American figures such as Dr. George Washington Carver, Frederick Douglass, Matthew Henson, Zora Neale Hurston, Harriett Ann Jacobs, Alaine Locke and Malcolm X.
Artwork and items from the prestigious collection have been on display at numerous museums including the California Museum of African American Art, the DuSable Museum in Chicago, the Freedom Center Underground Railroad in Cincinnati and more recently, the Norton Museum in West Palm Beach. The collection helped the Norton capture the 2008 National Medal for Museum and Library Services. This is the nation’s highest honor for museums and libraries and is awarded annually by the White House and ILMS to institutions that have helped make their communities a better place to live. According to Norton officials, the museum had four times its usual number of visitors, which was credited to the Kinsey’s African-American art collection.
Tallahassee’s Mary Brogan Museum is hoping that the Kinsey Collection will garner similar record-breaking responses from North Florida audiences when the collection makes its Capital City debut in September 2009. The exhibition is scheduled to run through May 2010, and afterwards will be featured at the Smithsonian Institute.
The Kinseys explained to I AMM scholars that they had commissioned, purchased and gathered an exquisite collection comprised of artwork from leading historical and contemporary artists, and that the collection evokes personal fulfillment for them because it traces the African-American experience and the pieces speak to people of all ages and ethnicities.
“People’s experiences are seen, told, and preserved through their art and culture. The pieces that we collect help bring to life the diverse and inspiring journey of African Americans,” said Bernard Kinsey, a former Xerox executive and pioneer.
Kinsey’s wife of forty years said, “We began collecting because of our own personal desires to know more about ourselves and our people’s place in the world,” said Shirley Kinsey, a retired educator. She also emphasized that it was important for them to share these treasures with others.
Callaway, a FAMU graduate student who earned a fine arts degree and an inaugural I AMM fellow said, “The educational excursion was beyond anything I could have imagined. Besides visiting some of the most acclaimed museums in America, being invited to tour and study at the Kinsey’s home was equally impressive.”
This type of training and research is supported by FAMU faculty and administrators including Cynthia Hughes-Harris, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs and Chanta Haywood, dean of the School of Graduate Studies and Research.
“These types of innovative approaches to enhancing graduate education at FAMU are needed to help carry out the institution’s mission,” Hughes-Harris said.
Haywood, the grant’s principal investigator said, “The I AMM project demonstrates FAMU’s commitment to help produce more African Americans with advanced degrees in professions that are geared toward collecting and maintaining African-American cultural and historical artifacts.”
“This trip afforded students a personal entrance into the museum profession while offering them a realistic, on-hand training experience,” said Murell Dawson, director, archivist and curator of the Meek-Eaton Black Archives, who is responsible for the academic training and mentoring of all I AMM scholars.
Dawson concluded that the excursion launched opportunities for both students and the University.
For more information about the I AMM project, contact Dean Haywood at (850) 599-3505 or Murell Dawson at (850) 599-3020.
PHOTO CAPTION: FAMU student and I AMM mentee, Alisa Routh, shares a moment with Bernard and Shirley Kinsey at their Pacific Palisades home. A portrait of the Kinseys by Artis Lane is in the background.