In the spring of 1963, the New York Art Committee for Tougaloo College established Mississippi’s first collection of modern art at Tougaloo, a small liberal arts college located north of Jackson. As civil rights protests swirled across the fiercely segregated state, the college became an unlikely hub of European and New York School modernism and “an interracial oasis in which the fine arts are the focus and magnet,” as envisioned by the collection’s founders.
Founded in 1869 by the abolitionist-led American Missionary Association, Tougaloo has always been a force in the fight for equality. Throughout the 1960s, its community was at the forefront of the civil rights movement: activist Medgar Evers held meetings at the school, and in May 1963 an integrated group of students and faculty participated in the sit-in at Woolworth’s in downtown Jackson. The fine art collection at Tougaloo was an important pillar of these efforts.
Art and Activism traces the inception of this distinctive collection at the intersection of modern art, education, and social justice by highlighting Tougaloo’s evolution as a center for vanguard European and American art shaped by interracial collaboration and the pursuit of civil rights. The exhibition is organized into three sections. “The Focus and Magnet” surveys the earliest works acquired by Tougaloo, including prints by canonical European modernists such as Pablo Picasso along with artists of the New York School like Hedda Sterne. “Toward a Modern World” highlights the relationship between modernist aesthetics and the ideals of social reform, with works by artists such as Robert Motherwell and Fritz Bultman. As the Black Power movement expanded in the late 1960s and 1970s, Tougaloo students and faculty argued that the collection should better reflect the Black experience. “A New Vision” details the college’s response to this charge, presenting works by African American artists who engaged with social issues including Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, David C. Driskell, and Elizabeth Catlett.
Art and Activism at Tougaloo College is organized by the American Federation of Arts and Tougaloo College. The exhibition is curated by Turry M. Flucker, Vice President of Collections and Partnerships at the Terra Foundation for American Art.
Major support for the national tour and exhibition catalogue is provided by the Robert Lehman Foundation, Inc., Henry Luce Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, and the Terra Foundation for American Art.
Additional support for the catalogue is provided by Pass Christian Books, Elizabeth “Buffy” Easton, Sarah Van Anden, Julie McGee, and Tori and Marques Phillips.
Contributing Sponsors: Carolyn Levine & Leonard Kallio Trust; Doris and Victor Day Foundation and Carolyn and Joseph Martin