The first time I heard of the Harlem Renaissance, I was in an English class in high school. I vividly remember reading Langston Hughes’ poem, titled “Harlem (A Dream Deferred)”, and marveling at Hughe’s ability to paint a picture, while perfectly embodying both passion and the despair he felt at the time.
In college, I took an optional African-American art history course for the major in art history. I remember coming back to this poem, especially at the end of it. When Hughes ponders the possibilities of a delayed dream, he concludes with the question. “Or does it explode?” “
When we think of the Harlem Renaissance today, the term “explosion” seems to be an appropriate categorization. The Renaissance celebrated a dynamic revival of the cultural and intellectual context, celebrating African-American music, dance, art, fashion, literature, theater, and politics.
While the Renaissance was centered in Harlem, New York, the movement had legs and influenced black artists in the United States and Europe. It was truly a blast, bringing in massive amounts of creative energy and innovation, while also connecting and uplifting the magnificent African Americans involved in the Cultural Revolution.
When we decided to recognize the Harlem Renaissance somehow at the Newberry Museum, I knew I wanted to try and show the enduring nature of this explosion. Along with board members Denise Reid and Norma Donaldson-Jenkins, I worked on the formation of the Education and Outreach Committee to bring a community element to the exhibit.
We have chosen to contact African-American artists linked in one way or another to Newberry County, asking them to lend artefacts representative of their creative processes. Beyond that, we wanted them to answer an essential question: How did the arts help you find your voice?
Our open call to artists ended up bringing together twelve fabulous participants, with a wide range of creative passions. Participants include writers, children’s book authors, musical theater artists, fashion designer, visual artists, musician / singer, and more.
This community art exhibit is on display at the museum now, through April 15. Come learn about their creative endeavors, while exploring the ways the vibrant and enduring nature of the Harlem Renaissance fanned the flames of an explosion in Newberry County as well.
To compliment the exhibit, we had the privilege of partnering with Newberry Arts Center, Newberry Made and CREATE Newberry Inc., to put together a video project that tells the story of the exhibit. At the museum, a presentation video highlights each participating artist and their creative process. This video, along with each artist’s video, is available on our website at www.thenewberrymuseum.com/harlem-renaissance.
Having the opportunity to help play even a small role in letting these artists tell their stories has been incredibly exciting for us as an institution. Hopefully, those who interact with the exhibit will come away with a little more information about Harlem Renaissance history, while also feeling empowered to explore how the arts could help them find their own identity.
Another quote that often comes to mind when pondering Harlem Renaissance history is that of Zora Neale Hurston. It is written: “There are years that ask questions and years that answer. “
The year 2020, for all of us, has been a year of uncertainty, tension and questions about who we are and where we are going. My hope is that through this exhibition and others like this, 2021 can be a year that answers.
The Newberry Museum is currently open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. .com.
Funding for CREATE Newberry, Inc. and the Newberry Arts Center is made possible through The Art of Community: Rural SC and the South Carolina Arts Commission.
Sheridan Kate Murray is the Executive Director of the Newberry Museum, she can be reached at (803) 597-5215 or [email protected]