As a nation, we just wrapped up the 51st Black History Month celebrations this February, and we move into the 34th Women’s History Month. I bring up the specific number to demonstrate that these initiatives are very young, especially compared to the hundreds of years of struggle that are often highlighted in classrooms and news media during these short months. While the purpose and history behind the establishment of such celebrations is complicated and varied, they are meant to acknowledge and celebrate the ignored stories of marginalized people. I commend those parents, educators, artists, and advocates for making the effort during these months, and hope we all recognize that a single month is never enough. There has been and will continue to be ongoing efforts to intentionally support diversity, equity, and equality throughout our country, if we are to grow and prosper as a society.
The Dennos Museum Center joins its community of museums and arts organizations in this effort. From its inception nearly 30 years ago, we have sought global perspectives, voices, and artforms to provide a platform for diversity and inclusion to our audiences. With recent local, regional, and national events involving violence and discrimination against our BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) friends and neighbors, there is still much more we can do.
This year’s programming at the Dennos challenges all of us to seek out new perspectives and understanding and provides a gathering space for discussion. Opened on February 14 with an artist discussion (Watch it on the Dennos Museum YouTube Channel.) on March 4, the Dennos Museum Center presents Storied Portraits by Brooklyn-based photographer Dex R. Jones. We were able to coordinate a small exhibition of his work from a larger show at the Krasl Art Center in St. Joseph, MI in 2020. With a focus on color, pattern, and the figure, Jones’s work exemplifies beauty and the human condition. The exhibit runs through March 28.
This summer, we will host an exhibition from a partner museum with an extensive collection of art by Black and African American artists, alongside two exhibitions from Michigan-based artists Rufus Snoddy and Russ Prather. We are planning a variety of programming with the artists and local community partners to engage this work in meaningful ways.
In the fall, the museum will present Away From Home, an exhibition organized by the National Endowment for the Humanities focused on the history and consequences of Native American boarding schools. This exhibition is brought to life by real stories from those who experienced it, and will bring a greater understanding to our local community about the boarding schools in our own region. In addition, we will open Birds Fly In: A Human Refuge, a collaborative installation inspired by the collective pursuit of freedom in the face of injustice. More specifically, events at our nation’s border with Mexico spurred these artists to paint, compose music, and write poetry that provides an opportunity for visitors to reflect on and empathize with others’ experiences. It will mark the first time an exhibition and catalog will be translated into Spanish and English for our visitors, thanks to dedicated language experts at Northwestern Michigan College.
While the museum’s staff and organizational partners can present these engaging, thought-provoking exhibitions, it will take our entire community, each citizen, coming together to have sometimes difficult conversations to find understanding. Our hope is that the museum provides time, space, and inspiration for such activities. We invite you to participate in these conversations in our galleries, masked and socially distanced for the time being. Let us do the good work that needs to be done, together.