The Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) held Art, Youth and Justice Day this past Saturday. It was held as part of Youth Justice Awareness Month in October, a campaign aimed at raising awareness about childhood incarceration and engaging in political advocacy.
As a collaboration between the Greenmount West Community Center (GWCC) and Advocates for Children and Youth (ACY), the event consisted of a free viewing of Generations: A History of Black Abstract Art, video screenings, panel discussions of two films and a benefit concert featuring Maimouna Youssef (also known as MuMu Fresh).
Through art, panel discussions, music and open mic poetry, the event brought the issues facing Baltimore youth today to the forefront and particularly highlighted the school-to-prison pipeline — a phenomenon that sees students moving from schools to jails at an alarming rate and is widely prevalent in Baltimore.
Additionally, the BMA provided many pamphlets and flyers with additional facts and information about the education system in Maryland to help visitors learn more about these complex issues.
Two movies were screened as part of the event. The first was PUSHOUT: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools, which is a documentary by Monique W. Morris, Ed. D. and Women in the Room Productions.
After the film, there was a panel-led discussion on how to reduce the criminalization of black girls in our country’s education system.
The second movie was an initiative by ACY called Rethink Baltimore, which is a youth justice awareness campaign that strives to change the existing narrative surrounding Baltimore City’s youth.
The panel-led question and answer session following the screening was passionate and compelling, delving into the slew of institutionalized injustices that limit the youth of Baltimore from reaching their full potential.
Both panel discussions were extremely enlightening and powerful. A diverse group of panel members allowed for a wide range of perspectives. What made these discussions especially impactful was the overall dedication of the panelists and atheir resounding call to action.
The panelists were inspiring in their speech, and enhanced the messages of the films.
“By learning more about who we are, we become more liberated,” one panelist said.
The Generations: A History of Black Abstract Art portion of the event opened after the movie screenings and panel discussions. Normally a $10 entrance fee, the BMA allowed free entry for the Art, Youth and Justice Day event. This exhibit is a touring one, and its presence at the BMA is its largest iteration yet.
The exhib opened at the BMA on Sept. 19 and will remain in exhibition until Jan. 19.
As described in their pamphlet, Generations argues against the idea that there is a “single monolithic idea of what it means to be a black artist” and instead celebrates the wide scope and far-reaching impact that black artists have made on abstract art.
Generations continues to add to its collection of artworks, and being featured at the BMA is an act of their continued promotion of black artists and social change, contributing to the movement of a correction to the artistic canon, which historically has predominantly featured white artists.
The artists featured in Generations include Norman Lewis, Alma W. Thomas and Jack Whitten, all of whom were pioneers of postwar abstraction and were once overlooked by the canon.
Younger artists’ works are also on display, with art by Kevin Beasley, Mark Bradford, Martin Puryear and Lorna Simpson, as well as many more artists.
There was also an open mic poetry session taking place during the Generations viewing. At this event, current and past Baltimore City poet laureates recited their award-winning pieces.
The poetry session took place in the middle of the exhibition space. The poets passionately performed among the stunning pieces of abstract art created by black American artists.
The performances were incredibly moving and emotionally powerful.
The event as a whole was capped with a silent auction, cocktail hour and concert.
Akilah Divine, a Baltimore-based singer, rapper and spoken word artist, opened for MuMu Fresh, a Grammy-nominated singer, songwriter, emcee, activist and acclaimed hip-hop artist.
Art, Youth and Justice Day at the BMA proved to be a full day of inspiration and learning.
Hopefully visitors that attended the event will come away feeling inspired and motivated to take a stand to defend the youth of Baltimore City and to think of ways to fix how our country has failed Baltimore youth, institutionally and historically.