Thursdays in Knoxville are often the unofficial beginning of weekends. People are trying to decide whether to meet friends, attend cultural events, or have fun outdoors in the scenic mountains surrounding the city. In May 2016, an invitation went out from the Knoxville Museum of Art (KMA) and the Beck Cultural Center (BCC) to a diverse cross-section of citizens to attend a Thursday evening presentation on bringing the recent Paris exhibition, Resonance de Formes et Vibration de Couleur (Resonance of Form and Vibration of Color), to Knoxville.
Rev. Reneé Kessler, a dynamic leader in the African-American community and a great organizer who knows how to get people together, suggested that the meeting be held in the neighborhood where the Delaney family resided at the beginning of the twentieth century. Dr. David Butler, KMA Director; Stephen Wicks, KMA Curator; and the steering committee for the new Beauford Delaney Initiative in America (BDIA) agreed that the Beck Cultural Center was a good place to begin a community-driven effort to bring the Paris works of one of America’s great artists home to his birthplace – Knoxville, Tennessee.
Photo courtesy of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center
So, on a stormy Thursday evening in early June, 200 people gathered to hear about how they could become involved in the BDIA initiative, which is a partnership between KMA, the Beck Cultural Center, and others. The room crackled with energy and earnest curiosity as Stephen Wicks spoke of his twenty-year journey to bring Beauford’s important work to the attention of people in America and particularly, the citizens of Knoxville.
David Butler talked passionately about the small group of museum members who went to see the Paris exhibition in February and how they were so moved by the experience that they committed their time and funds to begin the effort.
"Blipps" a painting at the exhibition opening
Photo by Sophia Pagan Photography
the Knoxville Museum of Art;
Wokie Wicks, Monique Y. Wells at exhibition opening
Photo by Sophia Pagan Photography
Commemorative Walking Tour in Paris
© Discover Paris!
Finally, Rev. Kessler spoke eloquently about BCC’s institutional commitment to one of the Delaney family homes that is adjacent to BCC’s property in East Knoxville. BCC recently purchased the old house through funds acquired from the Knoxville City government and is planning to turn the property into a space to serve people in the mostly African-American community in the area.
Such a diverse gathering is quite unusual for Knoxville. Since the June meeting, many of the attendees have talked about how positive it felt to be invited to participate in this effort. Everyone who attended left with the feeling that they wanted to be a part of this important initiative – it will take at least a year to plan, organize and raise the funds to bring the exhibit to Knoxville.
Photo courtesy of the Knoxville Museum of Art
This meeting reminds us of the power of the arts to engage people in great community initiatives and inspire them to achieve seemingly impossible tasks. Beauford, who suffered so much throughout his life for the sake of his art, must be proud of his hometown and grateful to Monique Wells, president of the French non-profit organization Les Amis de Beauford Delaney, for doing so much to share his art with the world.
1953 - Photo by Carl Van Vechten
The work of planning the project has begun. We’ll keep you informed of our progress.