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Don’t condemn BMA’s overdue efforts toward artistic diversity | READER COMMENTARY

“1957-G” by Clyfford Still is one of 3 paintings being sold by the BMA. File.
“1957-G” by Clyfford Still is one of 3 paintings being sold by the BMA. File. (Photography BMA / HANDOUT)

The Baltimore Museum of Art, which sits in majority Black Baltimore, is taking the overdue step to transform its largely Caucasian art collection to better reflect the diversity of our society. The museum is selling three paintings; those proceeds will continue BMA investment in underrepresented Black and women artists and support the institution’s operations. The noise of protest coming from entitled and privileged segments of Baltimore unwilling to accept a true racial equity evolution must be ignored (“Group demands Baltimore Museum of Art prove it has right to sell painting in controversial auction,” Oct. 26).

From the moment I was born in Park Heights, a month before the 1968 civil unrest in the wake of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, until today, Baltimore remains a town of haves and have-nots, largely segregated by race and wealth. Structural racism, which denies opportunity to so many children, is evident in the contrast of wealthy white neighborhoods, where my grandmother worked as a servant, and the impoverished Black neighborhoods of my youth, which remain dangerous and seemingly without hope. Baltimore’s private schools are lush and predominantly white; public schools, like the ones I attended, are mostly Black and underfunded.

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As a new member of BMA’s governing board, I was shocked to learn art museums remain a stanchion of racial segregation. Recently, a Williams College study found major U.S. museum collections are 85% white and 87% male. Black artists represent 1.2% of the art in all major museum collections. While displays of Black artists have occurred for decades, museums fail to purchase their work. This renders the displays mere tokenism — a facade of equity where none exists. Creating the opportunity to curate a diverse collection will broaden the base of visitors and donors, making it good business sense.

The art on the walls of museums serve as inspiration. As a schoolgirl, I toured museums never seeing Black artists. I believed art museums were like the country clubs in which my relatives worked — places for the privileged and beyond my attainment. As a woman managing her own law firm, I know better than to accept racist structures. These are the targets to dismantle. Thankfully, over 90% of my colleagues on the BMA board agree, and with the leadership of Director Christopher Bedford and Chair Clair Zamoiski Segal, we will diversify and improve the BMA and inspire our city’s residents.

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For 52 years, I have heard much talk about the need for racial equity and justice yet I have witnessed little tangible action or progress. Baltimore’s Black citizens have patiently waited for our city’s institutions to change. Despite promises, few have. The decision of the BMA to invest in Black and women artists, bringing opportunity to talent long ignored, is significant and worthy of support from all fair-minded people. The petted and pampered must adapt.

Lisa Harris Jones, Baltimore

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