The third session of McDonogh Voices on Tuesday, March 22 focused on The Memorial to Those Enslaved and Freed and the power of art to unify voices, tell more complete stories, and bring people together to better understand the lives of those around us. The conversation featured artist Oletha DeVane, the Retired Chair of McDonogh School’s Art Department, whose memorial to honor the enslaved peoples of John McDonogh will be dedicated in April. She was joined by art historians/consultants Dr. Leslie King-Hammond and Dr. Lowery Stokes Sims. View the recording here.
Head of School Dave Farace ‘87 began the session by providing background on The Memorial to Those Enslaved and Freed noting that planning had been “in the works for nearly two decades.” He explained, “The journey began with the work of a passionate group of faculty and staff who brought light to the importance of honoring the memory of enslaved people—men, women, and children—whose labor and sacrifice contributed to John McDonogh’s wealth—the very wealth that led to the founding of McDonogh School.”
In introducing the speakers, Director of Fine and Performing Arts Kara Zimmerman enumerated the ways in which art can help a community understand diverse perspectives by sparking conversation, challenging norms, charging people to think critically and deeply, and providing an open platform for exploration and discovery, reflection, and transformation. “Perhaps most importantly, as in the case of The Memorial to Those Enslaved and Freed, is the way that art reveals truths and gives voice to those who have not always been heard,” Zimmerman said.
The McDonogh Voices conversation, moderated by Director of Innovation and Learning Kevin Costa, began with a discussion of the connective power of monuments and public art. Dr. King Hammond, the Founding Director of the Center for Race and Culture at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) and current Chair of the Board of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture, spoke about the historical significance and context of monuments in our world. She was followed by Dr. Sims, a specialist in modern and contemporary art known for her expertise and commitment to diversity and inclusion in the art world. The engaging duo, who have been described by BMore Art as “best friends since childhood and partners in professionalism” provided the foundation for DeVane’s description of the development and creation of The Memorial To Those Enslaved and Freed.
Students, faculty, and staff will gather on Tuesday, April 19 for a ceremony to dedicate The Memorial to Those Enslaved and Freed.
Understanding and learning from the School’s complex history is an important part of the ongoing institution-wide work to ensure McDonogh is a community where everyone has a true sense of belonging. In preparation for the dedication of McDonogh School’s Memorial to Those Enslaved and Freed, students in all three divisions are engaging in a series of thoughtfully-created lessons designed to give them a developmentally appropriate understanding of the memorial and history around it. Going forward, the memorial will be used as a foundation for educating students more fully about this period in history.
Oletha DeVane is an expert arts educator who served as McDonogh School’s Upper School Visual Art Department Chair and Director of Tuttle Gallery for 27 years. Her work has been shown in numerous solo and group exhibitions throughout the world and she has been commissioned to create original artwork by several institutions, including the Reginald F. Lewis Museum and the DC Homewood Museum at Johns Hopkins University. She has exhibited at The Meyerhoff Gallery at MICA, The Corcoran Gallery of Art in DC, and the Baltimore Museum of Art, which recently purchased one of her pieces to be placed in their permanent collection. DeVane’s community engagement includes serving on several boards, including Maryland Art Place, Wide Angle Media, and the Build Haiti Foundation. She is the recipient of the 2017 Ruby Foundation Grant, the 2021 Anonymous Was a Woman Award, and the Art Matters Fellowship in NY in recognition of her work involving communities for social change.
DeVane’s current projects include McDonogh School’s Memorial to Those Enslaved and Freed as well as a commission by the Municipal Art Society of Baltimore to create an outdoor sculpture for the newly renovated Lexington Market.