The act of creating art is often romanticized. People speak of waiting for the muse to visit or being moved to create. But when you make a vocation of your avocation, that luxury is gone. As a professional writer, I rarely have time to linger over an assignment. Yes, I try to prepare in advance and allow plenty of time to deal with lack of inspiration, blocks and fact checking. But a deadline’s a deadline, and I know I can’t wait around for luck to light on me.
So it’s a special treat when I am able to spend nearly nine months, from conception to arrival, on a story. I first learned about “Dawoud Bey: The Birmingham Project” on Dec. 14. The Birmingham Museum of Art photography exhibit, which opens Sept. 8, depicts children the age of those who died in racially motivated violence on Sept. 15, 1963, alongside adults who are the age those children would be today, had they lived. The subjects of these portraits and the locations in which they were photographed are all from Birmingham, which was of course at the heart of the civil rights movement. As soon as I read about this project, I contacted the museum’s communications director and began brainstorming the best way to cover the exhibit.
That exhibit is one of three, plus a performance, that comprise the museum’s Art Speaks series. After nine months of brainstorming, researching, interviewing and writing, my story about the series is in the September issue of Birmingham magazine. While I don’t get to spend this kind of time on every assignment, this is precisely the work I love. I was able to dig in deep to get a thorough understanding of the story, and in turn I got to write about an important moment in my community.
Birmingham of the 1950s and early ’60s truly was black and white. Neighborhoods, schools, lunch counters and water fountains were segregated. The Lyric Theatre saw integrated audiences, but black people were relegated to balcony seating. And at the Birmingham Museum of Art, blacks were allowed through the institution’s doors once a week on Negro Day.That division was abolished in June 1963, when Birmingham removed segregation ordinances. And in the 50 years since, BMA and other institutions have wrestled with questions of how to be more inclusive with regard to who walks through their doors and what they see once inside.Those concerns have taken center stage during 2013, the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement. BMA’s three-exhibit series “Art Speaks: 50 Years Forward” is certainly not the museum’s first effort toward that end. But the lineup, which includes performances, multimedia and contemporary art exhibits, is an attempt not only to remember, but to encourage the community’s advancement.