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Museum Minute: Ten Years of the Thompson Collection

Ten years ago, Larry and Brenda Thompson donated 100 works to the museum from their prominent collection of works by African American artists. They funded an endowment to support a new curatorial position at the museum to study works by Black artists, both American and international. Their gift has resulted in major change in both exhibitions and acquisitions.

To celebrate this anniversary, curator Shawnya L. Harris has assembled the permanent collection installation “Decade of Tradition: Highlights from the Larry D. and Brenda A. Thompson Collection,” now on view. In organizing the exhibition, she included works from the 2011 traveling exhibition “Tradition Redefined: The Larry and Brenda Thompson Collection of African American Art,” which preceded the gift, as well as ones that have never been on view at the museum and art that the museum has acquired since 2012. Harris plans to have future rotations that may focus on specific themes or artists from the collection.

Traditionally, museums excluded works by African American artists, and the Thompsons have often characterized their collecting as a means of overcoming that practice. Creating a dedicated gallery for works by African American artists allows the museum to give them the sustained attention they deserve. At the same time, it continues to incorporate more works by Black artists throughout the permanent collection galleries.

Harris shares that her role “is to establish that process of stewardship that will make inclusivity possible. As the years go on, we can broaden the museum's collection while promoting a sense of equity in the way we highlight art traditions.”