Op-Ed—The David C. Driskell Center: A Gem In Our Midst

By Guest Author on October 20, 2016


Willie Cole site installation. Photo credit: Gregory Staley,
Willie Cole site installation. Photo credit: Gregory Staley,

I do not advocate segregation or discrimination but I am a strong believer in the documentation and sustainability of African American art and culture.  The definition of culture I employ within in this op-ed was stated by anthropologist E. B. Tylor, where he defines culture as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.”  It is the preservation of art created by African American artists that will be addressed.

The National African American Museum has opened after eleven years of planning and fundraising to the tune of $450 million dollars.  The director, Lonnie G. Bunch III stated, “This Museum will tell the American story through the lens of African American history and culture. This is America’s story and this museum is for all Americans.”  The new museum is primarily focused on the documentation of African American life, history, and culture.  It has collected more than 36,000 artifacts.  However, artwork created by African American artists does not have a dominant place in the Museum.  Although it is remarkable that a museum of this nature has opened its doors, I cannot help but continue to contemplate how the contributions of African American artists will be preserved for generations to come.

The Smithsonian African American Museum will be sustained via continued donations and federal appropriations.  But what will become of the history and documentation of the artwork created for hundreds of years by African American artists?

There is only one place in the United States of America that is filling-in the gap of this dilemma—the David C. Driskell Center for the study of the visual arts and culture of African Americans and the African Diaspora at the University of Maryland, College Park.  The center was established in 2001 to honor the legacy of David C. Driskell, Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of Art, Artist, Art Historian, Collector, Curator, and Philanthropist.

The David C. Driskell Center celebrates and advances African American visual art through rotating exhibitions of major artists and collections. Most of the exhibitions are accompanied by scholarly documentation helping close the gaps in the narrative of American art. Since most of the collections travel, it brings work to both local and national communities. Moreover, the Center’s art collections and archives are available for study at the University of Maryland providing accessibility to local DC-area residents.

David C. Driskell is generous and has a very big heart. He has made it his life mission to share his legacy by providing an intellectual home for artists, museum professionals, art administrators and scholars who are interested in broadening the field of African Diaspora studies.  The Driskell Center has provided a home for the collection, documentation and presentation of African American art.  David C. Driskell is a leading expert in the study of the visual arts.

The Driskell collection includes artwork, an extensive archive of scholarly work (including one–of-a-kind primary source materials from Professor David C. Driskell, artist Faith Ringgold, and the Harmon Foundation) and library materials.  All these elements complement each other to provide comprehensive information about the history of African American art.

The Art Collection grew in ten years from 100 works to more than 1,500, dating from the 1850s to the present.  The collection includes drawings, paintings, prints, mixed media, and sculptures, with works by renowned artists such as Benny Andrews, Aaron Douglas, Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett, David C. Driskell, Sam Gilliam, Jacob Lawrence, Keith Morrison, Faith Ringgold, Augusta Savage, Charles White and William T. Williams.  The collection acquired its works mainly by donations which recognize the Center as one of the few institutions which will care for, present, and document art by African American artists.  One such example includes a donation of approximately 280 pieces from the Sandra and Lloyd Baccus Collection.

The David Driskell Center is a gem in our midst and must be sustained—it is the responsibility of every American to contribute to this important institution with donations, attendance in the Center’s programs and by publishing art reviews of the exhibitions.  It is an important institution which maintains and values the contributions of African American artists of the American art canon.

Support for the David Driskell Center can happen as follows:

  • Scheduling tours for professional groups, friends, social groups and children
  • Joining the Driskell Fine Print subscription program (purchasing the New Driskell Edition by artist Willie Cole)
  • Enrolling in DCDC Collectors School (Scheduled for the spring)
  • Making donations (all donations are tax deductible)

Educators are welcomed to do research in the David C. Driskell archive and The Faith Ringgold Study Room when it opens in spring 2017.

Contact Information

David C. Driskell Center
C/O Dorit Yaron, Deputy Director
1214 Cole Student Activities Bldg.
University of Maryland
College Park, Md 20742

Contact the center by email at Driskellcenter@umd.edu, by phone at 301.314.2615 or visit them online at www.Driskellcenter.umd.edu