DALLAS, Texas (December 5, 2022)—The Nasher Sculpture Center announces its next offsite Nasher Public project, Urban Historical Reclamation and Recognition, conceived and steered by Dallas artist, curator, and veteran activist Vicki Meek. Nasher Public: Urban Historical Reclamation and Recognition will be a socially engaged public art project that enlists a collective of local artists and historians to create a contemporary ‘monument’ in collaboration with a Dallas community that is underrepresented in public history efforts.
The project follows on Meek’s 2021 Nasher Public exhibition Stony the Road We Trod, a contemporary shrine dedicated to the Black community, and is an extension of her 2013 Nasher XChange project at Paul Quinn College, Black & Blue: Cultural Oasis in the Hills, which resulted in a series of historic markers and web-based interactions commemorating the intellectual contributions of Bishop College, a historical Black college that operated in Marshall and then on that site in Dallas, Texas from 1881 to 1988.
Nasher Public: Urban Historical Reclamation and Recognition will document and memorialize the Tenth Street Historic District Freedman’s Town in Oak Cliff, an urban neighborhood with past and present ties to the Black community. Structured as an artist think tank and led by Meek, artists, scholars, community members, and partners will research, document, and interpret the history of the Tenth Street area, highlighting the importance of including voices from these groups in the memorialization processes, particularly in places where redevelopment has endangered public historical memory. Collaborative and community-centered research and design will serve as a model and catalyst for cross-sector and cross-cultural collaborations between artists, arts institutions, and community organizations.
The research and public programming efforts will culminate in a capstone public art project—such as a performance, installation, or exhibition—based on the goals set by the collective, incorporating social history and public memory. Projects may include community-based historical research; photo, video, and archival documentation; pop-up exhibitions and/or installations; performances, plays, or stories; and/or artist-facilitated community gatherings. The project will be co-developed with partners and community members and may either have permanent physical manifestations or be ephemeral in nature.
Nasher Fellow in Urban Historical Reclamation and Recognition
This project establishes the Nasher Fellow in Urban Historical Reclamation and Recognition to act as curator, community facilitator, and lead investigator. Vicki Meek will serve as the inaugural Fellow and will advise on the selection process for any subsequent Fellows following the pilot term. She will also serve as a project consultant to provide support and advisory services in any future iterations.
The Fellow will assemble a collective of artists, historians, and partners to connect with local organizations and community members. Throughout the process, the collective will work directly with partner organizations and facilitate collaboration with residents, students, business owners, and other stakeholders to excavate and examine the past, present, and future of each community. The collective will communicate their work through artist-facilitated gatherings; photo, video, and archival documentation; and a culminating project such as an exhibition, installation, or performance.
To engage with the Tenth Street Historic District Freedman’s Town, Meek has identified the following collective members: Jonathan Norton, playwright; Christian Vazquez, filmmaker; Ángel Faz, social practice visual artist; and historian Dr. Marvin Dulaney, President of the Association for the Study of African American Life & History.
The Fellowship provides a pathway for sustainability by creating a model and methodology for future projects that does not hinge on any one individual artist or curator.
The Tenth Street Historic District Freedman’s Town is one of the only intact Freedman’s towns in the nation. The Oak Cliff town was settled by enslaved people in the mid-1800s, becoming a thriving, self-sufficient Freedman’s town by the end of the century with churches, a school, and many turn-of-the-century dwellings. Though the construction of I-35 and other city-led ordinances have resulted in significant demolition of the historic structures, many important landmarks remain, including Oak Cliff Cemetery, established 1846; Sunshine Elizabeth Chapel C.M.E. Church, 1911; Greater El Bethel Baptist Church, c. 1926; N.W. Harllee Elementary School (now N.W. Harllee Early Education Center), 1934; and a collection of residential architecture. In 1994 the area was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Meek chose to focus on this area, located in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, because its historical significance has not been met with adequate interest in preservation or memorialization. Many of the community elders are reaching advanced age and the demolition of historic structures has surged in recent years.
“I have always had a passion for exploring African American history as an inspiration for my work, both in my studio and public art practice,” says Meek. “Nasher Public: Urban Historical Reclamation and Recognition will allow me to indulge my love of art making and study of African American History and Culture, while establishing a structure for potential future iterations.”
Nasher Public: Urban Historical Reclamation and Recognition will partner with and build on the decades-long work of the Tenth Street Resident Association and Remembering Black Dallas.
Relevance to the Nasher
This project was conceived as an expanded special project of the Nasher Public creative placemaking initiative. Launched in October 2020, Nasher Public has to-date presented fourteen installations onsite at the Nasher Sculpture Center and six offsite, including partnerships with experimental theatre collective Artstillery in West Dallas and youth services organization For Oak Cliff in Oak Cliff.
The proposed project advances Nasher Public’s objectives, including expanding the reach of the Nasher’s exhibition program, providing paid opportunities to Dallas-based artists, and creating access to public art projects—in a range of mediums—in publicly accessible spaces throughout the city. Nasher Public provides artists a highly visible platform that many have used to explore complex social issues; many participating artists have chosen to explore critical topics like immigration, police brutality, the trans experience, gun violence, poverty, and the lingering impacts of colonialism.
The initiative is complemented by a robust education and public program series and digital offerings on the Nasher’s website and social media, including information on artists and sites, student and family activity guides, maps, and artist interviews and conversations.
“Nasher Public has demonstrated the unique ability artists have to speak pointedly to those who share their same place and community,” says Director Jeremy Strick. “The Fellowship in Urban Reclamation and Restoration takes this notion and builds on the possibility for a collective of creative visionaries to make meaningful revisions to which histories are kept, voices are heard, and places are honored. The Nasher is proud for the opportunity to shepherd a project of such immense innovation and importance.
Nasher Public: Urban Historical Reclamation and Recognition will establish an ongoing methodology for the Nasher to continue to create and sustain authentic partnerships and collaborations with neighborhood and community-based entities, including arts partners, non-arts partners, schools, and businesses. These partnerships encourage future collaborations, invite communities into the museum, and help organizations find ways to enlist artists and arts institutions to help achieve their goals, particularly those related to preserving and memorializing culturally specific histories and sites in the face of redevelopment.
With continued support, the Nasher Sculpture Center looks forward to continuing the project beyond its first iteration, allowing the collaborative framework of the pilot project to lead and inform future manifestations.
Nasher Public: Urban Historical Reclamation and Recognition is made possible by leading support from the Sapphire Foundation and the Embrey Family Foundation. Additional support is provided by Humanities Texas and individual donors.
About Vicki Meek
Vicki Meek has exhibited widely and is in the permanent collections of the African American Museum Dallas, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, and Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. She was awarded three public arts commissions with Dallas Area Rapid Transit Art Program, was co-artist on the Dallas Convention Center Public Art Project (the largest public art project in Dallas), and was one of ten artists in Nasher XChange, the Nasher Sculpture Center’s tenth anniversary public sculpture exhibition. In 2021, as a part of Nasher Public, Meek exhibited Stony the Road We Trod, a contemporary shrine dedicated to the Black community onsite in the Nasher Public Gallery. That same year she was awarded Texas Artist of the Year by Art League Houston. Meek resides in Dallas, where she is also an independent curator and writes cultural criticism.
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