Reginald F. Lewis Museum celebrates 10th anniversary


— You know you’re doing something right when jazz star Maysa helps to kick off your 10th anniversary celebration!

“We’ve got a really great year of delights in store,” said Dr. Skipp Sanders, executive director of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum, where the remainder of 2015 will be focused on the arts and cultural landmark’s decade-long existence.

“We’re working ourselves to the ground on anniversary plans and loving it,” Sanders said.

It began on Thursday, June 18, 2015 with a concert by Maysa, the award-winning and Baltimore-born jazz artist whose “Blue Velvet Soul” album earned seven Grammy nominations. Followed by a performance by the Dance Theatre of Harlem on Saturday, June 20, 2015, the dance company’s only full-length appearance in the Mid-Atlantic region this year.

Located on E. Pratt Street, the museum features exhibitions that detail the history of black Americans. This year, the museum will also celebrate its anniversary by introducing, “Lewis Now,” a new creative space for community artists.

“We’ve been working on a strategic plan and we got so excited by this that we decided to do it now instead of later,” Sanders said of the new space that’s opening in July with “Devin Allen: Awakenings in a New Light,” the first solo show of the Baltimore photographer which exhibits images of the protests that took place in the aftermath of the death of Freddie Gray.

The PNC Bank-sponsored event will feature Allen’s photos that graced the cover of Time Magazine in May, making him just the third amateur photographer to accomplish that feat. Sanders says that Allen’s images show both the struggle and humanity of protest, including from the side of law enforcement.

“It was powerful,” Sanders said. “You see an African-American police officer with a tear running down his face, a young child wearing a police man’s hat. You’re getting the whole picture of what was happening.”

Sanders says the museum has had its share of ups and downs and the economic downturn a few years ago suppressed a lot of potential growth for all museums.

“All arts institutions were really hurting, but we’re blessed to have survived,” he said. “We are a state institution so we do receive state support but what we’re doing is showing that when we rebound, we have a real renaissance. It’s important that everyone understand how crucial such an arts institution is in making the community vibrant and alive and intellectual.”

Museum officials are also working in collaboration with Morgan State University on a future performance and they’re also developing a curriculum with the state Department of Education for fourth through twelfth graders.

“We’re trying to meet common core standards. We really want to honor the teachers and educators and to make the museum a resource,” Sanders said.

As the museum enters a new decade, officials say they are looking forward to the culmination of the anniversary celebration with a black tie event in November that will feature new ideas, culture, art and music.

The museum’s official 10th anniversary gala is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. on November 14, 2015 and the honorary co-chairs will be State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby and her husband, Councilman Nick J. Mosby, Eddie C. Brown and C. Sylvia Brown.

Tickets will go on sale next month for the gala and will be available at the museum or its website.

“A large part of our problem always had been becoming visible. We’re a museum not a mausoleum and as visitors begin to move through our exhibits in our permanent galleries and see all of the things about the great legacy of African American history that none of us saw in depth, they see all of the information that we need to relearn,” Sanders said noting that African Americans served varied roles even during slavery and not all were slaves.

The museum prides itself on educating the public and the anniversary allows for reflection.

“We know that at 10 years old, you need to take a look at yourself and see how you need to refresh and update,” Sanders said. “We will be getting a review of ourselves this year and see what we need to do to refresh and update.”