Local African American Artists Shine

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In The Legacy Museum’s Visual Voices Exhibition

Art does not exist in a vacuum; art can inspire, lend a voice, unite, and motivate.
—Brooke Marcy, Guest Curator of the Legacy Museum’s current exhibition, Visual Voices, A Celebration of African American Artists from Lynchburg and Surrounding Areas


The Legacy Museum of African American History arose from the Legacy Project, Inc., which was established by the Lynchburg NAACP in 1993. After becoming incorporated and designated a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in 1995, Legacy bought a two-story Victorian house in a historically black neighborhood with the hopes of turning it into a museum in 1997. Three years and a hard-earned $300,000 later, the Legacy Museum opened its doors.

“The initial group of founders felt that the Legacy Museum filled a void in the Lynchburg community,” says Talea Teasley, Grant and Social Media Coordinator at the Legacy Museum.
“They decided to create a place to honor, preserve, and share the stories of the African American leaders and experiences of this area. Legacy programs and exhibits have been instrumental in raising awareness for many students and adults about people of color—people who, despite obstacles, have thrived, owned businesses, paved the way, led the fight for social justice, and have contributed to our community in many ways.”

Since opening in June 2000, the Legacy Museum has showcased 11 exhibitions that give voice to different aspects of the African American experience in and around Lynchburg from 1800 to present day. Among the themes spotlighted in past exhibitions are medicine and health, education, religion, business, military, Jim Crow laws, the Civil War, and music. The museum’s current exhibition, Visual Voices, A Celebration of African American Artists from Lynchburg and Surrounding Areas, turns its lens to local African American artists. This exhibition not only speaks to the experiences of local African American artists, but it also sings with a chorus composed of many distinct and talented voices.

“The exhibition is designed to create a comprehensive representation of the multi-talented African American artists who currently live or have lived in Lynchburg and its surrounding areas,” Teasley says. “These artists open doors to a greater understanding of our community through varied visual interpretations. Some of these artists have had extensive formal education in the arts, while others are self-taught. What they have in common is a passion and dedication to the creation and exploration of the world through visual expression.”

Visual Voices, which opened in August and will run through April 30, 2019, features art in many mediums: painting, sculpture, photography, graphic arts, soft sculpture, wood carving, portraiture and sketches.

Former NASA astronaut and Heritage High School graduate Leland Melvin contributed a photograph he took of the Space Shuttle Atlantis undocked from the International Space Station near the close of his 2009 STS-129 mission.

“Our orbital home 240 miles from Earth is a starry beacon in the night sky where nations work in peace,” reads part of his artist statement.

Some of artist Christina Ball’s work speaks to her ideas about feminism and beauty, artist Gerald Cheatham’s work portrays his love of and concern for nature and the environment, and artist Ruby Rittmeyer’s soft sculptures are inspired by her childhood memories of growing up on a tobacco, cotton and peanut farm. Each one of these artists, along with the many other featured artists in this exhibition, tells an important story that will inspire individuals and the community at large.

As is the case with all great art, the inspiration provided by Visual Voices is two-fold: the artwork is inspiring in and of itself, but it is also inspiring because of the stories it tells—stories of hope, strength and solidarity.

As the exhibition’s Guest Curator Brooke Marcy eloquently states, “art does not exist in a vacuum; art can inspire, lend a voice, unite, and motivate.” This exhibition “is a celebration of these gifted artists as well as a celebration of art itself,” she adds.

The museum is offering accompanying workshops, lectures and activities to further enrich the Visual Voices experience. “We hope these programs will initiate a dialogue on the importance of art in the African American community, as well as highlight talented artists in our community as a whole,” says Teasley.

Teasley is very encouraged by the response to the exhibition thus far. “So far, the responses to the exhibit have been extremely positive,” she says. “After each tour the docents request that visitors complete a questionnaire about the gallery offerings. Legacy reviews these comments and any recommendations are taken under advisement and discussed during exhibit committee meetings.”

For Legacy Museum Board President Joyce Dixon, garnering feedback from individual museumgoers is the highlight of her job. “The most rewarding thing about my job is witnessing the reactions of visitors as they respond to our exhibits with comments,” she says. “Whether the comments are good or bad, it’s all useful and good.”

In addition to providing valuable feedback after visiting the museum’s exhibitions, community members also play an important role in initially deciding which exhibitions will be featured. “The idea for the present exhibit was first proposed by the organization’s exhibit committee,” Teasley notes. “This committee requested suggestions from various community members and through many meetings and subsequent research, decided that artistic expressions in varying mediums needed to be explored as a possibility. The exhibit committee then held several meetings with supporters, previous contributors, collectors and museum partners for their input.”

As Visual Voices continues its successful run, the Legacy Museum Board of Directors is also working on events for Black History Month and beyond.

On February 25th, the museum will sponsor a Black History Program and Celebration at the Lynchburg Parks and Recreation Miller Center Theater. A featured speaker will discuss the history and evolution of Black History month in the United States and around the world, and a traditional southern Sunday supper will follow the presentation.

During the spring, the museum will focus on fundraising efforts and honoring donors. “Special fundraising activities are being undertaken to cover the expenses of brick and mortar repairs outside of the exhibit galleries,” says Teasley. “There are also plans to honor ‘Legacy Legends’—our longstanding supporters—for their continuing support and assistance.”

In the future, the Legacy Museum Board hopes to see an increase in community participation and collaboration. “We’d like everyone in the community to know we’re here and have something valuable to offer to the entire community,” Teasley says. “The Board would like to see an increase in attendance as well as collaborations with other community organizations that expand and lead to joint programming. We look forward to an increase in fundraising and the ability to continue to grow and fulfill Legacy’s mission: to enrich the lives of local residents and museum visitors by fostering and stimulating an appreciation of the diversity of the African American experience in Lynchburg and surrounding communities.”

Learn more about The Legacy Museum at legacymuseum.org.

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About Author

Emily Hedrick is a freelance writer, youth services librarian specializing in tween programming at the Lynchburg Public Library, and self-proclaimed geek. She is a huge fan of Harry Potter and “Game of Thrones,” and she enjoys reading, gaming, and spending time with her husband, friends, and family.

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