Community Spotlight: Clark Atlanta University Art Museum is Hidden Gem for African, African-American Art

Atlanta’s Westside neighborhoods are known for being full of rich culture, but did you know that the Westside is also home to one of the most extensive collections of African-American and African art in the South?

Located in the Atlanta University Center on the campus of Clark Atlanta University, the Clark Atlanta University Art Museum (CAUAM) holds a permanent Black art collection of more than 1200 works, primarily divided into two groups: African American modern art and traditional African art.

A Historically-Significant Collection

The school’s history of collecting art dates back to 1942 during a time when artists of color were excluded from many opportunities because of segregation.

Renowned artist Hale Woodruff, having joined the faculty of Atlanta University in 1931, devised of a way to provide Black artists with more exposure, and ultimately initiated yearly art exhibitions that highlighted a range of visual art. These Atlanta University Art Annuals continued for nearly three decades and allowed the University access to hundreds of artists during that span.

The institution would purchase several works of art each year, in addition to receiving numerous gifts to supplement its collection, ultimately amassing work by some of the most relevant contemporary artists of their time. Woodruff was a faculty member at Atlanta University for 15 years, and, in that time, he was known as a “one-man art department” while also conducting art classes for Spelman College and Morehouse College students. Woodruff was successful in bringing several major art collections to the Atlanta University Center, and his efforts paved the way for many of the cultural gems present in the CAUAM art collection today. (In 1988 Clark College and Atlanta University merged to form Clark Atlanta University.)

Some of the artists included in the CAUAM collection include: Radcliffe Bailey, Romare Bearden, John Biggers, Isabel Bishop, Charles Dawson, Diane Edison, Stefanie Jackson,
William H. Johnson, Lois Mailou Jones, Norman Lewis, John Marin, Nellie Mae Rowe, Freddie Styles, Mildred Thompson, Larry Walker and Charles White.

Nurturing the Next Generation

This past December, CAUAM was one of 20 U.S. art museums selected to receive funding from the Walton Family Foundation and Ford Foundation as a part of the Diversifying Art Museum Leadership Initiative (DAMLI), an effort to increase diversity in curatorial and management staff at art museums nationally.

Dr. Maurita Poole, director of the CAUAM, will use the grant to establish the Tina Dunkley Fellowship in American Art to not only commemorate the legacy of the art museum’s curator emerita, Tina Dunkley, but also to train and prepare the next generation of students of color who aspire to be art museum directors and leaders. The two-year fellowship will be a joint post-baccalaureate program with Kennesaw State University’s Zuckerman Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art.

The museum is open to the public Tuesday through Friday from 11 am to 4 p.m. as well as by appointment.

To learn more about the museum’s rich history or to plan a visit, click here.