The Academy Art Museum’s Juneteenth Celebration has grown larger in each of its first nine years. And in 2020, even accounting for the pandemic that canceled or postponed so many events drawing large crowds—from high school graduations to weddings—Juneteenth may become the largest yet by virtue of being virtual.
Available for free streaming on Facebook and the Academy Art Museum website (Friday and Saturday, June 19 and 20) makes it more accessible to a much wider audience. “Last year was our largest ever,” says museum director Ben Simons. “Since then, our Art at Home program has become very robust, and it’s grown our virtual museum audience. We’re hopeful that more people than ever will tune in and share with friends and get some social media buzz.”
On social media, sharing a positive message can spread like a benevolent virus.
In light of recent violent deaths that have driven Black Lives Matter to the national forefront, Juneteenth takes on an even greater consciousness-raising relevance. It commemorates, of course, Emancipation Day, when slaves were freed. Specifically, it was the date, June 19, 1865, when Gen. Gordon Granger of the Union Army arrived in Galveston, Texas, to inform slaves that the Civil War was over and slavery was abolished. (With no e-mail, Twitter, or even landline phones at the time, slaves closer to Appomattox received the news much earlier.)
But the Juneteenth Celebration, which Simons says is the largest in the Mid-Atlantic region, is about more than history or current strife. “We want to make it a joyful occasion,” says Simons—as it should be. As such, it will be celebrated with music, art, and storytelling. (Sorry, at a virtual event, viewers will have to provide their own food and refreshments.)
This Juneteenth headliner is Alison Crockett, a D.C. jazz singer who’s played Kennedy Center among other top venues. She is known for delivering a joyful noise with her soulful and soaring gospel/blues inflections that extend to Brazilian bossa nova. Her concert was pre-recorded inside the museum’s new Harrison Street entrance before a small socially distanced audience. It offers a preview glimpse of the renovated space still being completed. The musical lineup also includes local artist Kentavius (KJ) Jones, who will perform selections from his rock ’n’ soul debut album “Bohemian Beatbox.”
For the younger set in virtual attendance, author Omeaka Jackson, CEO, and founder of Cambridge’s Harvesting Hope Youth and Family Wellness Inc., presents a story time based on kids’ social and emotional needs. Also, Constance De Nero, the museum’s children’s education director, has designed a craft and art project kids can complete online.
And speaking of art—this is an art museum, after all—those of any age may wish to take virtual docent-led tours of works from the permanent collection relevant to the Juneteenth theme. Also, a broadcast will be streamed of a studio visit with Academy Art’s 2020 artist-in-residence from Baltimore, whose “Anthony McAfee: Legacy” exhibition features works with historical African-American references. McAfee’s solo show was to open in April. Now its premiere will coincide with the Aug. 1 reopening of the museum—for real rather than virtually. Simons has his fingers crossed, as do we all, against any further delays due to COVID-19.
This 10th Juneteenth Celebration is dedicated to the memory of Eric Lowery. As past president of the Frederick Douglass Honor Society, Lowery is best-known for his leadership that led to the statue that stands now on the Talbot County Courthouse grounds. The museum partnered with Lowery and his Frederick Douglass society members in presenting the first Juneteenth Celebration in 2011. “With this year’s Juneteenth,” says Simons, “we honor Eric’s contribution to this annual celebration and his lifelong work for equality and social justice.”
Musician Ray Remesch, who is among those coordinating this observance, “We are celebrating the theme of liberation and freedom in a pre-recorded virtual format featuring musicians from the local and national scene, reflections on various artworks, a children’s craft and story time.”
That about sums it up. Let’s hope that by next Juneteenth we can all get together in person to celebrate. And, speaking for myself, see some baseball again.
Juneteenth Celebration 2020
(The Friday, June 19, program is repeated Saturday, June 20, available free on academyartmuseum.org or facebook.com/academyartmuseum)
11 a.m. – Storytime with Omeaka Jackson, founder of Harvesting Hope Youth and Family Wellness
Noon – “Docent Reflections”: Karen Bailor discusses African-American artist and sculptor Martin Puryear’s “Black Cart” (2008)
1 p.m. – Music by Kentavius Jones
2 p.m. – Children’s craft with Constance Del Nero, museum director of Children’s Education & Community Programs. Make a “Liberian Wisdom Lizard”
3:30 p.m. – Music by Alison Crockett
4:30 p.m. – “Docent Reflections”: Barbara Obrecht discusses the late Baltimore African-American artist Tom Miller.
6 p.m. – Recording of Zoom Virtual Studio with Baltimore African-American artist Antonio McAfee, the museum’s 2020 artist-in-residence and subject of the upcoming “Antonio McAfee Legacy” exhibition
Steve Parks is a retired journalist, arts writer and editor now living in Easton.