A New African American Art Exhibit Encourages Visitors To Vote The new presentation at the Banneker-Douglass Museum in Annapolis displays large murals highlighting African Americans in the electoral process.
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A New African American Art Exhibit Encourages Visitors To Vote

A New African American Art Exhibit Encourages Visitors To Vote

A New African American Art Exhibit Encourages Visitors To Vote

A New African American Art Exhibit Encourages Visitors To Vote

Chanel Compton, executive director of the Banneker-Douglass Museum, stands in front of one of many murals on exhibit through this year. Dominique Maria Bonessi/WAMU hide caption

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Dominique Maria Bonessi/WAMU

Maryland's deep history in the civil rights movement is the inspiration behind a new exhibit entitled, The Black Vote Mural Project. The presentation is also designed to encourage visitors to register to vote.

The Banneker-Douglass Museum in Annapolis doesn't just display artwork: the building is a part of civil rights history itself. Part of the museum, Mount Moriah African Methodist Episcopal Church, was built in 1874. Prominent abolitionist Frederick Douglass spoke at the church's commemoration ceremony one year later.

"Artists were really inspired by the history of the space," Chanel Compton, the museum's executive director, said while giving a tour last week.

The museum adapted the theme, Black Vote, from the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. The organization was founded by Carter Woodson, known as the father of Black History Month. For the rest of this year, visitors can see large murals with everything from traditional paintings, to collages, to street art.

"We have graffiti. We have mixed media. We have different interpretations of the American flag," Compton says.

Compton says the museum chose public art because it has a profound history of social activism and community voice.

"We want to get people to get out and vote but also to use their voice to inspire change in their communities and to participate," Compton says. "And hopefully, a young person will come to this exhibit and decide that they want to run for elected office."

Visitors enter the exhibit by walking up a modern wooden staircase and are then transported back in time as they enter the historic church. The interior has creaky, carpeted wooden floors and dark wood paneling along the walls. Light streams into the vaulted ceiling of the church through refurbished stain glass windows.

The stage at the front of the room has a large exhibit entitled, "Jim Never Had Me In Mind" referring to Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation until 1965.

"Jim Crow didn't have any of us in mind, Jim Crow didn't have this museum in mind," Compton said.

Under that is the word, "PRESENT written in big bold letters. The word is tied with black string to girls' and women's shoes laid out on the floor in front of the words on the wall.

"It's asking the viewer: Is it, 'I'm present here?' or present as raising my hand or present for today," Compton says.

Toward the back wall is a piece Compton helped create.

The piece focuses on three black women painted into a framed collage. Compton says it's an homage to women like Ida B. Wells, Angela Davis, the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement and African American women suffragists. Toward the top of the canvas collage is a white door knob with the word 'opportunity' written on it.

Chanel Compton stands next to one of the murals she helped create. Dominique Maria Bonessi/WAMU hide caption

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Dominique Maria Bonessi/WAMU

"Opportunities for women of color," Compton says reaching toward the door knob above her head. "You really gotta reach for it."

The exhibit is part of a larger series of events about the black vote, some of which the museum will sponsor around the state this year. Visitors can register to vote during the events. Maryland's primary election is April 28 and the general election is Nov. 3.

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