December 8, 2011
Contact: Faith Ringgold ● (201) 816-1374 ● email@example.com
Barbara Hoffman, Esq. ● (212) 873-6200 ● firstname.lastname@example.org
Faith Ringgold Withdraws Name, Artwork and Support from Planned Faith Ringgold Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling in Harlem.
Faith Ringgold has withdrawn her support, her artwork and her name from the Sugar Hill Project, Broadway Housing Communities’ mixed-use project in Harlem which includes plans to build a 15,000 square foot cultural center. Concerns regarding Broadway Housing Communities’ Executive Director Ellen Baxter’s commitment to a “true art museum,” curatorial oversight, governance, security, climate control and financial commitment of Broadway Housing Communities to support a chartered museum as an integral part of its principal mission to support the homeless, triggered the decision.
Ms. Ringgold was originally approached by Ms. Baxter about the building of a museum to celebrate Faith Ringgold’s legacy. Ms. Ringgold, a pre-eminent African-American artist, author and educator, grew up in the Sugar Hill neighborhood and still retains an apartment there. Her noted story quilts and children’s books celebrate Harlem. The Faith Ringgold Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling, in the words of Ms. Baxter when she solicited Ms. Ringgold to become a part of the project, would be a permanent place to implement the legacy of Ms. Ringgold as an artist and educator of children. Ms. Ringgold was approached by Ms. Baxter to lend her name, vision and considerable notoriety and connections in Harlem, to create a true art museum for children, based on her amazing work with children. “And so the museum will be a place where Faith’s work is exhibited where children can come and understand the history of Sugar Hill in Harlem,” said Ms. Baxter. “So they can understand the history of its music, of its December 8, 2011 people, and of its architecture.” “Her legacy should be understood by every child who lives there and grows up there,” said Ms. Baxter in March, 2007.
Based on the early enthusiasm and purported support for Faith Ringgold’s vision and mission embodied in early planning meetings for the Museum, Faith Ringgold lent her name, reputation and introduced the BHC to her considerable network in the art world and African-American community. Her advisors and admirers have donated untold uncompensated hours to the planning of the Museum especially in the early years of the Sugar Hill Project. Marie Brown, Faith Ringgold’s literary agent, the Bergens of the ACA Galleries, Sharon Shaeffer and Patricia Maunder continued to lend sustained support to activities, and were instrumental in fundraising.
BHC used Ms. Ringgold’s name, brand recognition and reputation to attract the substantial donors, grants from organizations like the Oak Foundation, and city approvals. Her friends such as the late Max Bond and George Campbell Jr., former President of Cooper Union, were involved in the Architectural Selection Committee and Dorian Bergen of ACA Galleries, submitted Mr. Adjaye’s name to that committee for the Sugar Hill Project. Ironically, while Mr. Ajaye has designed the housing component of the Sugar Hill Project, he has not been involved in the area of his expertise, museum design.
As Ms. Baxter stated in a letter to Ms. Ringgold on October 7, 2011 “Your legacy, passionate love of art, children and storytelling definitely inspired me to undertake the long and unfamiliar journey to incorporate a cultural institution into the Sugar Hill development . . . You have encouraged and contributed time to the children and staff of Broadway Housing Communities.” December 8, 2011
Notwithstanding Ms. Baxter’s continued appearance at Ringgold events and the celebration of an eightieth birthday for Ms. Ringgold by Broadway Housing Communities, Ms. Ringgold was excluded from participation in planning for the museum and began to have grave concerns about Broadway Housing Communities’ commitment to and ability to undertake the long and unfamiliar journey to incorporate an art museum for children.
Negative sentiments and doubts about the commitment of Broadway Housing Communities to realize a ‘true’ museum of art and storytelling for children were confirmed by events and meetings.
These concerns were exacerbated by the following events: (1) No amendment to the Broadway Housing Communities’ charter to permit it to operate a museum has, to her knowledge, been sought; (2) no approval from the Board of Regents for a provisional charter to operate an art museum has been sought; (3) no independent Board of Directors has been formed; and (4) no long range financial plan from Broadway Housing Communities including subsidies for rental of the originally planned 18,000 square foot space, no storage facility or security plan to protect valuable works of art, and no design or program for the museum by architect David Adjaye. In fact, every indication is that this is not to be an “art museum for children” but at best a run-of-the-mill, ordinary children’s museum or a local community art play center as embodied in the Dorothy Day project in the Rio Gallery, a far cry from the unique vision of an accredited art museum for children.
On April 13, 2011 Ms. Ringgold’s attorney wrote to Broadway Housing Communities’ attorney expressing substantial concern about the lack of progress of the museum, issues of governance, financial stability, conflict of interest, professionalism, security and storage. She December 8, 2011 also indicated she would not loan her artworks nor her time or efforts to create original artwork unless her concerns were addressed.
Neither Ms. Baxter nor her lawyer responded to Ms. Ringgold’s questions or concerns yet Ms. Baxter continued to represent Ms. Ringgold as connected and involved with the Sugar Hill Project and Broadway Housing Communities’ commitment to a museum.
Finally, on November 14, 2011, Ms. Ringgold’s attorney wrote to the attorney for Broadway Housing Communities to express and confirm her non-involvement in the Sugar Hill Project. On information and belief, Ms. Baxter has yet to inform donors and contributors by letter that Ms. Ringgold is not involved with the Project, since Ringgold requested copies of such letters and has not received them.
As of this date no response to the letter has been received. However, on Sunday, December 4, 2011, an article in the Art Newspaper quoted Ms. Baxter, who explained that the former Faith Ringgold Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling was changed to the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling. “It’s a part of the evolution of the museum. It was decided that it was not a good idea to name [the building] after one artist because it was not going to be a museum of her work.” Ms. Baxter however, has been less that transparent about the evolution of the “museum” and any details about its program, collections, charter or financing.
What Ms. Baxter fails to mention is that it is unlikely that Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling will be a chartered museum with a permanent collection by Faith Ringgold or any other Harlem Renaissance artist, and that the unique vision embodied in the Faith Ringgold Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling has more than likely been replaced by December 8, 2011 a community cultural center with art classes for children not unlike the Rio Galleries at The Rio and Dorothy Day Apartments. This is not to diminish the Rio Galleries or the significant accomplishments of Broadway Housing Communities to serve the low-income and homeless. It is simply that the unique museum of art for children with a permanent collection of notable African-American and other artists of Sugar Hill, as set forth in Ringgold’s original mission statement, and envisioned as a mecca for the community and the world, is unlikely to be located at the Sugar Hill Project.