Tougaloo College has housed a significant fine art collection for more than 50 years.

On February 6, 2020, Tougaloo College Art Collection will receive a Governor’s Arts Award for “Preservation of the Arts.”

In addition to playing a significant role in the Civil Rights Movement, Tougaloo College has housed a significant fine art collection on their campus in Jackson for more than 50 years. The collection was started in the 1960s when a group of activists, curators and critics formed the New York Art Committee for Tougaloo College.

In the spring of 1963, the committee installed the first art works into the collection, featuring important pieces by modern European and American artists. Their efforts marked the first collection of modern art in Mississippi. The committee envisioned the collection serving the teaching needs of Tougaloo College and the cultural needs of the broader community.

“Our hope is to provide the nucleus of a cultural center. Eventually it is hoped that this collection would serve a broad area around the city of Jackson as an interracial oasis in which the fine arts are the focus and magnet…” –Dore Ashton, head of the New York Art Committee for Tougaloo College

Dr. Ronald O. Schnell, art professor and the first curator of the Tougaloo Collection, was inspired by the committee’s dedication to providing access to the arts. Dr. Schnell is credited with acquiring the majority of the African American Collection, with the first works being donated by artist Hale Woodruff after his 1943 visit to the campus.

New York art critic and head of the New York Art Committee for Tougaloo College, Dore Ashton, helped expand the collection by donating a piece from a Congress of Racial Equality exhibition. Along side Dr. Schnell, artist and scholar David Driskell acquired pieces by 19th century artists and championed the collection’s importance nationally.

In the 1970s, Tougaloo was able to expand the collection with pieces by living African American artists through a purchasing grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2002, 500 pieces from Africa and Oceania were donated by the Genevieve McMillian and Reba Stewart Foundation. In 2011, Tougaloo opened the Bennie G. Thompson Academic and Civil Rights Research Center, which includes a gallery where pieces from their extensive collection are on view.

Today the collection has 1,500 works divided into three areas, including works on paper, sculpture, paintings, decorative arts and textiles. Their mission and vision remain the same as when the collection was first founded, “to enhance the cultural environment at Tougaloo College and the broader community.”

Join us for the 2020 Governor’s Arts Awards to recognize and honor Tougaloo College Art Collection.

Artwork pictured: Romare Bearden (1911-1988) Conjunction, 1971 textile collage of various fabrics with crayon and charcoal on canvas; 175.3 x 144.1 Tougaloo College Art Collections, 1973.057 Purchased by Tougaloo College with support from the National Endowment for the Arts