The museum brought in the installation as part of its new initiative, the Center for Art & Public Exchange, which seeks to create dialogue around issues such as race equity through art.
CAPE Managing Director Julian Rankin says the initiative was a natural progression for the museum. Over the last 10 years since the museum moved into its current space, it had commemorated civil-rights anniversaries such as in 2011 with the Freedom Riders, the 2013 commemoration of the assassination of Medgar Evers and the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer.
"We had been responding to these issues of equity and civil rights and art, but CAPE is an intentional, strategic encapsulation of doing that work on a long-term, ongoing basis, essentially," Rankin says.
"It's using artwork to start conversation in simple terms, and really to use it to move the needle to inspire deeper understanding and dialogue about issues that are relevant to contemporary life."
The museum received a three-year grant in 2017 from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to create CAPE and launched the initiative in November.
One of the ways the center has used art to create dialogue around social issues is through hosting events such as "Re:frame," a dialogue series that connects art to modern life. During the April program, "This Land is My Land," the center used "White Gold" to discuss economic justice and southern farmland. The museum also has the Arts & Civil Rights Initiative, a partnership with Tougaloo College through a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation that uses the art collections at both institutions to foster dialogue about civil-rights issues. CAPE guides some of the programming, which includes exhibits such as "Now: The Call and Look of Freedom," a gallery that features artists with work grounded in the African American experience, including Romare Bearden and Betye Saar.
"We're trying to bring together parts of the community with art, with artists and with art-making in a way that responds to issues that are important to our community," MMA Director Betsy Bradley says.
Besides "White Gold," the museum also acquired works such as Benny Andrews' "Trail of Tears" and Hank Willis Thomas' "Flying Geese," which incorporates historic photos from an African American photographer woven into a single quilt-like piece that reflects on racial representation and perspectives.
"We feel like artists and artworks are uniquely positioned to start conversation in ways that are unique to art," Rankin says. "Artists give us a way as viewers to see the world through someone else's eyes, which is ultimately what it means to become more understanding of the people that we share the world with."
The center will also launch two artist residencies. One will be for an artist outside of Mississippi (though the person should have Mississippi roots of some kind, Rankin says) to come to Jackson and do community-engaged artwork. The museum will also have two statewide residencies each year for artists in the state to do work in another community.
"Everywhere you go in Mississippi, it's ground zero for some persistent history and amazing storytelling traditions that are core to who we are as Mississippians and who communities are," he says. "It's doing a work, an installation or performance, ... a visual-art project, a community-engaged work that works with communities to make it."
The national residency will be invitation-based, but the statewide residency will begin with a "listening tour" to get ideas from communities and see what stories need to be told and issues the art should deal with. After that, artists will be able to submit ideas. Rankin says the museum will start the CAPE Innovation Lab, a gallery space that allows viewers to engage with the art and dialogue, this fall.
"There's three values of CAPE, which (are) transparency, equity and truth, and those mean a lot of different things. But one of the important elements of transparency is to bring the community and viewers and visitors along at different stages, not just when something goes on the wall, but backing up about what we're thinking about, what the community is thinking about, and use CAPE as a way to bring those together, so that what we do can be meaningful and authentic," he says.
CAPE has also have a community-advisory council that will include people from each City ward (and beyond) who will workshop ideas, give feedback and hold the center accountable, Rankin says.
"[I]n a sense, artists have a tradition of showing the world truths, not a single truth, but their truth, and so combining art works and that voice with the voices of people from all different walks of life is a natural way to have this really informative, compelling dialogue," he says.
For more information, visit museumcape.org.