“Re-energizing the Legacy of Frederick Douglass” will serve as a yearlong recognition and reflection on the living legacy of the man and former slave whose 25 years in Rochester resulted in some of his most important life’s work, including the establishment and publication of The North Star, an abolitionist newspaper.
The public art project, exhibition and community-wide reflection commemorates the 200th anniversary of his birth. It is a partnership among Rochester Community Media Center, Rochester Contemporary Art Center, Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives and community partners who united as the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commemoration Committee. The project will celebrate Douglass’ achievements and legacy, including on his chosen birthday of Feb. 14.
Christine Christopher, project manager, and David Anderson, emeritus committee chairman and national Frederick Douglass bicentennial commissioner, round out committee leadership. Jose Torre, chairman of the history department at The College at Brockport, serves as history consultant.
A series of life-sized statues of Douglass, faithful replicas of the Sidney W. Edwards statue in Highland Park, will be placed at locations that are historically significant to his life in Rochester. A mobile-friendly website will provide a self-guided walking/driving tour map, biographical information, a timeline and excerpts from his speeches. An educational curriculum will be shared with regional schools, and the website and social media will cross-promote other events sponsored by museums, arts organizations, schools, colleges and other partner organizations.
The 8-foot bronze monument of Douglass, installed in 1899, is the first civic monument in the country to honor an African-American man. It serves as a starting point for the exhibition.
“The Sidney Edwards’ statue of Frederick Douglass is significant both as historic and cultural touchstones and as a celebrated work of art,” said Carvin Eison, RCMC project director and general manager. “Perhaps more importantly, at a time when statues in many parts of our country are provoking angry divides and tearing communities apart, this statue is a uniting force for good as Douglass was for our nation, bringing us together in a common purpose.”
Monroe County will move the Douglass monument in spring 2018 to the more publicly accessible location at South Avenue and Robinson Drive. The community is invited to join Rochester Institute of Technology’s Big Shot team, who will organize a “Shine a Light on Douglass” event on Feb. 14 to create an archival photo of the monument. Big Shot is the night community photography project produced by RIT’s School of Photographic Arts and Sciences. The photo will hang in RoCo’s “No Soil Better” exhibit after the event.
RoCo, 137 East Ave., will exhibit “No Soil Better: Art and the Living Legacy of Frederick Douglass” on Feb. 2-March 18. New works by nine artists will reflect on the legacy of Douglass, how he has been memorialized and how his legacy and image continues to live. Featuring various media from experimental video art and abstract painting to historical murals and multimedia installations, these newly commissioned artworks will add a new level of texture by which to appreciate and understand Douglass’ living legacy. A public artist talk is scheduled for Feb. 3. RoCo will host facilitated discussions on Feb. 8 and 15 to bring Douglass’ work and philosophy into the public sphere through a contemporary lens, posing the question, “What would Douglass do?”
“The Sidney Edwards monument gives form to this incredible man, and is a wonderful work of art,” said Bleu Cease, RoCo executive director. “In recognition of Douglass’ bicentennial, we’re commissioning works by nine contemporary artists from across the region and New York City to create works for the 21st century inspired by Douglass, inspired by his legacy and really taking a critical look at how we as a city, and perhaps more broadly as a nation, look at and remember this remarkable man and his influence.”
The Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commemoration Committee will convene as a third component of the project. Committee members vary in missions and interests, but are all dedicated to honoring Douglass’ legacy throughout 2018. They have met regularly since July 2017 to share information and inspiration as well as find synergy with other community partners to celebrate the achievements of the civil rights leader whose most important work was done in Rochester. Various events are being planned. Visit bit.ly/2AIYuZn for information.
“As we near Frederick Douglass’ bicentennial celebration in 2018, it is important for residents to know that there was no other city that resonated in the life of my great-great-great grandfather more than Rochester,” said Kenneth Morris Jr., FDFI co-founder and president as well as great-great-grandson of Booker T. Washington. “I am honored and excited to be working with the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Committee in making Rochester the epicenter of the national celebration.”
“Monroe County is proud be a sitting member and strong supporter of the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commemoration Committee,” said Cheryl Dinolfo, county executive. “As a fitting tribute to Rochester’s legendary civil rights trailblazer, we look forward to joining together with residents and families all across our community in 2018 to celebrate Frederick Douglass and his lasting impact on our nation’s history.”
“Frederick Douglass is one of the greatest historical figures in our country’s history,” Mayor Lovely Warren said. “His leadership of the abolitionist movement and humanity are renowned throughout the world. This significant anniversary gives us another opportunity to reflect on the sacrifices he made during his extraordinary life in his tireless fight to abolish slavery as well as his contributions to the women’s suffrage movement, while shining a spotlight on our city. We are grateful for all of the dynamic partners who have joined together to form the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commemoration Committee, and we look forward to honoring the legacy of Douglass together in Rochester.”