Portraits in the “Blackives” exhibit. Photo courtesy of the Maryland Institute College of Art.
Portraits in the “Blackives” exhibit. Photo courtesy of the Maryland Institute College of Art.

Maryland Institute College of Art president Samuel Hoi today acknowledged and apologized for the art school’s racist history, which included a ban on students of color from from 1895 to 1954.

The racist admissions restrictions came after Harry T. Pratt, an African-American man, enrolled at the college in 1891, leading to protests.

Hoi said the school is now committed to diversity, equity, inclusion and globalization (DEIG).

“MICA’s leadership now stands firm with the campus community to uphold our DEIG beliefs and actions,” he wrote. “It is promising progress that the last four years have seen the most diverse student population in the history of the College.”

In fall 2015, the school launched a two-year task force to examine ways to “structuralize” diversity in response to a letter from the Black Student Union. The school added new principles into its mission statement and, in April 2018, released a final report calling for more investment in diversity initiatives and other policy changes.

Today’s statement comes as a response to a photo exhibit and senior thesis project by photography student Deyane Moses, whose online archive, the Maryland Institute Black Archives, chronicles the stories of talented artists who were denied admission during the ban and “reconstructs the largely invisible presence of black artists” at the school.

In an email, Moses said the project was inspired by a meeting with renowned photographer Dawoud Bey during her junior year as she struggled with the topic of her thesis. Bey told her to think about community, so she started focusing on the school’s black students.

“To my surprise, there wasn’t much information MICA could provide me about the prior black student body besides one page in a 300-plus page autobiography,” she wrote. “So I decided to look for myself.”

The project also includes oral histories from current African-American students, accompanied by portraits. Responses from those students highlight how the school has a long way to go to meet its diversity goals, with several echoing the experience of seeing only a few African-American peers in the classroom, or sometimes none at all.

“There are a multitude of initiatives to increase and encourage diversity in the college, some of which I’m a part of,” says painting student Moses Jeune. “I find a lot of comfort within these spaces because they turn out to be spaces in which I’m surrounded by the people who come from the same cultural backgrounds as me. Most of my school isn’t like these groups.”

As part of the project, Moses’ framed portraits and pictures of some of the figures from the archives are on display in an exhibit called “Blackives: A Celebration of Black History at MICA.”

“With Deyane’s cooperation,” Hoi wrote, “‘Blackives’ is extended beyond its original closing date and will be reinstalled in the Main Building, perhaps the most visible space on campus. It is essential viewing by everyone at MICA.”

Earlier today, students held a demonstration called Take Back These Steps, with some students holding signs bearing the Maryland Institute Black Archives logo, which Moses stylized to look like MICA’s. Moses said she hopes her work and the attention it’s received will “spark conversation and reflection on the past, present and future experiences of Black people at MICA.

“I want MICA to remember, admit and honor their past. I want the Black students to remember this day and tell everyone who will listen our Black History here at MICA.”

She also pledged to help the college become more inclusive.

“I’m very happy the college has acknowledged the past and is committed to diversifying the campus faculty, staff, and student body. I look forward to working with them in any capacity needed.”

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Brandon Weigel

Brandon Weigel is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. A graduate of the University of Maryland, he has been published in The Washington Post, The Sun, Baltimore Magazine, Urbanite, The Baltimore...