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Prestigious US Art School Apologises for Racist Past

Maryland Institute College of Art has addressed its admissions policy which refused black students between 1895 and 1954

Deyane Moses, ‘Blackives’, installation view, 2019, Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore. Courtesy: Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore

Deyane Moses, ‘Blackives’, installation view, 2019, Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore. Courtesy: Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore

The president of Baltimore’s Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), Samuel Hoi has issued a memo apologising for the institution’s racist history. Released on Thursday, 21 February, and titled: ‘Acknowledging MICA’s Racist Past As We Forge Together a Better Future for All,’ the statement ‘apologizes for its historical denial of access to talented students for no other reason than the color of their skin, and for the hardships to those who were admitted but not supported for their success.’  

The institution, one of the US’s oldest art schools, issued the statement in response to a thesis project by photography student Deyane Moses titled Blackives: A Celebration of Black History at MICA and featured on the online portal Maryland Institute Black Archives, which documents the stories of black artists who were refused entry to MICA between 1895 and 1954 due to the school’s racist policy of only accepting ‘reputable white pupils.’  

The policy was adopted after the institution was forced by ‘legal appointment’ to admit Harry T. Pratt, an African American student, in 1891, causing 100 students to drop out of the school in protest. It wasn’t until the landmark 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education US Supreme Court case which declared segregation for black and white students unconstitutional, that the college changed its admission policy.  

The college has since committed itself to principles of ‘diversity, equity, inclusion, and globalization’, with Hoi commenting that MICA understands ‘that lives have been harmed and some wounds cannot be forgotten or forgiven. Such awareness of past and persisting injustice fuels MICA’s institutional resolve to redouble our efforts towards change.’  

The exhibition, which is due to be re-installed in MICA’s Main Building until 28 March, showcases archival materials including racist imagery taken from the college’s yearbooks in addition to photographs and testimonies of current black students. 

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