Letter from Executive Director Emily Ballew Neff:
Dear Brooks friends,
As we all know, since 1619, what is now the United States of America has been the site of one of our greatest stains as a nation: the institution of slavery.
The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, which desegregated in 1960, is just one of the many Jim Crow institutions across the South that bears this ugly legacy of oppression and injustice. Until recently, and for the past couple of decades, the Brooks believed it was on the right path to help bend Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s arc towards Justice. Events over the past week have clearly demonstrated otherwise. As Memphis’ art museum, we can, we must, and we will do better.
As your art museum, we believe that art inspires, enlightens, and educates, and, in doing so, transforms lives, engages citizens, and builds communities. Your collection at the Brooks covers 5000 years of human creativity across nearly all continents. With over 10,000 objects in the permanent collection, we thoughtfully steward the objects and their artists in perpetuity, so that what we cherish — the full range of the human condition expressed in tangible, physical form —is shared with everyone for generations to come.
We have taken steps in the past to move your museum towards a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive representation of our community in our staffing, board leadership, collections and programming. What is clear today is that those intentional efforts must be escalated, amplified, and made a critical priority if the Brooks is to be an authentic ally. To that end, we are working even now to ensure and further activate policies, procedures, and programs that more effectively address our commitment to being a museum that better reflects the ideals of equality that we espouse and value. We look forward to sharing our progress in meeting these goals going forward.
In closing, I’d like to share this joint statement issued today by the Memphis Cultural Coalition, of which the Brooks is proud to be a part:
The Memphis Cultural Coalition was founded in 2016 to serve as a round table for arts and cultural organizations, working to build a more equitable and inclusive sector. The murder of George Floyd serves as a catalyst and reminder that working toward a just and inclusive community is paramount to our individual missions. We stand in solidarity with our community against injustice, racism and oppression; and for justice, peace and equity. We commit to these principles because we know there is much work to be done; we stand with communities of color and our fellow arts and cultural organizations. We know that arts and cultural institutions can help bridge divides, develop understanding, and find hope.
If you have questions or suggestions for us, I do hope you’ll contact me at [email protected] or Director of Development Dorothy McClure at [email protected]. We would welcome the chance to hear your thoughts.
Thank you for belonging at the Brooks,
Dr. Emily Ballew Neff