This article is continued coverage of the West End Arts Scene story that delved into the intricacies of an arts community impacted by Covid-19. Two years, post-pandemic, challenges remain. Nzingha Hall, a West End Fellow reported this story.
It’s been four months since the Hammonds House Museum’s board of trustees closed the historic West End institution until further notice, citing the need to undergo strategic reconstruction to accommodate patrons and visitors. Among the changes announced, Donald Locke’s Southern Mansions and Related Paintings from the 1990s solo exhibition, which was scheduled to open in February, was canceled; and the executive director position—held for less than a year by Karen Comer Lowe—was eliminated in a move to eventually create a lateral leadership team “that will share leadership responsibilities, so the operation of the organization doesn’t rest on the shoulders of just one executive.”
When Canopy’s West End Fellows reported on the Hammond’s House role as a pillar of West End’s art scene in fall 2020, then executive director Leatrice Ellzy was confident that the institution would survive the pandemic and continue to provide an anchor to the arts scene in West End.
“The Hammonds House Museum is going to be sitting on that corner … So, I’m not so concerned about that part of it,” Ellzy said at the time. “As long as they remain, we will always have a foothold.”
Since 2020, programming pivoted to virtual, but continued; and funding increased. For example, the Fulton County Arts Council awarded Hammonds House $200,000 in 2021, a substantial increase over the previous year’s $70,000 contribution, according to ArtsATL. Hammonds House was also a part of the original round of grants from the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta through the Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund in 2020, and were again awarded $90,000 in January of this year.
Since the Hammonds House has served as an artistic nucleus and community gathering space, Canopy Atlanta spoke to three community members with deep ties to the museum about what happens when a community loses a beloved institution, how the closure impacts West End’s arts landscape, and how the community—and its artists—can help fill the gap in the meantime.
Sheri Davis Faulkner along with her mother.
Sheri Davis Faulkner
Sheri Davis Faulkner effectively grew up at the Hammonds House Museum. Her mother served as the administrative assistant to the founding executive director, Edward S. Spriggs. She attended school at St. Anthony of Padua’s elementary school (now closed) and skipped around the corner to the museum after school.
I remember hanging out, doing homework on the top floor. After school, I would swing on the front porch. Being in the house, I was immersed in a very Black culture. I remember live Jazz from local musicians. I remember Kwanzaa celebrations and children’s programming. Hammonds House filled a real void in the community. It was there before a lot of museums were present. It was a home base and launching pad for local artists and AUC alums. Now, Black artists still struggle to hone their craft. Hammonds House is the missing link in the chain. Hammonds House creates the container for larger arts events and is a safe space for Black people. Where else do we have a (community centered) Black museum in Atlanta? Without Hammonds House, who will invest in the up and coming artists, the ones who need to be nurtured?
Myrna Anderson Fuller with Susan Ross (Hammonds House Museum Board Member).
Myrna Anderson-Fuller served as the executive director of Hammonds House from 2004-2017. An administrator and graphic designer, she views the temporary closing of the museum as a hiatus.
Artists, of course, are the foundations of Hammonds House and they’ve always been the focal point. We’re talking about an institution. In my mind, my focus would be on how we maintain and keep this institution going. It’s not by being negative. It’s not by pointing fingers. It’s not by trying to look at every thread you can unravel. You gain nothing from that. That’s what saddens me. That the institution has to suffer under all of this flack. Be as passionate about Hammonds House and not a particular portion of it. You got to be able to jump in with both feet ready to do it all and be ready to be a team player. I think the next leader should be just that. Yes—be knowledgeable about art and hopefully have a background in art history or the discipline of visual arts—but also be a visionary that doesn’t just have the vision-but can implement it; doesn’t just have an opinion but can articulate it; doesn’t just have a dream but can raise that money to make that dream come true. But you got to love Hammonds House. They’ve got to have a tremendous, big heart for what that institution has been.
Kebbi Williams is a grammy-award winning musician and owner of Gallery 992, a performing arts space located within walking distance of the Hammonds House Museum that will need to absorb the arts programming load while Hammonds House is closed.
I love the Hammonds House. It’s a neighborhood benchmark. It’s been here. For something to close, especially during these times when so much change is happening in Atlanta—all the certainty is definitely unnerving. Anything I can do to help, I’m 10,000 percent down. As an artist, I’m a person who wants to see arts flourish in our neighborhood. Our neighborhood is full of arts and always has been. I want more art. We need more art, not less. The fact that we don’t know things about our arts community is not cool. We all need to communicate with each other. If we can help each other, let’s help each other. Let’s not close. Let’s not go away. If you are having issues, let’s communicate about it, chat about it and help each other thrive. I hope we can have some kind of system of communication amongst artists in our communities. I think there are enough of us. We need to talk. Administrators need to talk to administrators. Owners need to talk to owners. Curators need to talk to curators. We just have to communicate with each other so we are not in trouble and disappear when we could have help—possibly from each other. ♦
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GCPS Board of Education announced it would stick with a similar calendar to previous ones for the next two academic years.
“If you look at the threads of the history of Atlanta, they’re woven into that place.”