Additional Information About the Bannister Community Art Project
Q: Why is this project important?
A: The Bannister Community Art Project seeks to bring together and engage a diverse audience to share the life and legacy of artist Edward Mitchell Bannister in a public space.
Mr. Bannister was a great artist, philanthropist, abolitionist, intellectual, and personality of Providence in his day. He was also the first Rhode Island artist of African ancestry to win a national award at the 1876 Philadelphia Exposition. The goal in public figurative art is to foster a human, approachable presence. The Bannister installation and the broader project will create an engagement process to accomplish just that.
Mr. Bannister spent the last 25 years of his life mainly in Providence, devoted to building the city as a New England cultural center. He was one of the original founding board members of the Providence Art Club in 1880. A Providence street once named for a slave trader was renamed to honor him and his philanthropic wife, Christiana, and the RISD Museum collects and curates many of his works.
Brown University also has fully restored his former residence on Benevolent Street.
“In the years after the Civil War and the dismal failures of Reconstruction, Rhode Island teetered between two uncomfortable realities: as a burgeoning industrial center that embraced individual freedom and the bedrock of its past prosperity as the hub of the slave trade. Through this milieu, Bannister negotiated a place, not just for himself, but for the city of Providence, as an art and cultural center. The irony of a city made prosperous by slaving being built into a center of cultural refinement, in no small part by a Black man, is thick indeed.” —Excerpt from A Deeper Look at Edward Mitchell Bannister, the Black Painter Who Changed Providence by Murray Whyte; Boston Globe.
Q: What is the role of the Providence Art Club?
A: The Art Club serves as the Bannister Community Art Project’s fiscal agent and administrator. The project has been endorsed by the Club’s Board of Managers and has contributed staff talent and resources in the design of project materials.
Q: What does sculptor Gage Prentiss bring to the project?
A: Mr. Prentiss has studied Mr. Bannister in great depth in the process of creating his bust in that was presented as a gift to the Providence Art Club and is now displayed in the Founders’ Room.
A sculptor and painter living and working in Pawtucket, Mr. Prentiss graduated with a BFA in Sculpture from Boston University. Ever since then, he has been exploring the feelings of place, presence and wonder through his art. When he began as an artist, he was driven to make tangible objects from things experienced in dreams. He works figuratively, drawing on the rich language of human gesture and even his own subconscious, working with welded steel, plastic, and resin.
It wasn’t until Mr. Prentiss moved to Rhode Island that he really began to feel a deep sense of place. This gave him a new artistic drive and inspired him to “capture the vistas, ghosts, and personalities around the state.”
Q: How will this project be financed?
A: The Bannister Community Art Project is being funded through public/private donations and grants.
Q: How is this project structured?
A: The project is led by a six-person Advisory Committee, consisting of former Art Club presidents and board members, other interested Club members, and outside community leaders. The project also has 14-person Steering Committee that includes both members of the Club and community leaders. The Steering Committee has organized workgroups that reflect the main areas of focus for the project: Education, Exhibitions, Development, and Engagement.
Members on the Advisory Committee include: Nancy Gaucher-Thomas, Ted Mattis, Dan Mechnig, Ray Rickman, Robb Dimmick, and Gail Ginnetty.
Members of the Steering Committee include: Nancy Gaucher-Thomas, Claire Andrade Watkins, Reenie Barrow, Miriam Coleman, Jennifer Davis-Allison, Robert Dilworth, Rabbi Wayne Franklin, Gail Ginnetty, Lorraine Maloney, Jane Patiky, Gage Prentiss, Nancy Springett, Nafis White, and Betsy Zimmerman.
Q: Who are our partners and supporters?
A: To date, Stages of Freedom, the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities, Trinity Academy for the Performing Arts (TAPA), Papitto Opportunity Connection, and the Rhode Island Historical Society actively support the project. Other alliances are welcome. If you know of an organization that should be aware of this project, please contact a member of the Advisory Committee.
Q: What approvals were necessary to begin this project and installation?
A: The City of Providence Commission on Commemorative Works unanimously approved a proposal for the permanent installation of the sculpture in Market Square on October 15, 2021, as did the Parks Commission on November 30, 2021. Market Square is city property, maintained by RISD, a supporter of the project who has agreed to provide ongoing maintenance of the sculpture once installed.
Q: How will the community know about the project?
A: Conversations and outreach to community leaders is ongoing by those involved in the project. A project-related Town Hall meeting was held on November 19 at the Providence Art Club for a diverse group from various organizations including RISD, RI Black Heritage Society, John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage, and Brown University, among others. Additional Town Hall events are being planned throughout the city to reach a broader audience
Q: When and where will the sculpture be installed?
A: The target date for installing the sculpture on Market Square in downtown Providence overlooking the river is June 2023. The sculpture will include an explanatory bronze plaque along with a QR code that will link viewers to more information about Mr. Bannister and Mr. Prentiss.
Q: Where can i make a donation to this project?
A: Donations are most welcome! Please visit the PAC website at http://bannisterproject.org, where you may make a donation online, or contact Brenda Kercz, the Art Club’s bookkeeper at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: Who may I contact to volunteer to help with this project?
A: Volunteers are also welcome! Please contact Nancy Springett at email@example.com to discuss ways you might help.
Q: What other things, beyond the sculpture, does the project envision?
Education: The project Steering Committee has formed an education workgroup that is in the early stages of developing educational programming. The workgroup is exploring plans to work within the social studies curriculum for middle schools by creating a unit that can support learning about the mid-19th Century period in RI history. The workgroup hopes to begin with a pilot program at the Trinity Academy for the Performing Arts (TAPA) charter school. The program would include a virtual lesson plan and a similar, expanded presentation on paper. TAPA, located in downtown Providence, supports students as they seek to become engaged, well-rounded, artistic leaders.
The workgroup also plans to prepare additional units targeted to high school history classes as well as continuing education classes and forums for adults. Other areas being explored: Brown University and RISD may collaborate on producing a symposium and exhibit about Mr. Bannister and his wife, Christiana Carteaux, and their role in the life of Providence in the latter half of the 19th Century.
Art Exhibitions: This workgroup within the Steering Committee is exploring potential art shows focused on artists of color. Another, longer-range plan calls for a public art, immersive mural in 2028 that would celebrate the 200th anniversary of Mr. Bannister’s birth.
Scholarship: Depending on funding, the project would like to create an art-related scholarship for underserved or disadvantaged students. Details about this scholarship will be communicated as plans take shape.
Be part of history and help us celebrate Edward Mitchell Bannister by making a contribution to this exciting project
The Providence Art Club will serve as the Bannister project’s fiscal agent/administrator and will work with like-minded nonprofits, such as RISD, to develop programs that advance diversity, equity, and inclusion. This community-wide art project will create a broader platform for community engagement and promote Bannister’s historic role through educational programming, a call for public art, and discussion of a Bannister scholarship.