Artist Paul Rucker Has Received Grants from the Mellon Foundation and the Art for Justice Fund to Open a Permanent Museum About the History of Racism in the U.S.
For the last 10 years, the artist Paul Rucker has been obsessively collecting artifacts that factually illustrate the systemic racism that lies at the foundations of U.S. society, sustaining racial inequity into the present day.
Now, he is the recipient of $2 million in grant money from the Mellon Foundation and the Art for Justice Fund, and plans to use the money to open a multidisciplinary arts space and lending library in Richmond, Virginia, to house, display, and share this archive. Called Cary Forward, it is set to open in fall 2024.
“It’s an interpretive arts center operating at the intersection of art and artifacts and history,” Rucker told Artnet News. “And this is an art piece that I want to have a life on its own.”
In addition to displaying artifacts, Cary Forward will also give artists the opportunity to create work responding to challenging material, such as Ku Klux Klan robes, lynching postcards mailed to commemorate the public murder of Black men, and all manner of knick knacks depicting Black people as garish caricatures.
There’s even the vintage interior of a 1930s bank that Rucker has reassembled for a traveling project, Banking While Black. Rucker uses the interactive display as a teaching tool about Black Wall Street—the thriving community that once existed in Tulsa, as well as similarly nicknamed communities in Richmond and Durham, North Carolina.
The work premiered Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, this spring, and is headed to Baltimore next year. “It takes an 18 wheeler to transport it,” he said. “Oh wow, is it expensive moving it now!”
In total, Rucker estimates Cary Forward will be home to over 20,000 objects. (The collection has grown at the incredible rate of approximately 2,000 artifacts per year.)
“I am just always looking for things—at estate sales, thrift stores, yard sales, and online auctions,” Rucker said. He believes he is amassing an archive that addresses gaps in the holdings of our nation’s major museums, which traditionally have focused on documenting a more “positive” narrative of U.S. history.
The still-growing archive will become a lending library. In addition, there will be a live-work studio for an artist- or scholar-in-residence program and a for-profit coffee shop to help fund the operation.
The name Cary Forward comes from Cary Street, where the institution will be located. (It’s not far from Richmond’s old Black Wall Street neighborhood, or from the James River that once transported enslaved Africans into the city...