Compiled by Nadia Reese,
AFRO Editorial Assistant
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the nation’s largest supporter of the arts and humanities, has awarded a $1.25 million grant to support the Black Baltimore Digital Database (BBDD).
BBDD was conceived by Baltimore-born, Brooklyn-based artist Derrick Adams, whose multimedia practice focuses on portrayals of Black American leisure, celebration and joy.
“The Black American experience has strong roots in Baltimore – I am both honored and eager to share this project with the city,” said Adams. “It will live as a modernized historical society, whose dedication is equally important and inclusive.”
BBDD is both a concept and a physical site dedicated to the cataloging of ongoing and historical contributions made by Black citizens to the city of Baltimore. It will live as a collaborative counter–institutional space for collecting and storing digital materials and data from local archival projects. The database aims to provide access, engagement, and a sense of agency over memory-making to neighbors and visitors with events and programming.
The project will be developed over the next three years, with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation supporting two years of organizational capacity; guided by its core belief that the humanities and arts are essential to human understanding,
In 2018, Adams initiated the development of BBDD together with The Last Resort Artist Retreat, a Black artist residency program. While the residency extends to a broad network of Black creatives, BBDD’s target audience is more local: it aims to catalog and amplify Black Baltimore’s rich contributions to the city – outstanding achievements in areas of science, literature, music, sports, arts, and multiple levels of entrepreneurship. The database will live as a more progressive approach to archiving. It will save space from paper storage and make this important information available, as well as further secure and stabilize Black Americans’ imprint on Baltimore.
BBDD is sited near The Last Resort allowing for easy cross-collaboration and accessible programming. Taken together, Adams intends for these two initiatives to contribute to the Black communities of Baltimore through culture-making and culture-keeping while operating outside of larger institutions.
“Our goal is to provide a distinct entry point for a wider network of initiatives,” says Adams. “This will not only support our archival endeavors, but also local community-building – social engagement through events, workshops, and conversation.”
On-site will be a digital archive lab, gallery named after Baltimore photographer, I. Henry Phillips, Sr. (1920-1993), and screening room. The activation of these spaces will be dedicated to documentarians and emergent practitioners whose own work contributes to the archiving of contemporary Baltimore. A small coffee shop and gift shop will also be accessible, each highlighting a rotating group of local Black-owned businesses.
BBDD will be located on the corner of Greenmount and Chestnut Hill Avenues in the Waverly area of Baltimore. The site is near the public library, Johns Hopkins campus and the Baltimore Museum of Art.
BBDD’s programming efforts will be further supported by the non-profit foundation, Charm City Cultural Cultival (CCCC), whose primary function is to build opportunities for cultural growth in Baltimore’s inner city by introducing and supporting initiatives for public programs in the arts, social engagements, leisurely activities and educational advancement through informal gatherings. Also under CCCC’s umbrella lives The Last Resort Artist Retreat, overseen by Baltimore-based Creative and Executive Director Thomas F. James, as well as Zora’s Den – founded by Baltimore-based writer Victoria Kennedy – a community of Black women writers who promote the importance of community over competition among their peers.
The Mellon grant is fiscally sponsored by the Eubie Blake National Jazz Institute and Cultural Center, represented by Derek Price. Primary investigators on the grant are Derrick Adams, Founder and Jelisa Blumberg, Creative Director. Their partnership has allowed for Adams’ vision to be actualized, with Blumberg spearheading initial research, outreach, development and grant writing. With the additional support of Dr. Kali-Ahset Amen, acting as Project Advisor, Adams and Blumberg hope to see this initiative flourish into a meaningful and unprecedented resource for the community of Baltimore.
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