Romare Bearden was one of the 20th century’s most influential African-American artists. On Monday, the Romare Bearden Foundation will begin introducing a curriculum based on his life and work into the Baltimore school system, an opportunity to not only educate Baltimore children about an important Black figure in the city’s and the nation’s history, but also to rethink the way arts education can inform the teaching of many other subjects.

From 1935 to 1937, Romare Bearden worked as an editorial cartoonist for the AFRO-American Newspaper in Baltimore. He would later establish himself as an artist in Harlem, beginning to work and exhibit in his late ‘40s after a career as a case manager for social services agencies in New York City.

The Romare Bearden Foundation, dedicated to preserving and perpetuating the legacy of this important artist, has developed a curriculum based on his life and work, which they are seeking to get into Baltimore classrooms through a series of workshops for educators which will begin on Nov. 9 at Henderson Hopkins Elementary School.

According to Diedra Harris-Kelley, co-director of the Romare Bearden Foundation, “Children are not educated in the arts in a way that is integrated into the curriculum. I think it’s a missed . . . teaching opportunity.”

Harris-Kelley says she understands the need faced by educators to improve test scores, but argues that abandoning arts education, as has happened in many Baltimore public schools, is counterproductive. This is not simply because of all the benefits arts education brings to students, but because the life and work of artists are an opportunity to teach history, social studies and other topics that are central to understanding art in general.

“When see an African sculpture in a painting by Romare Bearden, or other African-American artists who were his contemporaries, and had an interest in that, then they’re learning something else, they’re learning something new,” said Harris-Kelley.  “When they find out that Bearden used music, the structure of improvisation, in his composition . . . they’re learning something about music, they’re learning something about the history of jazz, they’re learning something about the history of Harlem, they’re learning something about Baltimore, Pittsburgh, all of these different places and things, references, that Bearden puts into his work.”

The curriculum which the Romare Bearden Foundation has developed costs $60, kept intentionally low so that educators can easily afford it. The curriculum can be incorporated into classroom learning or used as a five-to-six-week course for schools who may not have their own art teachers but employ artists in residence for short-term periods.


ralejandro@afro.com