This fall, we had the fortune of touring the Benny Andrews archives, a foundation nominated and awarded in our Spring 2022 Artist Choice program.
It was a beautifully mind-bending visit to the archive—a hushed experience that slows you down, quiets you, and makes you feel awash with equal parts hope and deep introspection. The director, Kyle Williams, opened up the drawers, pulled some of the most monumental paintings, showed us Andrews’ gloppy paintbrushes, slowly peeled back acetate sheets, and slid photos from their sleeves to show us both sides. We were in awe of Andrews’ attention to detail and penchant for record keeping, a process that created the pathway to this extraordinary moment. We were able to understand the many sides of Benny Andrews—the way he made, the ways he lived, and the way he remembered and also wanted to be remembered.
Benny Andrews (1930-2006) was an artist, educator and activist. He co-founded the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition (BECC), and consistently called for greater representation of African American artists and curators in New York’s major art museums in the late 1960s and ‘70s. He drew, painted, wrote, collaged, taught, and advocated for a fuller picture of an art world. He insisted on a more complete understanding of an artist’s life. Artists are more than their finished works of art—they are our neighbors, our archivists, our teachers, our inventors, our hosts, and our community.
As Kyle says, “Andrews meticulously documented his life and work with future generations in mind. Nowhere is this forward-looking attitude more evident than in his collection of hundreds of photographs that span his career. Each is labeled with names and dates in Andrews’ handwriting, and on many photographs, like this 1975 snapshot of a gathering at the home of Lillian and John Lewis, he drew a diagram on the back to indicate who was who.”
The photo captures Andrews’ mother Viola in conversation with John Lewis, a leader of the civil rights movement and future congressman, as Benny talks with Julian Bond, a Georgia legislator who co-founded the Southern Poverty Law Center and later served as the chairman of the NAACP. John Lewis and Benny Andrews were friends. Lewis spoke at Andrews’ 2006 memorial, and in 2013 he wrote:
“For Benny there was no line where his activism ended, and his art began.To him, using his brush and his pen to capture the essence and spirit of his time was as much an act of protest as sitting-in or sitting-down was for me. I can see him now: thinking, speaking, articulating what needs to be done and in the next few moments trying to make real what he had been contemplating. He was honest to a fault, and I think it was his determination to speak the plain truth that shaped his demand for justice and social integrity. He never aligned with any political group, but would offer the full weight of his support to anyone he thought was standing for truth.” 1
We are grateful for our visit to the archive and for Benny Andrews and the workers who continue to care for the full arc of an artist’s life, and, by extension, call for a brighter, more complex understanding of ourselves and each other.
how an artist lives, how an artist makes, and how an artist is remembered.
Within these words, Ruth Arts found the cornerstones of our fall grant programs, which we are pleased to share with you today.
These programs support an array of organizations leveraging their experience and knowledge to lead change. We are seeing so many exceptional movements in the field, including generous and meaningful transitions of leadership, the breaking down of barriers for access and engagement, and animating artist’s homes and safeguarding their legacies with equal parts imagination and rigor.
From our vantage point, we see the fullness and the creativity in their endeavors, we couldn’t be more proud to support their efforts.
This November month marks six months since the launch of Ruth Arts. In addition to developing our new grant programs and initiating three international partnerships, we have recently grown from a staff of one to five. Our Program Directors, Kim and Rachel, are exceptional thinkers and generous collaborators, they have shown me, as well as our grantees, the many prismatic possibilities of art philanthropy. We look forward to welcoming Heidi and Zola to the team.
Ruth Arts is growing in all directions. As we do, we remember that we walk through the doors that Ruth opened for us and for so many of you. In community, and on behalf of the many people behind the scenes here at Ruth Arts,
1John Lewis, “Foreword” in Benny Andrews: There Must Be a Heaven, exh. cat. (New York: Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, 2013).