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Art Law Resources on Racial Justice

Last updated: June 23, 2020

As attorneys, we believe in justice and in the rule of law as applied to all. As artists, we believe in freedom of expression. As human beings, we believe that we are each other’s keepers and we are heartbroken by the persistence of inequality and civil injustices nationwide. We all deserve to live fear-free, under equal protection of the law.

Both the art world and the legal profession are predominantly white and it is our role to shed light on the injustices that arise because of it. Here are resources we are compiling to help educate ourselves and our community to reframe the conversation around non-white voices, from recontextualizing art history, the role of attorneys and the art world in addressing inequalities in the justice system, all through the lens of art and law. This is an ongoing list and we welcome all contributions.


  • Romare Bearden & Harry Henderson, A History of African-American Artists: From 1792 to the Present, Pantheon (October 1993) ISBN: 0394570162. A History of African-American Artists examines the lives and careers of more than fifty signal African-American artists, and the relation of their work to prevailing artistic, social, and political trends both in America and throughout the world. Available here.
  • David Bindman & Henry Louis Gates Jr. (eds.), The Image of the Black in Western Art, Belknap Press (October 2014) ISBN: 0674052692. Concentrating on the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean, essays in this volume shed light on topics such as photography, jazz, the importance of political activism to the shaping of Black identities, as well as the post-Black art world. Available here.
  • Susan Cahan, Mounting Frustration: The Art Museum in the Age of Black Power, Duke University Press (February 2016) ISBN: 9780822371458.  Mounting Frustration investigates the strategies African American artists and museum professionals employed as they wrangled over access to and the direction of New York City’s elite museums. Cahan gives a detailed and at times surprising picture of the institutional and social forces that both drove and inhibited racial justice in New York’s museums. Available here.
  • Leonard Freed, Black in White America, J. Paul Getty Museum (July 2013) ISBN: 9781606060117. Freed’s sensitive and informative Black-and-white photographs, reproduced in gravure, of 1960s African American living throughout America investigates the politics of the country, and articulates the anxiety of an under-represented and discriminated people. Available here.
  • Nicolas Lampert, A People’s Art History of the United States, The New Press (November 2013) ISBN: 9781595583246. A People’s Art History of the United States is propelled by a democratic vision of art, showing that art doesn’t just belong within the confines of museums and archives. Spanning the abolitionist movement, early labor movements, and the civil rights movement, A People’s Art History of the United States is a tool for today’s artists and activists to adapt past tactics to the present, utilizing art and media as a form of civil disobedience. Available here. 
  • Yates McKee, Strike Art: Contemporary Art and the Post-Occupy Condition, Verso (July 2017) ISBN: 1784786810. What is the relation of art to the practice of radical politics today? Strike Art explores this question through the historical lens of Occupy, an event that had artists at its core. Available here.
  • Jan Nederveen Pieterse, White on Black: Images of Africa and Blacks in Western Popular Culture, Yale University Press (August 1993) ISBN: 0300050208. Visual history of the development of European and American stereotypes of Black people over the last 200 years. Its purpose is to show the pervasiveness of prejudice against Black people throughout the western world as expressed in stock-in-trade racist imagery and caricature. Available here.
  • Molly Rogers, Delia’s Tears: Race, Science, and Photography in Nineteenth-Century America, Yale University Press (May 2010) ISBN: 9780300115482. In 1850, seven South Carolina slaves were photographed at the request of the famous naturalist Louis Agassiz to provide evidence of the supposed biological inferiority of Africans. Lost for many years, the photographs were rediscovered in the attic of Harvard’s Peabody Museum in 1976. In the first narrative history of these images, Rogers tells the story of the photographs, the people they depict, and the men who made and used them. Available here.
  • Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, Liveright (May 2018) ISBN: 9781631494536. Rothstein affirms that it was de jure segregation—the laws and policy decisions passed by local, state, and federal governments—that promoted the discriminatory patterns in housing and in America’s cities that continue to this day. Available here.
  • Kimberly Drew, This Is What I Know About Art, Penguin Workshop (2020) ISBN: 9780593095188. Arts writer and co-editor of Black Futures Kimberly Drew shows us that art and protest are inextricably linked. Drawing on her personal experience through art toward activism, Drew challenges us to create space for the change that we want to see in the world. Because there really is so much more space than we think. Available here.
  • Bridget R. Cooks, Exhibiting Blackness: African Americans and the American Art Museum, University of Massachusetts Press (2011) ISBN: 9781558498754. Art historian Bridget R. Cooks analyzes the curatorial strategies, challenges, and critical receptions of the most significant museum exhibitions of African American art. Cooks exposes the issues involved in exhibiting cultural difference that continue to challenge art history, historiography, and American museum exhibition practices. By further examining the unequal and often contested relationship between African American artists, curators, and visitors, she provides insight into the complex role of art museums and their accountability to the cultures they represent. Available here. 
  • Todd Vogel, ed., The Black Press: New Literary and Historical Essays, Rutgers University Press (2001) ISBN: 0813530059. The Black Press addresses the production, distribution, regulation, and reception of Black journalism in order to illustrate a more textured public discourse, one that exchanges ideas not just within the Black community, but also within the nation at large. The essays demonstrate that the Black press redefined class, restaged race and nationhood, and reset the terms of public conversation, providing a fuller understanding of not just African American culture, but also the varied cultural battles fought throughout our country’s history. Available here.
  • Deborah Willis, ed., Picturing Us: African American Identity in Photography, New Press (1994) ISBN: 9781565841062. Winner of the International Center for Photography’s 1995 Award for Writing on Photography, Picturing Us brings together a diverse group of African American writers, scholars, and filmmakers in the first concerted effort to analyze and respond to the photographic images of Blacks through history. The book’s contributors examine the personal and public issues embedded in family portraits and news photographs, movie stills, and mug shots. Available here.
  • Amy Abugo Ongiri, Spectacular Blackness: The Cultural Politics of the Black Power Movement and the Search for a Black Aesthetic, University of Virginia Press (2010) ISBN: 9780813928609. Exploring the interface between the cultural politics of the Black Power and the Black Arts movements and the production of postwar African American popular culture, Amy Ongiri shows how the reliance of Black politics on an oppositional image of African Americans was the formative moment in the construction of “authentic Blackness” as a cultural identity. Ongiri captures the cultural and political interconnections of the postwar period by using an interdisciplinary methodology drawn from cinema studies and music theory. She traces the emergence of this Black aesthetic from its origin in the Black Power movement’s emphasis on the creation of visual icons and the Black Arts movement’s celebration of urban vernacular culture. Available here.
  • R. Iskin, Re-envisioning the Contemporary Art Canon: Perspectives in a Global World, Routledge (December 2016) ISBN: 1138192694. In discussions of the canon of art history, the notion of ‘inclusiveness’, both at the level of rhetoric and as a desired practice is on the rise and gradually replacing talk of ‘exclusion’, which dominated critiques of the canon up until two decades ago. The art field has dramatically, if insufficiently, changed in the half-century since the first protests and critiques of the exclusion of ‘others’ from the art canon. Following an introduction that discusses these issues, thirteen newly commissioned essays present case studies of consecration in the contemporary art field, and three commissioned discussions present diverse positions on issues of the canon and consecration processes today. Available here.
  • H. Copeland, Black is, Black Ain’t, Renaissance Society (January 2013) ISBN: 0941548600. Taking its title from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, exhibition Black Is, Black Ain’t (April 20 – June 8, 2008) explored a shift in the rhetoric of race from an earlier emphasis on inclusion to a present moment where racial identity is being simultaneously rejected and retained. Curated by the Renaissance Society’s Associate Curator and Education Director Hamza Walker, the exhibition brought together works by twenty-seven Black and non-Black artists whose work collectively examines a moment where the cultural production of so-called “Blackness” is concurrent with efforts to make race socially and politically irrelevant. Available here.

Articles & Research

Museums & Exhibitions

  • Baltimore Museum of Art, Elissa Blount Moorhead and Bradford Young: Back and Song, March 1, 2020 — June 28, 2020 (Baltimore, MD). Back and Song considers the labor and care provided by generations of Black healers—doctors, nurses, midwives, morticians, therapists, and health aides—and their histories of contribution to and resistance from the flawed and discriminatory structures of Western medicine.
  • Baltimore Museum of Art, Howardena Pindell: Free, White and 21, March 1, 2020 — June 28, 2020 (Baltimore, MD). The 12-minute work was created in 1979 after a car accident left the artist with partial memory loss. Eight months later, she set up a video camera in her apartment, focused it on herself, and created a deadpan account of the racism she experienced coming of age as a Black woman in America.
  • Baltimore Museum of Art, Shinique Smith: Grace Stands Beside, March 15, 2020 — August 9, 2020 (Baltimore, MD). Taking the form of a deity-like figure, Shinique Smith’s newest sculpture, Grace stands beside, is a monument to Grace—defined by the artist as “a complex state of being that Black people and others who have endured tragic prejudice have embodied to survive and to rise beyond.”
  • The Digital Abolitionist, Row Art, Voices from Inside, online exhibit. 3D virtual exhibit showcasing the art of artists who have been/are on death row.
  • The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration, permanent exhibit (Montgomery, AL). Located on the site of a former warehouse where Black people were enslaved in Montgomery, Alabama, this narrative museum uses interactive media, sculpture, videography and exhibits to immerse visitors in the sights and sounds of the domestic slave trade, racial terrorism, the Jim Crow South, and the world’s largest prison system.
  • MOMA PS1, Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration, dates to be announced (Queens, NY). Explores art and mass incarceration, featuring art made by people in prisons and work by nonincarcerated artists concerned with state repression, erasure, and imprisonment.
  • National Civil Rights Museum, The Negro Motorist Green Book, June 13, 2020 – September 13, 2020 (Memphis, TN).  The exhibition will highlight the history of “The Green Book,” an annual guide created in 1936 by Harlem postman Victor Green that helped African Americans travel the country with dignity by listing facilities that accepted Blacks during the era of Jim Crow laws and segregation.
  • The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, permanent exhibit (Montgomery, AL). Until now, there has been no national memorial acknowledging the victims of racial terror lynchings. On a six-acre site atop a rise overlooking Montgomery, the national lynching memorial is a sacred space for truth-telling and reflection about racial terror in America and its legacy.
  • Prospect Park, Amanda Williams and Olalekan Jeyifous: Our Destiny, Our Democracy, End of 2020 (Brooklyn, NY). The inaugural commission for the She Built NYC initiative is a monument to Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005), the first Black woman elected to Congress. The monument stands 40-feet-high and will be installed at the Parkside entrance of Prospect Park.
  • San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Dawoud Bey: An American Project, February 15 – August 2020 (San Francisco, CA). This full-scale retrospective highlights the artist’s commitment over the course of his four-decade career to portraying the Black subject and African-American history in a manner that is at once direct and poetic, and immediate and symbolic.
  • National Museum of African American History and Culture, Talking About Race Web Portal (online). The online portal provides digital tools, online exercises, video instructions, scholarly articles and more than 100 multimedia resources tailored for educators, parents and caregivers—and individuals committed to racial equality.

Nonprofits & Community Organizations

  • Afrotectopia: fosters innovation at the intersections of art, design, technology, Black culture, and activism. The organization hosts an annual new-media festival, summer camps for New York public-school students, provides college scholarships, and supports Black-owned businesses.
  • Art Hoe Collective: online collective that provides a safe space for artists of color. AHC aims to provide direct aid to artists of color and Black people fighting a police state.
  • Artists Take Action: small art auctions to support COVID relief / racial justice.
  • Arts Administrators of Color Network (AAC): an arts service network that focuses on networking and community building through the arts. Its members advocate for equity in the arts through collaboration, forums, and outlets that provide a voice for arts administrators and artists of color where there may not be one. Its programs include an annual convention, a mentoring program, professional development events for artists and arts administrators, networking opportunities, and a podcast called Art Accordingly.
  • Black Artist Fund: launched on June 6, 2020 by 10011 magazine, a publication that documents art and culture in New York, the Black Artist Fund collects donations from art lovers and raises funds through art sales, to directly benefit individual Black artists and Black art organizations in the U.S.
  • Black Art Futures Fund (BAFF): collective of emerging philanthropists promoting Black arts and culture. Through grant making, board-matching, and organization-to-donor cultivation, BAFF seeks to amplify and strengthen the future of Black art. BAFF provides grants to small nonprofit organizations working to enhance the future of Black arts and culture.
  • Black Artists’ Network In Dialogue: dedicated to supporting, documenting, and showcasing the artistic and cultural contributions of Black artists in Canada and internationally through presentation and speaking series.
  • Black Lunch Table (BLT): oral-history archiving project and collaboration between New York-based artist, Heather Hart, and Chicago-based artist, Jina Valentine. BLT’s aim to produce discursive sites, in which cultural producers engage in dialogue on critical issues related to Blackness and art.
  • Black Trans Femmes in the Arts: collective of Black trans femmes committed to creating space for themselves in the arts and beyond. The collective helped launch the Black Trans Protestors Emergency Fund to support Black trans protestors with resources, medical care, and bail funds.
  • Brown Art Ink: community incubator supporting the arts ecosystem for artists, cultural practitioners, and communities of color. Brown Art Ink supports local artists by creating paid opportunities to show their work in museums, galleries, and public spaces and by partnering with arts organizations.
  • Center for Cultural Innovation (CCI): to promote knowledge sharing, networking, and financial independence for individuals in the arts by providing business training, grants, and incubating innovative projects. CCI also aims to promote new tools, practices, and conditions for artists.
  • Equal Justice Initiative: works to end mass incarceration, excessive punishment, and racial inequality
  • The Foundation for Black Heritage and Culture: a Houston, Texas-based nonprofit, working to “elevate Black Heritage through music and arts and to promote the growth of visual art, drama, entertainment, literature, and dance.” It sponsors the Houston Black Heritage Music & Arts Festival, “an all-day cultural affair that promotes historical and cultural solidarity” that is attended by thousands.
  • Harlem Arts Alliance (HAA): network of established and emerging artists, businesses, and institutions that partners with major arts institutions in New York to increase its members’ visibility. HAA disseminates information, provides workshops, and produces showcase and presentation programs featuring its members’ work.
  • Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession: IILP takes a real-world, common-sense approach that aims to acknowledge, understand, and address the reality of diversity in today’s legal profession.
  • Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights (CA): advances, protects and promotes the rights of communities of color and immigrants and refugees, with a specific focus on low-income communities and a long-standing commitment to African Americans.
  • Legal Aid At Work, Racial Economic Justice program (CA): legal assistance to individuals and groups of employees who encounter barriers to employment, problems at work, or discriminatory hiring or employment practices because of their race.
  • The Legal Aid Justice Center, Civil Rights & Racial Justice Program (VA): to end the criminalization of poverty in Virginia by exposing and addressing the injustice that results from criminal legal system policies.
  • The Legal Aid Society (NY): offers essential legal services to thousands of vulnerable New Yorkers.
  • Life Pieces to Masterpieces: provides opportunities for Black boys and young men to transform their lives and communities through artistic expression.
  • Tessera Arts Collective: nonprofit arts organization that supports womxn (including queer, trans, femme and non-binary) abstract artists of color by providing opportunities, resources, and programming to elevate their work.
  • Art + Practice: Art + Practice has become a magnet in South Los Angeles’s Leimert Park neighborhood. In addition to hosting public events and exhibitions, the organization has partnered with nonprofit social services provider First Place for Youth to help foster young people between the ages of 18 and 24 through paid internships, a scholarship program, and support for securing education, housing, and employment.
  • Arts Administrators of Color (AAC): AAC focuses on networking and community-building among arts workers of color through mentorship programs and workshops, a podcast, and an annual convening. It also established the Accomplices Leadership Institute to train white arts workers to dismantle systems of racism and oppression. Following the outbreak of COVID-19, AAC launched an emergency relief fund for artists and arts workers of color, and it is still crowdfunding for that initiative.
  • For Freedoms: draws its inspiration from Norman Rockwell’s famous illustrations of U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” speech, which articulated the importance of freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. The nonpartisan group has organized events, exhibitions, nationwide campaigns, and public art projects to advocate for the importance of those core principles.
  • Laundromat Project: an arts organization that advances artists and neighbors as change agents in their own communities. We make art and culture in community while fostering leadership among our neighbors through our celebrated Create Change artist development programs, and our creative community-building initiatives across New York City.
  • Museums & Race: Transformation and Justice: a group of museum professionals who are interested in effecting radical change in our field. Their statement of purpose addresses the persistent and pervasive presence of structural racism in our institutions that is at the heart of the museum field’s failure to diversify its boards, staffs, collections, members and visitors, despite over a generation of effort in this area.