Museums across the US have organised special virtual events (with some in-person exceptions) commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. Day as cases of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 continue to surge nationwide, causing the cancellation of many celebrations. Here’s how six cultural institutions are marking the federal holiday.
The Brooklyn Museum in New York will hold two professional development workshops geared toward art educators but also accessible to the general public. A morning workshop will consider artworks in the museum’s group exhibition The Slipstream: Reflection, Resilience, and Resistance in the Art of Our Time (until 10 April)—a show centred on Black artists that explores the effects of the pandemic, nationwide civil unrest and climate change. In another workshop, the artist Baseera Khan will discuss the political critique that permeates her exhibition I Am an Archive (until 10 July) and how art can be a vehicle for change.
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC, will stream a presentation by the “living history” scholar John W. McCaskill that traces the last five years of Dr. King Jr.’s life, and will share the stories of other figures who had important roles in the fight to end racial segregation in the US. The museum has also published a blog post delving into how 17 January became a federal holiday.
The Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas, held a performance and panel over the weekend (now available to view online for free) focused on the relationship between music and the Civil Rights Movement. The event is part of the institution’s Songs for Justice series, an initiative comprising concerts and conversations that explores how music can advance dialogue around social justice. It features a performance by the Community Music Center of Houston Scott Joplin Chamber Orchestra and a discussion with Shana Redmond—a scholar of music, race and politics—on the intersection of music and activism in the US.
The New Orleans Museum of Art in Louisiana will honour the federal holiday by offering free admission on MLK Day and distributing free take-home activities related to racial equity and the Civil Rights Movement.
The California African American Museum in Los Angeles will hold a community reading and panel discussing Dr. King Jr.’s historic 1967 speech A Christmas Sermon on Peace, which he delivered at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, just four months before he was killed by a white supremacist. The event will be followed by a musical performance by the Inner City Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles featuring original music, classic spirituals and a staging of the hymn Lift Every Voice and Sing, a song from the 1900s that commemorated the US president Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation.
And the Detroit Institute of Arts in Michigan, one of the few institutions offering an in-person event, will hold a free screening of the Oscar-nominated documentary King: A Film Record… Montgomery to Memphis, which follows Dr. King Jr. from the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955-56 to his assassination in 1968. The film, directed by Sidney Lumet and Joseph L. Mankiewicz, was rarely seen after its release in 1970 but gained renewed attention when it was selected to be preserved by the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry in 1999. The groundbreaking film features rare footage of speeches, protests, arrests and commentary from celebrity supporters of the Civil Rights Movement.