VISUAL ARTS | Metro State rededicates art gallery to pioneering African-American photographer Gordon Parks


Metropolitan State University’s Third Floor Gallery will be renamed the Gordon Parks Gallery in a ceremony taking place this Friday, May 21, from 4-8 p.m. A range of activities will include a ribbon cutting, a talk by photographer Wing Young Huie, and a jazz performance by Debbie Duncan. Screenings of the legendary artist’s films will include The Learning Tree and Shaft; also screened will be the documentary Half Past Autumn: The Life and Works of Gordon Parks. The event will showcase a travelling exhibit of Gordon Parks’s work, titled Crossroads.

Gallery director Erica Rasmussen described the grand reopening as one of several efforts of Metro State to promote the arts both at the university, and also in the greater community. “For the last six years, our Center for Community Based Learning and I have provided services to Dayton’s Bluff Elementary School on the East Side,” said Rasmussen. “We’ve brought the children to campus to see exhibits, show their art, and work with local artists to express themselves through art-making workshops. Under the new Gordon Parks banner, the center and the gallery plan to do a great deal more community outreach.”

In addition to its function as an art center, the rededicated gallery will work to emphasize the legacy of Parks, who gained the public’s attention while working for Farm Security Administration, with his photo American Gothic, Washington D.C. Parks was the first African-American to work for Life magazine, and the first to make a Hollywood film. Parks worked as the editorial director of Essence magazine in its first years of production, and in his later career created music and visual art.

Rasmussen said the rededicated gallery also reflects the diversity of previous exhibits. “We have held all kinds of exhibitions,” said Rasmussen. “In addition to student shows, I’ve concentrated on mounting shows that give voice to underserved communities.” Past exhibitions have displayed art of many cultures—including work by Mexican, Hmong-American, and Native American artists—and have represented artists at all levels of achievement, from the work of Dayton’s Bluff students to photography by Wing Young Huie.

Crossroads has been traveling across the country since April 2007, making its debut at Rosa Parks Library and Museum in Montgomery, Alabama. The collection is a 45-piece retrospective of works spanning Parks’s career, which began in St. Paul in the late 1930s when a pair of photo clerks encouraged the young photographer to pursue an assignment for a women’s clothing store. Crossroads will be on view at the Gordon Parks Gallery until July 29.