GMF2020: Memorial Art Gallery | Artists of African Descent


On Viewing the Collection of Art by Artists of African Descent at
Rochester’s Memorial Art Gallery

By Lee Koonce

During a recent visit to Rochester’s Memorial Art Gallery , I was happily surprised to see quite a few works by artists of African descent in the Gallery’s permanent collection. My immediate thought was how wonderful it would be to host a few Gateways performances near and around these extraordinary pieces.

Alas, the current pandemic made that idea impossible and the next best thing was this newly collected online site of 52 works by artists of African descent in the Memorial Art Gallery’s permanent collection.

Looking, collecting and thinking about art is one of my most enjoyable pastimes. I marvel at the technical and artistic abilities of the artists, of course but, even more importantly, I marvel at their ability to tell stories.

I am especially attracted to works of artists of African descent, although I like works by artists of all backgrounds.

Works by artists of African descent tell our stories. The stories of Black people. The stories of the world. The story of life since the beginning of time. And that seems a lot like music to me and what composers of all kinds of music seek to do – and have sought to do for millennia.

Much of the music from African American culture – whether “classical” or popular – can be traced back to ancient Africa. Even when we’re unaware of it. I imagine the same might be true of the works by visual artists of African descent. For that reason, I have also included a link to another section that I am calling “Ancestral African Art.” This is the art of our forbearers whose names we will likely never know, but whose artistic works – sometimes thousands of years later – are still telling their stories.

I hope you can imagine walking through the Memorial Art Gallery and viewing these amazing pieces and seeing them in person as soon as possible. May they provide renewal, hope and peace in this unsettling time.

And a very special thank you to everyone at the Memorial Art Gallery for allowing Gateways to showcase this important collection.

– 2020


Lee Koonce is President & Artistic Director of the Gateways Music Festival.