Making a Difference in the World to Overcome Bigotry, Poverty & Hatred
Nestled on Wheeler Avenue in Pleasantville are the exhibition space and offices of The Gordon Parks Foundation with its mission to permanently preserve the work of Gordon Parks, make it available to the public through exhibitions, books, and electronic media, and support artistic and educational activities that advance what Gordon described as “the common search for a better life and a better world.” The Foundation shines a light on the remarkable career of the iconic creative talent of Gordon Parks.
Parks was an extraordinary artist with an amazing range. His portraits were diverse, from socialites like Gloria Vanderbilt, civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. to sports figures like Muhammad Ali. “Gordon Parks used the power of art to make a difference in the world and to overcome bigotry, poverty and hatred,” says Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr., the Executive Director of the Foundation. As a photojournalist, Parks captured the poverty and racism that affected Black America.
“Gordon broke barriers as the first African American photographer to work at Life Magazine and worked closely with my grandfather Phil Kunhardt who was the managing editor,” says Kunhardt.
Gordon Parks (1912-2006), a multi-talented, modern-day Renaissance man, was born into poverty and segregation in Fort Scott, Kansas. As an itinerant laborer, he worked as a brothel pianist and railcar porter among other jobs before buying a camera from a pawnshop, training himself to become a photographer. He also found success as a writer, composer and film director. “He was the first black filmmaker to direct a studio motion picture, and his first film Shaft helped create a genre. But Parks’ enduring contribution was to break down the barriers of racism in Hollywood,” writes Desa Philadelphia for the Directors Guild of America.
“At the core of The Gordon Parks Foundation’s work is the support of current and emerging leaders who carry on Parks’ legacy,” says Kunhardt who has led the foundation since 2011. During Kunhardt’s tenure the Foundation created The Gordon Parks Foundation Scholarships and Prizes program, and established The Gordon Parks Foundation Fellowship, which has awarded six fellowships to photographers, artists, filmmakers, and musicians whose work addresses themes of representation and social justice. In 2019, he oversaw the launch of The Gordon Parks Arts and Social Justice Fund dedicated to supporting these educational initiatives.
Supporting the Next Generation of Artists Inspired by Parks
Each year the Foundation celebrates Gordon Parks’ legacy and honors those who continue his vision for social change at The Gordon Parks Foundation’s Annual Awards Dinner and Auction. The Gordon Parks Foundation Award is given to individuals who have enriched our lives in ways that reflect Parks’ ideas and goals by using creative means to inspire the next generation. The Patron of the Arts Award recognizes and celebrates individuals with a deep appreciation of the arts. Recipients receive this special recognition for their support and promotion of artistic creativity in the visual arts, film, literature, or performing arts.
Kunhardt sums up the impact of the Foundation’s work. “Through initiatives such as our scholarship and fellowship programs, as well as these annual awards, we continue to empower the next generation of change-makers and those who are current forces for social justice and the arts.”
The exhibitions at The Gordon Parks Foundation space feature fellowship recipients, curated selections of Gordon Parks’ work, and works by artists whose work is influenced by Parks.
I don’t think there has ever been a more important time in my life to support art and artists. They help prevent us from becoming complacent or numb to the challenges we face, while urgently illuminating those challenges. They show us what is possible when love and kindness, not hate and indecency, are celebrated and empowered. And they offer us hope, pushing us toward what Gordon called “the common search for a better life and a better world.
– Chelsea Clinton
Not to Be Missed Exhibits
Two upcoming exhibitions are Guadalupe Rosales’ Must’ve been a wake-dream: September 6 through October 18, 2019 and Hank Willis Thomas’: Exodusters October 25 through December 20, 2019.
Must’ve been a wake-dream is a celebration of Rosales’ work as a 2019 Gordon Parks Foundation Fellowship recipient, which includes collaborations with Latinx and LGBTQ communities to examine the interplay between photography and community. Through her careful collecting, preservation, and presentation of vernacular photographs, letters, party flyers and ephemera representing Latinx Southern California youth culture, Rosales creates an expanding archive that brings visibility to a community that has been overlooked, misrepresented and criminalized. Also on view during Must’ve been a wake-dream will be a group of Gordon Parks’ photographs, selected by Rosales, from Parks’ celebrated Harlem Gang Leader series, made as the first African-American photographer for LIFE magazine in 1948.
Hank Willis Thomas has an ongoing vested interest in photography as a documentation of history and a universal means for people to represent their stories. Exodusters examines the representation and depiction of history, particularly during a significant moment in the pursuit for freedom and liberty during the Great Depression in Dust Bowl America. Thomas draws upon the archive of Gordon Parks’ seminal and semi-autobiographical film The Learning Tree (1969) that depicts the fictional Cherokee Flats, which is based off of Parks’ hometown in Fort Scott, Kansas, where he returned to produce the movie.
The Gordon Parks Foundation welcomes visitors to view the rotating shows of photography in their exhibition space. Hours are Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Closed Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is free.
For more information: gordonparksfoundation.org