A year-long series of events at the Carnegie Center for Art and History will use the arts to reinterpret the longstanding Underground Railroad exhibit.
“Songs and Stories of Freedom” will include a variety of media to shed new light on a transformative period in New Albany’s history.
Funded through a roughly $21,000 grant from the Horseshoe Foundation of Floyd County, “Songs and Stories of Freedom,” when opens Feb. 26 with a Kentucky Opera performance, acts as a complement to the museum’s permanent “Ordinary People, Extraordinary Courage: Men & Women of the Underground Railroad” exhibit.
“I think it’s important as you get new information, new technology and even new methods in museums about how to share stories it’s important to consider that as you move forward,” said Eileen Yanoviak, director at the Carnegie Center. “It’s part of a bigger plan institutionally to rethink how we incorporate the story of the Underground Railroad in our education, how we interpret it for the public and how we continue to show new aspects of it.”
The series of programs, which will mostly occur at night, includes a performance by the Kentucky Opera, re-enactors portraying Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, award-winning illustrator James Ransome and author Lesa Cline Ransome, who have published numerous books on well-known figures in African-American history, and a concert at Town Clock Church by Messengers of Christ.
“As we continue to look at how we can interpret the ur history in New Albany we wanted to look at new ways of doing that,” Yanoviak said. “The exhibition is really important and meaningful. Lectures are also really helpful, but we wanted to bridge the gap between art and history so we thought about using the arts as a way to interpret the Underground Railroad and African-American history more broadly.”
“Songs and Stories of Freedom” will also have an education component to integrate lessons from the Underground Railroad into the classroom.
Slaves escaping bondage through New Albany via Second Baptist Church, also known as Town Clock Church, is forever woven into the city’s identity, according to Yanoviak.
“I think one of the beautiful things about museums is they give a voice to people who might not have had one,” she said. “Through diligent research and lots of oral histories we present an opportunity for those stories to be told, and I think that’s a really important piece of history for us. It seems like a rallying point for the community.”
Horseshoe’s grant also allowed for upgrades to the 10-year-old permanent exhibit, including refreshing the interface to the exhibit’s centerpiece film, and the opportunity to edit down the hour-long film into a 20-minute version. More plans will be unveiled at a later date.
While activities of “Songs and Stories of Freedom” will be geared toward different audiences, the series will be most impactful taken as a whole.
“There is transformative power throughout all the media,” Yanoviak said. “I think it’s important to read the histories and to know it from the primary source materials, but at the same time what makes it real and makes us feel it in an emotional way is through the arts.”
Below is a list of events for the Carnegie Center’s “Songs and Stories of Freedom” series.
What: Oh Freedom! Concert at the Carnegie
When: 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26
Oh Freedom! is a special concert and cultural journey through the history of African Americans from pre-slavery to modern times using song and music, performed by members of the Kentucky Opera. An inspirational demonstration of the ability of music to preserve and share history, the program begins with music from West Africa and travels through time to include coded spiritual songs sung by enslaved people and ends with music that inspired the Civil Rights Movement. The title Oh Freedom! is inspired by the spiritual of the same name and was a favorite among Civil Rights activists.
What: Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass played by Dennis Boggs and Michael Crutcher
When: May 9: Time TBA
Dennis Boggs as Abraham Lincoln and Michael Crutcher as Frederick Douglass bring history to life in this dynamic and interactive performance. Renowned presenter/historians Crutcher and Boggs are nationally recognized for their portrayals and expertise.
What: James Ransome and Lesa Cline-Ransome appearance
When: 6 p.m. Sept. 19
Award-winning author Lesa Cline Ransome and illustrator James Ransome, who have together published numerous books on well-known figures in African American history and culture, will present at the Carnegie Center for Art and History. They will discuss the process of creating a book for children, individual titles, and the role of literature and research in writing. The session includes a Q&A and an interactive drawing demonstration with James Ransome.
What: Songs of Freedom: Messengers for Christ
When: November; date and time TBA
Where: Town Clock Church
A selection of songs based on the soundtrack for the Carnegie Center’s ongoing exhibition “Ordinary People, Extraordinary Courage: The Men and Women of the Underground Railroad.”