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“Take Back the Steps” protest at MICA on February 21, 2019, part of Deyane Moses’s exhibition, “Blackives.” Photo: Lia Latty and the Maryland Institute Black Archives.

Baltimore Art School Issues Statement to “Confront Its Racist Past”

Samuel Hoi, president of Baltimore’s Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA)—one of the oldest art schools in the US—issued an apology for the institution’s anti-black history on Thursday, February 21. The statement, an effort by the college “to confront its racist past” was made in response to “a powerful and moving” senior thesis exhibition by Deyane Moses, titled “Blackives.”

Moses’s show encompasses archival materials such as racist imagery from the college’s yearbook—including a caricature of a black MICA employee from the early 1900s. The artist also organized a demonstration on Thursday in remembrance of the black students prevented from enrolling at MICA due to the color of their skin. Documentation of the action, titled “Take Back the Steps,” as well as photos and oral histories of current Black students are featured on the newly established online platform Maryland Institute Black Archives. The exhibition closes today but will be reinstalled next week in the campus’s main building, where it will be more visible and will be on display until March 28, 2019.

When the school was forced by “legal appointment” to admit Harry T. Pratt, MICA’s first African American student, in 1891, a hundred students dropped out of the school in protest, and the university faced further backlash from the board, ultimately leading to the adoption of a racist color-line admission policy. The school barred non-white students from attending from 1895 to 1954.

The apology from president Samuel Hoi read: “MICA as an institution—represented by its president, vice presidents and board of trustees—apologizes for its historical denial of access to talented students for no other reason than the color of their skin, and for the hardships to those who were admitted but not supported for their success. . . . We understand that lives have been harmed and some wounds cannot be forgotten or forgiven. Such awareness of past and persisting injustice fuels MICA’s institutional resolve to redouble our efforts towards change.”

Hoi emphasized that the school is committed to “diversity, equity, inclusion, and globalization,” and said that it looks forward to partnering with Moses as well as other students, faculty, staff, and alumni in “understanding MICA, where we came from, who we are today, and who we want to become.”

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