Art Speaks – App for Civil Rights series at Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama

Posted October 28th, 2013

Apps, Politics, Shows, USA

The Birmingham Museum of Art in Alabama recently debuted its second mobile app, which engages with a series of exhibitions commemorating the Civil Rights Movement.

The Museum’s series Art Speaks: 50 Years Forward deals with the history of the movement, specific events, and the continued struggle for human rights. The “Art Speaks” app is designed to enhance the experience of onsite and off-site visitors with original content, including contributions by scholars, collectors, community members, and the artists themselves. The app offers images, text, audio and video clips, links to web resources, and other related exhibition and event information.

“The contributions from artists, collectors, and community members make the Art Speaks app truly unique,” said Kristi McMillan, assistant curator of education for visitor engagement. “Some of the artists rarely speak about their art. We also interviewed some of the artist’s subjects, including Dr. Renée Jones-Jeffery, the infant pushed in a carriage in Ernest Withers’s iconic 1961 photograph Daddy, I Want to Be Free Too. These voices breathe life into the artwork, providing insights into the histories of people and objects. Their take on how the art speaks to them likewise encourages visitors to reflect on the impact and legacy of the Civil Rights Movement.”

Etched in Collective History (August 18 – November 17) presents the work of artists who interrogate, depict, and memorialize the Civil Rights Movement. In addition to an introduction by curator Dr. Jeffreen Hayes, the app provides exclusive interviews with contemporary artists Emma Amos, Whitfield Lovell, Radcliffe Bailey, Jefferson Pinder, and Shinique Smith, among others, whose artworks deal with the legacy of the movement.

For The Birmingham Project (September 8 – December 2), acclaimed photographer Dawoud Bey commemorates the four young girls and two boys whose lives were lost in the 1963 bombing of Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Bey photographed girls, women, boys and men that represent the ages of the young victims at the time of their deaths, and the ages they would be today. The app provides video commentary on the project from Bey, as well as audio interviews with community members who served as portrait sitters.

Question Bridge: Black Males (October 6 – December 29) explores challenging issues within the Black male community through transmedia conversations that cross geographic, economic, generational, educational, and social strata of American society. The app includes video excerpts of the project curated by the Question Bridge team – which includes Chris Johnson, Hank Willis Thomas, Bayeté Ross Smith, and Kamal Sinclair.

Finally, the app includes video of the full performance of the Museum’s first commissioned, site-specific performance art piece. Introduced by curator Dr. Jeffreen Hayes, ‘Tis So Sweet Or I Need Sugar Lawd (April 25) featured Theaster Gates, an ensemble of musicians, and community members who shared stories and reflected on the pivotal themes of the movement and African American heritage.

“The web-based app, available at, allows visitors to access Art Speaks in a variety of ways,” said Sean Pathasema, new technology initiatives project manager. “For example, visitors to the Museum’s galleries might use a smartphone or tablet, or off-site visitors might pull it up at home on a desktop. This versatile platform gives our visitors not only the widest possible access through the device of their choice but also the most up-to-date information each time they visit any section of the app.”

Visitors without their own devices may check out an iPad from the Museum’s information desk. Complimentary public WiFi is available throughout the Museum and the Ireland Sculpture Garden.