Bill Cosby was arrested last week, arraigned, and may stand trial in Pennsylvania for an alleged sexual assault case dating back to 2004.
As much as I deplore the allegations against Cosby – more than 50 women have accused Cosby of raping them – I believe the extensive African-American art collection that Cosby, and his wife, Camille, have donated to the National Museum of African Art, in Washington, DC, should remain open through January 24, when it’s expected to close.
The exhibition, titled “Conversations: African and American Artworks in Dialogue,” was funded by the Cosby’s with a $716,000 donation.
The Cosby’s collection includes 62 paintings, sculptures, and collages, are works that include Romare Bearden, Ossawa Tanner, Elizabeth Catlett, Jacob Lawrence, Keith Morrison, Augusta Savage, Beauford Delaney, Faith Ringgold and Loïs Mailou Jones.
This exhibit is not without controversy. Critics of Cosby want the exhibition shut down immediately, saying the heinous allegations against Cosby should prompt the museum to cut all ties with Cosby, Camille – and their phenomenal Black art collection.
But why should African-Americans be deprived of viewing this incredible black art collection because of Cosby’s alleged vile behavior?
For the record, I do not condone Cosby’s alleged actions – I find the accusations disgusting and horrific. And if he’s guilty, justice should be served. (Cosby is currently free on $1 million bail and is due back in court on January 14 for a preliminary hearing.)
But consider this: Thousands of public school students – many of them Black – visit Washington, DC every year and have an opportunity to visit the National Museum of National Art and appreciate, some for the first time, the wonders and rich history of Black art.
Black children, who don’t always get an opportunity to view art on this level, benefit greatly from an exhibit of this kind. Why close the exhibit now? And even though the exhibit is expected to close this month, children of all races should still be able to view some of the art in the future.
It’s important to note that in August, museum director Johnnetta Cole said she was unaware of the allegations against Cosby when she accepted the loan of the art from the Cosbys.
“Had I known,” she said, “I would not have moved forward with this particular exhibition.”
But here’s what the museum posted on its website:
“Allegations that publicly surfaced when we opened this exhibition in November 2014, now combined with recent criminal charges brought against Mr. Cosby in Pennsylvania, cast a negative light on what should be a joyful exploration of African and African American art in this gallery.
The National Museum of African Art in no way condones Mr. Cosby’s behavior. We continue to present Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue because it is fundamentally about the artworks and the artists who created them, not Mr. Cosby. The exhibition brings public attention to artists whose art has not been seen, art that tells powerful and poignant stories about African American experiences.”
It’s important to separate the atrocious allegations against Cosby from his one precious and unsoiled commodity: his art collection.
What do you think?