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UT Humanities Center Receives NEH Grant for Black Arts History Symposium

The UT Humanities Center was awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to host “In a Speculative Light: The Arts of James Baldwin and Beauford Delaney” February 19-21, 2020, on the UT campus. The goal of the symposium is to create new knowledge about black arts history by looking closely, for the first time, at work by writer James Baldwin and painter Beauford Delaney, friends who were among the greatest 20th-century black American artists.

James Baldwin and Beauford Delaney walking together.
James Baldwin and Beauford Delaney walking together.

“This grant will galvanize new and visionary Humanities Center programming centered on the public humanities,” said Amy Elias, director of the Humanities Center and symposium organizer. “The Delaney/Baldwin symposium connects UT to regional arts centers, history centers, libraries, and local communities around a cultural figure of key importance to the history of this state.”

Using the optic of the Baldwin/Delaney friendship, symposium participants will analyze work on jazz and blues music, ethics, and Black aesthetics in order to remake established histories concerning postwar Black arts. Presenters will posit models for how Baldwin and Delaney’s intergenerational friendship alters intergenerational aesthetics and Black modernism beyond the Harlem Renaissance. Baldwin and Delaney, representing different generations and different artistic forms in constant dialogue, may open the door to new, forward-thinking interpretations of Black arts and their development through the century.

“The symposium will offer UT students and faculty the opportunity to hear cutting-edge lectures by some of the top scholars working in Black aesthetics in the nation today, including scholars working in music, visual arts, literature, and cultural theory,” Elias said.

Beauford Delaney (Knoxville 1901-1979 Paris)
Portrait of James Baldwin, 1944
Pastel on paper, 24 x 18 3/4 inches. 
Knoxville Museum of Art, @ Estate of Beauford Delaney, by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire, Court Appointed Administrator
Beauford Delaney (Knoxville 1901-1979 Paris)
Portrait of James Baldwin, 1944
Pastel on paper, 24 x 18 3/4 inches
Knoxville Museum of Art, @ Estate of Beauford Delaney, by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire, Court Appointed Administrator

The symposium features speakers from throughout the United States, scholars who have written some of the foundational texts concerning Baldwin's and Delaney's work. Complete information about the symposium can be found at baldwindelaney.org.

“The symposium is open to UT students, and because the keynote lectures are public, the symposium will provide educational opportunities beyond the classroom,” said Elias. “Our students will be introduced to advanced research perspectives by top international scholars.”

The symposium also forges new connections between UT and internationally recognized centers of research, such as the Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York.

“Hosting this symposium is a great opportunity for our faculty and students to generate dialogue with diverse public communities,” Elias said. “The internationally recognized work of our arts and humanities faculty offer new educational opportunities for our communities – both on and off campus.”

UT ranks ninth in the nation for fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities. This grant is the first of its kind for the university. Read more about the NEH announcement of $29 million for 215 humanities projects nationwide.

About the UT Humanities Center

The UT Humanities Center began its first full term of operations in the 2012-13 academic year. It represents the nine humanities departments in the College of Arts and Sciences. Each year, six faculty and four graduate students receive research fellowships from the Center. The Humanities Center also hosts an annual distinguished lecture series. Learn more at humanitiescenter.utk.edu.

About the National Endowment for the Humanities

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at neh.gov.


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