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August 16, 2021

National Gallery of Art Honors Legacy of Pioneering Artist Alma Thomas

Visitors engage with Alma Thomas's "Red Rose Cantata"

Visitors engage with Alma Thomas's Red Rose Cantata, 1973, acrylic on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Vincent Melzac, 1976.6.1. Red Rose Cantata is on view and part of the John Wilmerding Community Celebration on September 24-26.

Symposium and Community Events Featured as Part of Citywide Celebration

Washington, DC—The National Gallery of Art announced today that its 2021 John Wilmerding Symposium on American Art and Community Celebration will honor artist Alma Thomas this fall. The symposium and the community celebration will be featured as part of an expansive citywide celebration honoring the late pioneering artist. Both events are inspired by and presented in conjunction with the retrospective exhibition hosted by The Phillips Collection—Alma W. Thomas: Everything Is Beautiful—on view October 30, 2021–January 23, 2022.

Featuring a virtual introduction by former First Lady Michelle Obama, the John Wilmerding Symposium on American Art will kick off the festivities September 22–23. Hosted virtually, the symposium will bring together noted scholars, artists, and curators to discuss Alma Thomas’s life and legacy through virtual conversations.

Following the symposium, the National Gallery of Art will host an in-person, on-site community celebration honoring Thomas September 24–26. A variety of self-guided activities and experiences will explore Thomas’s life and her wide range of creative endeavors. Visitors will be offered free art kits containing a coloring book of works by local artists, coloring materials, interactive guides to conversations around works of art, and a cutout doll of Alma Thomas designed by Brittany Jackson, illustrator of the acclaimed children’s book Parker Looks Up: An Extraordinary Moment. A special horticultural display replicating Alma Thomas’s Pansies in Washington (1969) in the East Building Concourse will provide sketching inspiration. A community gallery in the East Building will display works of art by local community members, celebrating Alma Thomas’s art and legacy. The Espresso & Gelato Bar will offer a discount on a colorful gelato inspired by Alma Thomas’s Red Rose Cantata (1973), which is on view in the National Gallery of Art East Building. Visitors to the National Gallery shops onsite and online can use code ALMA15 for a 15% discount throughout the weekend.

“It is an honor to join this special collaboration among DC’s cultural and educational institutions,” said Kaywin Feldman, director of the National Gallery of Art. “Alma Thomas’s dedication to finding the beauty in the everyday is something we should all aspire to, and we are delighted to help bring her creative spirit—much of it lived in our city—to life this fall.”

Alma W. Thomas
Everything Is Beautiful: A Washington, DC, Citywide Celebration

Alma W. Thomas (1891–1978) was a pioneering artist and educator who taught us the importance of seeking beauty in the everyday. Beyond her artwork, Thomas’s contributions to DC’s cultural heritage were vast and varied. She was the first graduate of Howard University’s Department of Art, the first African American woman to have a work of art acquired by the White House Collection, a founding member and vice president of one of the first Black-owned private galleries in the nation, and a teacher for 35 years. In summer and fall 2021, cultural and educational institutions across Washington, DC, will celebrate Thomas’s life with a variety of programs and events, alongside the retrospective Everything Is Beautiful at The Phillips Collection, October 30, 2021–January 23, 2022, honoring the artist through opportunities that encourage the pursuit of beauty. Visit for more information.

Participants include American University, DC Public Library, DC Public Schools, Destination DC, Dumbarton Oaks, Howard University, Jon Gann (director of the short documentary Everything Is Beautiful), The Kennedy Center, National Gallery of Art, Office of the Mayor, The Phillips Collection, National Museum of Women in the Arts, and Smithsonian American Art Museum.

National Gallery of Art Events

September 22
Wilmerding Symposium, Video Premiere: The Infiniteness of Alma Thomas: Elizabeth Alexander and Thelma Golden in Conversation
Elizabeth Alexander, poet, educator, memoirist, scholar, cultural advocate, and president of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and Thelma Golden, director and chief curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem, discuss their connections to Thomas’s life and work.

September 22, 7:00–8:30 pm
Wilmerding Symposium, Session I: An Evening Celebration of Alma Thomas
Former First Lady Michelle Obama introduces the symposium virtually, followed by a poetry reading with Ross Gay, and Alma W. Thomas: Everything is Beautiful exhibition tour with curators Seth Feman and Jonathan Frederick Walz.

September 23, 1:00–2:30 pm
Wilmerding Symposium, Session II: Alma Thomas’s Studio Practice and DC Cultural Institutions
Learn about Thomas’s studio art training and involvement with galleries, museums, and universities, featuring The Phillips Collection’s Renee Maurer, artist and scholar Nell Irvin Painter, and Vanderbilt University’s Rebecca VanDiver. Moderated by Steven Nelson, dean of the National Gallery’s Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts.

September 23, 3:00–4:30 pm
Wilmerding Symposium, Session III: The Nation's Capital in the Time of Alma Thomas
Discover Thomas’s aesthetic and social environment, featuring Howard University’s Melanee Harvey, artist and scenic designer Margie Jervis, independent curator and scholar Marya McQuirter, and Dumbarton Oaks’ Thaïsa Way. Moderated by Charles Brock, associate curator of American and British paintings, National Gallery of Art.

September 24–26, 1:00 pm–5:00 pm
Wilmerding Community Celebration
Find beauty in the everyday, just as artist and longtime DC resident Alma Thomas did. Participate in select onsite experiences, including self-guided activities and a special installation of community-produced works of art inspired by Alma Thomas.

September 26, 11:30 am–1:00 pm
Feminist Issues in Art Museums
The final session of American University’s Feminist Art History Conference, cohosted by the National Gallery of Art, brings together distinguished curators to discuss contemporary issues in museum practice. Speakers include Lauren Haynes, Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University; Catherine Morris, Brooklyn Museum; Asma Naeem, Baltimore Museum of Art; Christine Sciacca, Walters Art Museum; and Christina Yu Yu, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Moderated by Mikka Gee Conway, National Gallery of Art.

About the John Wilmerding Symposium on American Art and Community Celebration
The John Wilmerding Symposium on American Art and Community Celebration are made possible by a grant from the Alice L. Walton Foundation. Named for the National Gallery's retired curator, deputy director, trustee, chairman, and one of the nation's leading scholars in American art, the annual symposium and weekend celebration explore a topic related to American art.

In 2020 the Wilmerding Symposium was held as a virtual tribute to the late David C. Driskell and featured scholars Valerie Cassel Oliver, Julie L. McGee, and Alvia J. Wardlaw, as well as artists Lyle Ashton Harris, Curlee Raven Holton, Keith Morrison, Mary Lovelace O’Neal, Jefferson Pinder, Frank Stewart, and Carrie Mae Weems. National Gallery of Art Director Kaywin Feldman and Secretary of the Smithsonian Lonnie G. Bunch III introduced the conversation, which is available online.

Contact Information

General Information
For additional press information please call or send inquiries to:
Department of Communications
National Gallery of Art
2000 South Club Drive
Landover, MD 20785
phone: (202) 842-6353
e-mail: [email protected]

Chief of Communications
Anabeth Guthrie
phone: (202) 842-6804
e-mail: [email protected]

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