Memory and Momentum
The Gallery was dedicated in 1978 in honor of Edward Mitchell Bannister,
a noted 19th century African American artist who was also influential in the
society and culture of the Providence community of his time. Bannister is a
significant figure in the history of American Landscape painting and in the
annals of social progress in this country for African Americans and other
historically marginalized peoples. This link to Bannister's biography tells
Exhibitions of fine art at RIC actually pre-date this 25 year period
somewhat. Prior to 1978, exhibitions were presented at the Adams Library for
at least 5 years. The year 1977-78 marks the construction of first real
'Gallery' as a purpose - built facility, with high quality track lighting,
plywood lined walls, and its striking black tile floor.
With a view to the spirit of the late 1970's, the inception of the
gallery as the first such full-time exhibition space at RIC came at a
turning point in American culture and education in general. Following upon
decades of traumatic civil, racial, and military strife - the assassination
of the Kennedy's and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the widespread race
riots, the angst and tumult of the Vietnam War, the rise of the Counter
Culture - the establishment of the gallery signified not only a new
commitment to the value of visual arts at the College but also, in its
dedication to Bannister, parallels a time where the wider culture
acknowledged a more complex and inclusive vision of history, culture and
This social change was also reflected within the art world and broader
visual culture; as contemporary artists in general enjoyed greater freedoms
and credibility.The spirit of the times was not specific to redressing the
rights and recognition of African-Americans alone, but to the rights and
freedom of expression of all people, and echoed the egalitarian spirit of
Bannister's Providence of a century before, which similarly - followed the
tumult and divisiveness of a (the) Civil War.
Perhaps because of this background out of which the gallery 'solidified',
and within the broad spectrum of exhibitions presented over the past 25
years, there may be found one recurring theme. This is, that visual art is a
powerful and effective language with which to address issues beyond the
purely aesthetic or formal and in ways which either epitomize or help us
focus on important socio-political and philosophical problems. Not to
dismiss the issues and history of aesthetics or pure formal studies
specifically of interest to artists, as these are also well embedded in the
exhibition program and thematically predominate on the schedule.
The Bannister Gallery operates as an exhibition space for works of
contemporary art. It is not a museum and does not own or specialize in E.M.
Bannister's artwork as is sometimes assumed. Primarily, the gallery's
function is as a teaching resource of the Department of Art, with exhibits
selected by a rotating body of faculty to highlight aspects of their courses
and various disciplines. This results, in a very democratic and vibrant
forum for a diverse range of media and subjects.
Guided by a committee of visual art faculty and the director, the gallery
program strives for a consistent quality of presentation and a respect for a
broad range of viewpoints and sensibilities. This is a program that is
shaped and run by visual artists who are also educators and as such is more
open-ended, democratic, and challenging than commercial venues and many
museums. I think that we've managed over the years to keep an 'edge' to what
we present that reminds viewers that Art is still a developing language of
communication, and a mode of understanding; rather than a known quantity or
a form of entertainment.
The gallery was located in the RIC Art Center from 1978 to 2000. It was
relocated in August 2000 to Roberts Hall, which afforded a greater proximity
to the Performing Arts and Music facilities. It was formally re-dedicated to
the memory of E.M. Bannister in October 2000 in conjunction with the
completion of the Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts. Recently the
exhibit space was expanded to the adjacent hallway with the installation of
140 square feet of glass display cases and other improvements provided
through the auspices of the RIC Foundation.
The gallery presents monthly exhibitions during the academic year, and
one exhibit during summer sessions. Along with exhibits, the gallery
regularly hosts presentations by artists, curators, performance artists and
other guest lecturers of note. Gallery programming is presented through the
cooperation of the Department of Art Gallery Committee, the RIC Art Club,
the Artist Co-Op, the Performing and Fine Arts Commission, the Committee for
Lectures and Films, the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the E.M.
Bannister Society and the RIC Foundation.
Over the years the Bannister Gallery has presented the work of artists
such as Dale Chihuly, Coreen Simpson, Jerome Witkin, Gordon Parks, Mahler
Ryder, Arno Minkinnen, Bruce Chao, Robert Birmelin,Willy Heeks, David
Macaulay, Peggy Cyphers, Guliermo Gomez-Pena and Roberto Sifuentes, Misch
Kohn, Clarissa Sligh, Gabor Peterdi, Jim Goldberg, Michael Kvium, Bill
Seaman, Terry Allen, and Andrew Forge - to name just a few.
All of the
exhibits, lectures, and events have been made available, free of charge, to
the college and public.