Presented by Jamaal Sheats and Rebecca K. VanDiver

Historically Black colleges and universities played an integral role is Alma W. Thomas’s career. Thomas was the first graduate of Howard University’s fine arts program, and, in 1966, the university hosted a retrospective that sparked her rise in the art world. In 1971, David C. Driskell organized an exhibition of Thomas’s work at Fisk University’s Carl Van Vechten Art Gallery. Join us for this panel discussion to learn more about the influence of these HBCUs on Thomas’s life and on American art. 

Jamaal B. Sheats

Headshot of Jamaal SheatsJamaal B. Sheats is the director and curator of Fisk University Galleries and an assistant professor in the university’s Art Department. Since joining the Galleries in 2015, he has curated eighteen exhibitions, expanded and nurtured partnerships, and designed innovative programs to foster access to and engagement with the collections. An art advocate committed to training and preparing art leaders with a diversity of backgrounds, he led a team that secured Ford Foundation and Walton Family Foundation funding through their Diversifying Art Museum Leadership Initiative to establish the Fisk University Museum Leadership Program. Sheats is a trustee of the Frist Art Museum and board member of the HBCU Alliance of Museums and Galleries, Association of Academic Museum and Galleries, and the Maddox Fund. He received an MFA from Tufts University and a BS in Art from Fisk University.


Rebecca K. VanDiver

Headshot of Rebecca VanDiverRebecca VanDiver teaches courses on modern and contemporary African American art, the history of women artists, and contemporary African art and visual culture. She is affiliated with the Department African American and Diaspora Studies as well as the Program in American Studies at Vanderbilt University. Her research focuses on twentieth-century Black women artists, and more recently the use of ephemeral print in African American Art. She is the author of Designing a New Tradition: Loïs Mailou Jones and the Aesthetics of Blackness (Penn State University Press, 2020). Her essay “Howard University’s Orbital Pull: Alma and Her Alma Mater” is included in the Alma W. Thomas: Everything Is Beautiful catalogue (Yale University Press, 2021). She received an AB from Harvard College and an MA and PhD from Duke University.

Image: Unknown photographer. Alma Thomas and David Driskell outside of Carl Van Vechten Art Gallery at Fisk University, 1971. Photograph. Box 2, Folder 50: Alma W. Thomas: Recent Paintings (1971), Fisk University, Photographs 1970–1972. Alma W. Thomas papers, ca. 1894–2001, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution Washington, DC

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