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Griot Museum celebrates St. Louis Black history with art piece from Smithsonian designer

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Adjaye Associates
The Griot Museum of Black History will receive a public art installation by architect David Adjaye, who designed the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History.

The Griot Museum of Black History will soon be home to a public art installation from the designer of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Architect David Adjaye will design Asaase III, a monument that surrounds the museum. The structure will be built of rammed earth, a process using soil and other natural materials from the St. Louis region to make solid structures.

“Since it’s outdoors and it's intended to be a community of public peace, we really wanted it to be reflective of that,” said Lois Conley, founder of the Griot. “Some of the soils will be coming from various areas that had relevantly large African American populations, whether they exist anymore or not. We still wanted to have some of that material.”

Conley said the museum has not yet determined where it will obtain all of the soil. The installation will be part of a larger public art project planned for next spring. The public art initiative Counterpublic is donating the installation, which will join projects from 30 regional artists along Jefferson Avenue.

Artists and organizations are encouraged to think of their dream projects and what they envision for their neighborhoods, said James McAnally, executive and artistic director of Counterpublic.

“The museum has been around for 25 years, it's made such a mark on the community and at the same time, feels maybe under-recognized for a lot of its contributions to the city,” McAnally said. “It was really coming out of the pandemic, looking at their outdoor spaces and thinking about … how to have free, accessible kind of public art that enlivened their campus.”

McAnally said the project will also celebrate the museum’s legacy.

Adjaye selected the Griot after Allison Glenn, senior curator for the New York City-based art nonprofit Public Art Fund, invited him to visit the museum.

The $1 million installation funded by Counterpublic co-founder Lee Broughton and his wife, Chrissy Taylor, will include a two-year fellowship for a team funded by the St. Louis Art Museum and the Mellon Foundation to maintain the monument and the museum’s artifacts, McAnally said.

Asaase III will be installed at the Griot next spring and coincide with the museum’s Black HerStory project, a series of monuments honoring Black women from the St. Louis region who have made significant contributions to St. Louis culture. Conley said both exhibits will be essential to the museum’s mission of sharing the region’s Black history.

“This is a step toward helping the Griot grow even more,” Conley said. “After 25 years of struggling to get there, this is probably gonna be the thing that pushes us over, and so I'm excited about that.”

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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