Hammonds House: What they’re saying

Artists and executives on the situation at the Black visual arts institution.
Atlanta artist Shanequa Gay in her College Park studio.
Courtesy of Addison Wood

Credit: Addison Wood

Credit: Addison Wood

Atlanta artist Shanequa Gay in her College Park studio. Courtesy of Addison Wood

Radcliffe Bailey

“When I think about the legacy of Hammonds House, it was just like a grad school for me,” said Radcliffe Bailey, one of America’s top 21st century conceptual artists. “When I saw Karen come in, it reminded me of what I knew and remembered about Hammonds House. I don’t feel like she’s had an opportunity to do what she’s supposed to do. … What I fear is that history gets erased based on some new model, and I don’t even really know what that model is. We can’t lose any more institutions. I’m not saying Hammonds House is lost, I just don’t quite get it. She came from an artistic background based on scholarship of art.”


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“This is the first time I’ve seen this kind of attention brought to a curator (at Hammonds House),” said Bailey, who lives in Atlanta. “I’ve seen her talk about the collection on TV and talk about the collection online.”

Alfred Conteh

“Not trying to diminish (former directors) Myrna (Anderson-Fuller) or Leatrice (Ellzy Wright) — and I’ve shown at Hammonds House and I’ve spoken there — but it has been pretty much the same old, same old for years,” said multimedia artist Alfred Conteh. “Nothing that’s really shown what Hammonds House is on a regional, national level. (Karen Comer Lowe) was cooking up things Hammonds House has never done before and never had the capacity to do. I’m seeing the Hammonds House finally doing some things that are making it stand out and to see it cut short, I just can’t.”

Deborah Willis

From an Instagram post by Deborah Willis, MacArthur Fellow and Chair of the Department of Photography and Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University: “I’m saddened to read this, Karen. You have so much to offer the arts. I had hope for Hammonds House future when you were hired. I recall your early years and your great ideas then. Hug yourself, girl.”

July 2, 2021 Atlanta - Charly Palmer works on a painting ait at his studio on Friday, July 2, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)


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Charly Palmer

From an Instagram post: “I’m on team Karen!!!!” The Atlanta artist’s painting of a young Black girl weeping at protests over police killings of unarmed Black people landed on a 2020 cover of Time magazine.

Leatrice Ellzy Wright is leaving her post as executive director of the Hammonds House Museum to become senior director of programming at the Apollo Theater.

Credit: Michael Moss

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Credit: Michael Moss

Leatrice Ellzy Wright

“Success is not always tied to what’s on the walls,” former Hammonds House executive director Leatrice Ellzy Wright said. “What we were putting in place at Hammonds House was necessary. It’s still a functioning museum, but it’s how you build capacity to make money to fulfill the mission.”

Shanequa Gay

“Karen had years of engagement with the arts in this community,” said artist Shanequa Gay, who had solo shows at Hammonds House and Chastain Arts Center in 2019. “She was more than primed, molded and ready to take on the job at Hammonds House. I felt like Karen had a vision to revamp Hammonds House as a contemporary arts space that would have national attention.”

“Why doesn’t Atlanta, considered to be a mecca for Black people and a pinpoint for the hip-hop community, why don’t we have a major African American museum? If Karen was answering that question, why would you cut that short?” Gay said.

Atlanta artist Fahamu Pecou will create works for four MARTA stations, starting with King Memorial station, as part of En Route. The public art project, funded in part by a recently announced $50,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant, is being organized by WonderRoot and other partners. CONTRIBUTED BY BRYAN MELTZ

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Fahamu Pecou

“I’ve been privy to the struggles of Hammonds House for 20 years and hiring Karen signaled Hammonds House was trying to revamp and revive itself,” said conceptual artist, art historian and curator Fahamu Pecou, whose work has been the subject of a solo exhibition at The High Museum of Art. “What kind of message does this send to the larger arts community to do this kind of walk back? What is Karen if she wasn’t a new direction? She has a network of arts leaders across the country that she could’ve tapped into to innovate and bring in new shows, new ways of presenting.”

Imara Canady

“This was not about Karen,” said Imara Canady, who has been Hammonds House board chair for nearly a decade. “Karen just happened to be in a position that got eliminated in terms of this new model.”

Roderick Hardy

Dr. Hammond’s collection “wasn’t hit or miss. There was a consistent thread through every piece. And the pieces have enhanced value because they are part of the collection,” said Hardy, a founder of Hardy & Halpern, Inc., which appraised the collection in 2004. “He had the eye to support and develop local and national artists in their genius, those with excellent potential and those with marginal potential that he knew could blossom. He encouraged them to try every medium to find the right one.”

Brenda Locke

“You don’t just summarily dismiss someone like that. It’s completely unprofessional and disrespectful to an artist and it’s brutal to Karen,” said Brenda Locke, the widow of artist Donald Locke, whose series “Southern Mansions” was to have opened at Hammonds House on Feb. 11. “If they call themselves a museum, well that’s not the way a museum operates.”

Sheila Pree Bright

“When I heard about Karen coming in, I was so excited because I know her vision of what she could bring. She was trying to build that credibility to bring in international artists, then emerging artists and I don’t see how [the board] can’t see that,” said Pree Bright, whose work is currently in the High Museum show “Picturing the South: 25 Years.”

“The death of Hammonds House. That’s what this could be.”