Birmingham Museum of Art will return to events in person with tribute to Sun Ra

After months of a pandemic shutdown in 2020, Birmingham’s music and culture venues have gradually started filling their calendars since the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines this year. Today, one of the city’s biggest artistic institutions is ready to join the mix.

Tonight, 10 months after reopening to the public, the Birmingham Museum of Art will resume social events in person.

The BMA officially welcomed visitors to its galleries last October, four months after Governor Kay Ivey authorized the reopening of some entertainment venues, including museums and performing arts centers, under the ordinance. expanded COVID-19 Safer at Home.

Last spring, the museum launched a strong series of virtual lectures, digital activities and events designed to engage patrons during closure. As the museum returned to normal visiting hours in the fall, the BMA opted to keep the majority of its programming virtual, including a conversation with renowned artist Amy Sherald, and all of the curator’s and artist designed to accompany the national traveling exhibition Jacob Lawrence. : The American struggle.

Tonight, the BMA will hold its first in-person program in over a year, and guests can experience the museum once again after hours with the return of Art after 5, the series of parties themed around the BMA’s art and pop culture featuring an evening of cocktails, DJ sets, movie screenings and games.

As a nod to the city navigating its future amid a public health crisis and following last year’s racial justice protests, tonight’s theme is a tribute to one of the sons. native of Birmingham: jazz master Sun Ra. Born Herman Blount in 1914, Sun Ra blended jazz, black culture, and science fiction to interpret the experience of the African diaspora and envision a better and more progressive future for black people without the burden of oppression. The conductor (believed to be from Saturn) is considered the godfather of Afrofuturism – a term coined by academics and cultural critics to refer to the ideology of valuing historical events – such as the slave trade. transatlantic slave trade and civil rights movement. – to create a better future for black people through the use of science and technology. The concept is most often represented in art, music and literature. One of Sun Ra’s best-known works is “Space is the Place,” a project that included an original soundtrack recorded in 1972, followed by the 1974 release of a sci-fi feature film. In the film, Sun Ra attempts to set up a utopian space colony on a new planet for blacks, but must travel through time to fight an oppressive overlord for the fate of the black race.

SunRa was also famous for leading a large and evolving group of musicians known as the Arkestra. His concerts with the Arkestra – often immersive productions of light shows, costumes and choreography – have influenced the performance style of a legacy of musicians, including George Clinton, the collective’s longtime frontman, Parliament Funkadelic.

Last year, in an interview with The Source, the Godfather of Funk spoke about how the design and creative direction of Sun Ra’s Arkestra helped inspire the space age narrative and off-the-beaten-path aesthetic of Parliament Funkadelic. , known as P-funk.

“It wasn’t just something great,” said L. Londell McMillan, editor of The Source. “Was there a certain intellectualism and afrofuturism in what you produced? Can you talk about this? “

“It had to be like this the low, that you couldn’t judge him by anything else, ”Clinton replied. “It was like what SunRa did. This is what jazz musicians did. I wanted to do this with Parliament Funkadelic.

The origin of the collective began in the late 1950s as a doo-wop called The Parliaments, led by teenage Clinton. The group continued to evolve in the 1960s when Clinton became a producer for Motown and added musicians to the group who would eventually form a second group called Funkadelic.

In the 1970s, collaboration with bassist and composer Bootsy Collins fueled the collective’s more eclectic and psychedelic style. Collins, Clinton said, introduced higher energy sound with horns, propelling the band to greater commercial success, on a larger budget.

“We have come back to glamor. Haute couture glamor. High-tech glamor. As you said, it has become Afrofuturism. The mothership, ”Clinton said. “We were going to space [like] SunRa. Like Jimi Hendrix. Like many jazz musicians. We were taking a lot of the reality concepts from Star Wars, Star Trek. “

Tonight’s Art After 5 celebration will feature sets by DJs Suaze and Rahdu, a screening of “Space is the Place” and a scavenger hunt to find all the museum art that inspired Sun Ra and the Arkestra. In keeping with Sun Ra’s brand of activism and the BMA’s community engagement program, the museum will organize art activities to encourage voter participation, as well as staff available to assist with information and registration. voters.

Here’s what to know about in-person events at the Birmingham Museum of Art

If you haven’t been to a museum since the pandemic began, here’s some good news. A study by researchers at the Berlin Institute of Technology in Germany found that the risk of transmission of COVID-19 is lower in museums and theaters than in supermarkets, restaurants, offices or public transport. common. The study assessed a number of variables, including the average length of stay of people in museums compared to other public places, the quality of the airflow, and the amount of aerosol particles inhaled in different rooms. . Granted, this study was conducted before experts shared more in-depth knowledge of the delta variant.

While museums and art galleries tend to be less crowded than other public places due to the protocols in place to keep patrons a safe distance from touching the art, at this point public health experts advise people to be more careful. Alabama, like other states, has suffered from an increase in infections and hospitalizations over the past month, fueled by the more contagious Delta variant and low vaccination rates. Universities, small businesses and municipal governments across the state are starting to require masks indoors.


COVID GUIDELINES: Masks are mandatory

Masks are required to enter the Birmingham Museum of Art. Last week, the City of Birmingham issued an ordinance requiring all city employees and visitors to wear masks inside all municipal buildings, including the BMA.


The Birmingham Museum of Art is now Sensory Inclusive:

In March, the Birmingham Museum of Art became Alabama’s first fine arts museum to be Sensory Inclusive certified, thanks to a partnership with Kulture City, a nonprofit that develops tools and resources to make the life more accessible to people with sensory disorders. , including autism, PTSD, and Parkinson’s disease.

Staff at the Birmingham Museum of Art have been trained by leading medical professionals to recognize clients with sensory needs, as well as how to deal with a sensory overload situation. The museum now has sensory bags fitted with noise-canceling headphones, fidget tools, verbal cue cards and weighted pads, which will be available to all museum guests who may feel overwhelmed by the surroundings.

About Margaret L. Portillo

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