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Getty Research Institute African American Art History Initiative Oral Histories, 2018-2020

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Getty Research Institute African American Art History Initiative Oral Histories, 2018-2020

Administrative History and Project Background

The Getty Research Institute (GRI) is an operating program of the J. Paul Getty Trust, a not-for-profit educational, cultural and philanthropic organization dedicated to the visual arts. Originally established in 1983 as the Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities (GCHAH), the objective of the GCHAH was to foster advanced research in art, its history, diversity, and meaning in culture by engaging scholars from various disciplines in the humanities. In 1996, in order to avoid confusion with the soon-to-open Getty Center, the GCHAH was renamed the Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities and in 2000, the program's name was shortened to the Getty Research Institute (GRI).

The GRI's mission is to "further knowledge and advance understanding of the visual arts and their various histories through its expertise, active collecting program, public programs, institutional collaborations, exhibitions, publications, digital services, and residential scholars programs." The GRI's Research Library, consisting of over one million books, periodicals, study photographs, auction catalogs and special collections of rare and unique materials, seeks to serve an international community of scholars and the interested public. The GRI also spearheads research projects, exhibitions, and publication programs and provides service to a wide range of scholars worldwide through residencies, fellowships, hosted lectures and symposia, and its digital reference tools and databases.

Through the GRI's multidisciplinary programming, resources, expertise, and collaborative environment, the GRI works to advance art historical scholarship of contemporary art. In September 2018, the GRI publically launched the African American Art History Initiative (AAAHI) focusing on the postwar art and cultural legacy of artists of African American and African diasporic heritage. The AAAHI's objective is to impact the narrative of global culture by documenting the history of African American art. Through the AAAHI, the GRI will document and preserve important records; build its collection of relevant archives and related collections; support scholars; generate new research; and disseminate its results through digitization, exhibitions, publications, and public programs, all with the goal of increasing the visibility of African American art history, and promoting advanced research in a Eurocentric field. The AAAHI aims to make the archival and published record of African American art history freely accessible, both nationally and internationally, in physical and digital form.

As part of the AAAHI, the GRI established AAAHI dedicated staff positions within the Getty Scholars Program. It also created an international advisory committee of 12 scholars, museum professionals, and artists to discuss developments within the initiative and think strategically about next steps. The advisory committee's input was instrumental in helping to develop the initiative's vision, refining and executing its different components, and consensus building in regard to acquisitions, oral histories, research projects, programs, and institutional collaborations.

The oral history project component, led by Rebecca Peabody, the Head of Research Projects and Programs at the GRI, is facilitated through a partnership with the Oral History Center (OHC) at the University of California, Berkeley, which conducts individual interviews with understudied African American artists. The subjects were determined in consultation with the AAAHI Advisory Committee. The creation of oral histories, which began in 2019, will continue for the duration of the research initiative. Another set of oral histories, conducted solely by GRI staff, include group discussions with artists and art historians on various topics in the scope of African American art history.

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