Harris collection receives Challenge Grant

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The Carnegie Museum of Art has won a $300,000 challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities that, when matched, will underwrite the position of archivist for the Teenie Harris Collection.

TeenieSelfPortrait
TEENIE HARRIS

During the decade since acquiring more than 80,000 photographs, negatives and movie film generated by late Pittsburgh Courier photographer Charles “Teenie” Harris, the Museum has employed a variety of means to identify and catalog this vast archive spanning more than 40 years, most notably its oral history project which gathers first-hand accounts of the circumstances and people captured in Harris’ photos.

The culmination of this effort was the opening last year of the Teenie Harris: Photographer, An American Life exhibit, which showcased some of the more than 50,000 images already digitized and 70,000 negatives catalogued so far.

“The possibilities are wide open,” said Louise Lippincott, curator of fine arts. ‘Teenie Harris, Photographer’ broke new ground for us, and we will continue to find new ways to showcase the work of this remarkable artist.”

The 3-1 matching will allow the museum to hire an archivist to continue the research and outreach projects required to catalog and restore several thousand feet of 16mm film footage shot by Harris, catalogue and digitize Harris’s work with color film, and to digitize nearly 17,000 remaining black-and-white negatives.

“That is great to hear,” said son Charles “Little Teenie” Harris. “Most people don’t understand how important that position is. Karen Shellenbarger had been doing that from the beginning and was sending us photos all the time asking who people were. It would be nice if she could come back, but either way the museum has been great in furthering dad’s legacy. They’re doing a fantastic job.”

The exhibition toured to Chicago’s Harold Washington Library in February and will travel to the Robert W. Woodruff Library at Atlanta University Center next month. It has garnered nationwide recognition for Harris’ work as one of the most complete and intimate records of the Black urban experience ever created.

The museum has established a steering committee—led by community leaders and long-time supporters Judy Davenport, Cecile Springer and Nancy Washington—to help raise the required 3-to-1 matching grant funds.

In the interim, the museum will inaugurate a new series of rotating displays of Harris’ work beginning in late January or February. The displays will inform visitors on the continuing archive efforts, provide an opportunity to contribute new information about the images’ subjects, places and people, and continue the work of enriching the database and enhancing the understanding of Harris’s work.

Simultaneously, the museum will activate an updated, more powerful search engine on its web site, allowing access to all digitized images and archive information.

Museum spokesman Jonathan Gaugler said they have five years to raise the $900,000 needed to endow the full-time position.

“We want to make sure this work continues,” he said. “In the meantime, we’re still transcribing the recorded oral histories, which is labor intensive. But it’s the cataloguing and preservation work that we really need the archivist for.”

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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