By Elizabeth Howard
In the latest episode of the Short Fuse Podcast, host Elizabeth Howard is in conversation with Stephen Reily, director of the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, KY, around the exhibition Promise, Witness, Remembrance. The exhibition, which ran from April 7 to June 11, 2021, is a memorial to the life of Breonna Taylor and was created to engage the local community of Louisville and to reach out nationally to all of us to think about how to engage in dialogue and conversation around systemic racism, gun violence, and police brutality.
Amy Sherald’s portrait of Breonna Taylor was directly in the sight line of anyone entering the museum when Promise, Witness, Remembrance was on view. The portrait was originally commissioned by the magazine Vanity Fair: it was the September 2020 cover of a special issue entitled “The Great Fire,” guest edited by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Promise, Witness, Remembrance was curated by Allison Glenn and reflects on the life of Breonna Taylor, her killing in 2020, and the year of protests that followed. The exhibition is organized around the three words of its title, which emerged from a conversation between curator Allison Glenn and Tamika Palmer, mother of Breonna Taylor, during the exhibition’s planning.
In “Promise,” artists explore ideologies of the United States through the symbols that uphold it, reflecting on the nation’s founding, history, and the promises and realities, both implicit and explicit, contained within them. In “Witness,” they address the contemporary moment, building upon the gap between what a nation promises and what it provides through artworks that explore ideas of resistance across time, form, and context. In “Remembrance,” they address gun violence and police brutality, their victims, and their legacies.
The death of Breonna Taylor, a Black medical worker who was shot and killed by Louisville police officers in March 2020 during a botched raid on her apartment, has been one of the main drivers of wide-scale demonstrations that erupted in the spring and summer over policing and racial injustice in the United States.
A grand jury in September indicted a former Louisville detective involved in the raid, Brett Hankison, for wanton endangerment of neighbors whose apartment was hit when he fired without a clear line of sight into the sliding glass patio door and window of Taylor’s apartment. He pleaded not guilty. No charges were announced against the other two officers who fired shots, and no one was charged for causing Taylor’s death
Stephen Reily served as director of the Speed Art Museum from April 2017 to June 2021. He is a successful entrepreneur, civic leader, lawyer, and supporter of the arts in building a stronger community. A longtime supporter of the Speed, he served on its board for 10 years, including several years as chair of both the museum’s Long-Range Planning Committee and its Curatorial Committee.
For four years, Reukt served as chair and co-chair of the Board of Directors of the Creative Capital Foundation, a national grant maker in the arts. He has served as the chair of the Greater Louisville Project and is a member of the boards of the Louisville Urban League and the J. Graham Brown Foundation. He also founded Seed Capital Kentucky, a nonprofit focused on building a more sustainable future for Kentucky’s farmers.
As an entrepreneur Reily founded IMC, a global leader in brand licensing that has generated over $3 billion in consumer product sales for the Fortune 500 brands it represents. He is also the co-founder of ClickHer, a mobile app publisher, and SUM180, a digital financial planning service purchased by FlexWage, a national provider of financial wellness solutions. After graduating from Stanford Law School, Stephen clerked for Justice John Paul Stevens on the US Supreme Court. A native of New Orleans, he is married to historian Emily Bingham and they have three children.
Promise, Witness, Remembrance contributing artists:
Noel W Anderson
María Magdalena Campos-Pons
Jon P. Cherry
Kerry James Marshall
Hank Willis Thomas
Allison M. Glenn is an associate curator for Contemporary Art at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Glenn works across the contemporary program at Crystal Bridges and the Momentary, a new contemporary art space and satellite of Crystal Bridges. Since joining Crystal Bridges in 2018, she has worked with artists at all stages of their careers around themes of history, temporality, language, site, and identity.
Community Engagement Strategist and Chair of the National Steering Committee for Promise, Witness, Remembrance
Toya Northington graduated with a Fine Art degree from Georgia State University and also holds an masters in Social Work from the University of Louisville. She has exhibited in group and solo exhibitions in Georgia and Kentucky, and has recently been involved in a number of public art projects in Louisville. Working in mixed media and across disciplines, Toya speaks of her work as pushing back at societal expectations, as an act of resistance. As a feminist and social activist, she states, “My work is an acknowledgment of traumas too often experienced by women and a means to foster healing and resilience from them.” Toya is the recipient of Art Meets Activism, Artist Enrichment, and The Special grants from the Kentucky Foundation for Women. In 2012 she founded artThrust a youth, art-based, mental health and social justice organization that empowers youth through art. She is currently the Community Engagement Strategist at the Speed Art Museum.
Music for the Short Fuse Podcast
Jeannine Otis recorded the music for this episode of the Short Fuse Podcast. Music has been a part of Jeannine’s life since she was born. Having a mother who was a musical director and a family that includes the Jones brothers Hank, Thad, and Elvin formed the basis of exposure to music that began a career that started with Jeannine’s debut as a vocalist with the Detroit Symphony with American Youth Performs at age 12.
She has shared the stage with great musicians of every genre (especially jazz) who have served as mentors including Grover Washington Jr., Arthur Prysock, Kool and the Gang, Joe Chambers and Donald Byrd, Rudy Mwangozi, Saul Ruin, Stanley Banks bassist, Finnish Jazz composer Heikki Sarmanto, and Vishnu Wood, bassist, and his band Safari East.
She has been a featured vocalist at many jazz festivals including the Pori Jazz Festival in Finland, JazzMobile with Safari East, and the Universal Temple of the Arts yearly jazz festival and trombonist Art Baron and Friends. Jeannine has also appeared on Broadway in This Joint Is Jumpin’ at the Supper Club in the Edison Hotel with Larry Marshall and the Michael E Smith Big Band and the New York Big Band at Tavern on the Green.
She has toured extensively worldwide as a featured vocalist, in theater, and with her own ensemble. Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times labeled Jeannine a “show-stopper” in a review of a Downtown Music Production’s version of The Cradle Will Rock. As the Strawberry Woman in Porgy and Bess, Jeannine toured extensively in Europe singing in many of the great opera houses, including those in Rome, Cologne, Venice, and Modena, home of Luciano Pavarotti.
Her “little” book The Gathering was made into a musical theater piece entitled Who Am I, and debuted at the La MaMa Theater in 2014. She is an honors graduate of Wellesley College (BA) and of Emerson College (MA) and the director of music at Saint Marks Church, known for its progressive outreach programming through the arts.
Behind the scenes of the Short Fuse Podcast
Kyle Lee is a media producer for the Short Fuse Podcast as well as for the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and has produced podcasts such as The Daily Arrow, a two-season, 60-day podcast with devotional and meditative exercises to help navigate our current political climate through the lens of faith, spirituality, and mindfulness. He lives in Harlem with his wife and enjoys writing and performing poetry and spoken word in his spare time. You can reach him at @kyleburtonlee on Instagram and Twitter.
Gilda Geist is an intern for the Short Fuse Podcast and a student at Brandeis University, where she is studying journalism, English, and political science. She is a senior editor of her university newspaper, the Justice, as well as a tutor for the Brandeis University English Language Programs. Gilda is based in Boston and enjoys writing, bookbinding, and listening to podcasts.
What to listen to next
If you liked this episode, you’ll like our host Elizabeth Howard’s conversation with Gioni Massimiliano, artistic director of the New Museum. They spoke about the New Museum’s exhibit Grief and Grievance, Art and Mourning in America, which features the works of 37 Black artists and was conceived of by the late curator Okwui Enwezor. Listen here.
Music: Jeannine Otis